Government baits and switches on war effort

August 08, 2004|By G. Jefferson Price III

"Bait and switch" is one of the oldest techniques in the book for disreputable merchants trying to lure customers to their stores.

The merchant advertises an item at an unbelievably low price. That's the bait. It could be anything from a car to a TV set. But when the customer arrives in the store, the advertised item is no longer in stock, and the merchant sets about trying to persuade the customer to buy a more expensive model that just happens to be in stock. That's the switch.

And it's illegal.

This phony sales ploy came to mind last week when a recruiting brochure arrived at our house from the U. S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky. It was addressed to my son, who just turned 21 and would be a prime candidate for the draft if there were one.

The brochure is very enticing. And seems especially directed at Hispanics. "The Army has a career waiting for you. Take the next step by saying Yo Soy El Army."

Here's what the Army offers: "The chance to qualify for 150 careers; guaranteed training in your chosen career; up to $20,000 enlistment bonus; up to $50,000 for college after you serve; 30 days of paid vacation earned each year; up to $65,000 to pay back qualifying student loans.

"Or serve part time in the Army Reserve. Train near home, ready to serve full time if needed, and you'll receive * ... "

The brochure then lists similar enticements at lower rates.

"Here's your chance to become whatever you want to be ... a paratrooper, chef, medical specialist, journalist, whatever you can imagine."

Now that's some bait.

Imagine a young man or woman who can't go to college because it's unaffordable and who can't get a job because the economy is not producing enough jobs for the number of people entering the job market. Imagine how appealing this brochure from Fort Knox would be for them.

The brochure has photos of people working at a couple of the 150 jobs the Army would train them for; one is of a medical technician; another is of a cook outfitted in a chef's hat. Why wouldn't an individual living with little hope for the future seize the opportunity for all that training and money?

The asterisk for reservists sent me looking for an explanation.

That would be "Benefits based on qualifications. Information subject to change." That's in tiny print, the other merchandiser's boon.

The brochure says nothing about the switch. It says nothing about what the Army's main job is these days. It says nothing about the danger that exists for someone entering the military today; the likelihood of being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. It says nothing about needing to train individuals to kill or be killed in Iraq. In fact, the brochure does not even mention the two main theaters in the war against terrorism.

As for the attraction of joining the reserves, it does not mention that up to 40 percent of the military serving in Iraq today are reservists, many of whom did not expect to go to war for such prolonged periods when they signed up. If they did not expect this, it might be because they were motivated to sign up by brochures such as the one from Fort Knox.

Don't get me wrong. It's unfortunate that mankind has yet to develop an alternative to brute force as the ultimate settler of disagreements. So we need a military. The armed services have a need and every right to recruit Americans. But let them be honest about it. America is at war, and it needs young men and women to fight in that war. Joining the armed services with that in mind is an act of patriotism and valor. But there is no mention of patriotism or valor in the brochure. There is no mention of war. Instead, the brochure suggests the Army is training a force of medical specialists, chefs and journalists. They're not going to save us from Osama bin Laden.

The truth is that the draft should be reinstated so that every segment of the population is called to serve rather than the segment most likely to be lured to service by promises of jobs and training and education. That would drastically alter the political dynamics of sending people off to war, which is precisely why the draft is not likely to be reinstated. A greater cross section of the population in service is likelier to demand greater accountability and honesty.

Don't blame the Army, though, for engaging in some misleading advertising to attract men and women to serve.

Bait and switch turns out to have been the very ploy that the commander in chief and his secretary of defense - among others - used to get Americans into the war in Iraq.

The bait had three parts. One was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to the United States. Another was that Saddam Hussein was linked to Osama bin Laden and therefore had complicity in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that bin Laden launched against America. The need to topple Saddam Hussein's regime was part of the bait, but that alone would not have persuaded Americans they needed to die and kill in Iraq.

The switch is that there are no weapons of mass destruction. There was no genuine tie between Hussein and bin Laden, but regime change and democratization are the real reasons. And America seems no closer to removing the threat of terror from daily life in America.

Osama bin Laden and his network are the real, credible and abiding bait. But somehow we got switched to Iraq, and we'll be paying the price for that switch for many years to come.

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