San Diego County in California is home to not only one of the largest military installations in the world, but also the second-largest Iraqi population in the US. In autumn 2002, the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice began an outreach campaign to high school students to encourage them to question the US government's planned attack on Iraq.
Why the focus on high school students? The Vietnam War taught the Pentagon that conscription had limited effectiveness and could seriously erode support for the military.
Since the draft was eliminated in 1973, the Pentagon has increasingly relied on propaganda and indoctrination of youth to develop a citizenry that will continue to support the elite's wars without serious question.
Spending over US$2 billion a year on recruiting, these techniques include sophisticated advertising and brochures, movies, video games, and an expansion of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (a high school education curriculum taught by retired officers).
Military recruiters have easy access to the halls and classrooms of many high schools in the US. Military partnerships with junior high, and even elementary schools provide children with frequent exposure to military lifestyles and values, cleansed of the horrors of war.
On three occasions last autumn, teams of students and supporters handed leaflets to young people as they arrived at school in the morning. The leaflets provided factual information countering the pro-war campaign in the corporate media and encouraged students to think about the government's plans and talk about it with their friends, teachers, and parents. Dozens of volunteers handed out more than 8,000 leaflets at 15 schools in San Diego County.
Student motivations for leafleting included the belief that it's wrong for the US to attack Iraq, that they don't think their classmates know much about the situation and were more likely to pay attention if their peers were educating them, and that if everyone does their part we can prevent the war. There was also an awareness that students will eventually be able to vote and they need to be informed.
An ongoing project
Response to the leafleting has been overwhelmingly positive, including encouragement from teachers, parents, and administrators, with few incidents at any schools. Coalition volunteers have already scheduled the next events and plan to continue the project into the spring.