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Why war is all the rage.

The stories of the more than 2,000 young U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since 2003 are heart-wrenching. They came from all over the country--white, black, Asian and Latino. Some were immigrants, farmers, students and athletes. They shared a dream for their future and their families, as well as a belief that they were serving their country. Memorial Day this year was a time to remember these young men and women, and all military casualties, soldiers and civilians alike. It gave us an opportunity to reflect on the high costs of war, especially the waste of human life.

Along with U.S. military personnel, as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have died in this war. We have spent more than $250 billion in tax dollars on the fighting and reconstruction. Shameful actions by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have fueled enormous rage against this country.

How did we get here? How did the White House convince so many Americans that military force was our only viable option? By way of explaining, it is worth noting how militarism has crept into and permeated our culture.

Take, for example, the bombed-out dollhouse, sold as a toy by manufacturer Ever Sparkle, Inc., where grenades replace salt and pepper shakers, ammo boxes occupy the kitchen and G.I. Joe, armed with a bazooka, stands ready for battle on the balcony. Another toy, the World Peace Keepers Battle Station, comes with M-16s, grenades, sandbags and other war devices so that children 3 and older can begin to understand the real meaning of peace. "Full Spectrum Warrior," a new video game set in an apparently Arab city, teaches how to kill the enemy. It was developed with $4 million from the U.S. military as a training tool for Army recruits.

Militarism also infiltrates America's high schools and colleges. The No Child Left Behind Act requires high schools to give the names and phone numbers of juniors and seniors to military recruiters, unless parents object in writing. The military sniffs out vulnerable recruits through culturally tailored ads featuring blacks or Spanish-language pitches with Latin music. It has even sponsored a NASCAR car in its pursuit of recruiting white, rural youth. "The recruiters prey on students who feel they have no other options: immigrant students trying to get citizenship, seniors lacking credits to graduate and anyone who they can persuade that the Army will train them for the real world," said Lester Garcia, a graduate of Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles.

Militarism seeps into our everyday life through fashion as well. The "military look" has influenced civilian clothing for centuries. Camouflage apparel, cargo pants and bomber jackets from army surplus stores have always been staple pieces in young people's wardrobes. The difference now, according to the Army/Navy Store and Outdoor Merchandiser magazine, is that the military look has become so common "it's not so much fashion as an everyday look."

Camo is everywhere, from infant onesies to backpacks to cell-phone covers. Military chic for women and girls is featured in Macy's. Camouflage "flies off the shelf at the fabric store," as one Berkeley store clerk put it.

The problem isn't just that camouflage and war toys are popular. The problem is that as the symbols of the military filter into daily life, war becomes palatable and natural. We forget that this is the fabric of battlefield uniforms, of bombing, torture, violence and death. We become desensitized to the horror of war, and more prone to support an aggressive foreign policy. Militarism becomes normalized as everyday life becomes more militarized.

"Militarization is a sneaky sort of transformative process," writes Clark University professor Cynthia Enloe. "Sometimes it is only in the pursuit of de-militarization that we become aware of just how far down the road of complete militarization we've gone. In fact, since (the attacks of) Sept. 11, publicly criticizing militarization has been widely viewed as an act of disloyalty."

The militarization of U.S. society has grave implications. Many voters and our elected representatives hardly bat an eye over the fact that half the federal discretionary budget funds the military. This will be $438 billion in 2006--excluding the costs of action in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the National Priorities Project, the average San Francisco household, for instance, paid $13,139 in federal income tax in 2004, of which $5,097 funded the military (including interest on its debt), $2,664 for health care, $482 for education, and $52 for job training.

It is vital that we open our eyes to these realities. We are engaged in a senseless, dreadful war. Far too many American and Iraqi lives have been lost. We must urge our elected officials to replace the war budget with a people's budget that invests in making this nation healthier, better educated and genuinely secure. We must believe in and contribute to a global community based on international law, diplomacy and human rights.

Finally, each one of us can fashion our own personal resistance to militarism as we recognize how military chic trivializes and cheapens the sacrifice of the people who have lost their lives.

Christine Ahn is director of Peace and International Solidarity at the Women of Color Resource Center (www.coloredgirls.org). Gwyn Kirk is a member of WILPF's San Francisco Branch.

This editorial originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 29, 2005.

This Peace Education section is funded by the Jane Addams Peace Association.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:PeaceEducation
Author:Ahn, Christine; Kirk, Gwyn
Publication:Peace and Freedom
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
Words:917
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