Articles Mast

From Draft NOtices, January-March 2006

Opening Eyes on the Big Island

— Catherine Kennedy

The career fair committee of Kea‘au High School in Hawai‘i was kind enough to allow me to have a table on Friday, Nov. 4, at their high school career fair to discuss with the students alternatives to military enlistment and the realities of war. As far as I know, this is the first time a table like mine has been present at one of these Big Island high school events. I felt it was important to be there to counterbalance the several tables touting careers in the Armed Forces.

I provided interested students with literature on ways to pay for college without the military; lists of ideas for alternative careers that meet kids’ goals for public service, learning a trade or their desire for adventure and travel; and Web sites for researching these choices. I presented pictures of patriotic role models who have worked outside the military to improve living and working conditions of others. I also offered literature that describes the realities of military life and gives kids advice on things to look at in the enlistment contract. I also played a DVD of wounded vets talking about their experiences in Iraq, many of whom are just a few years older than the high school kids themselves.

Accompanying me were two veterans, Rodd Biljetina and John Riser, who generously shared their experiences with the students. It is my hope that as educators and parents become aware of their right to provide this counter-balancing information, they will take the initiative to educate the students in other island schools. This is a great chance to talk about all forms of patriotism and ways to serve one’s country.

As a concerned citizen of this island, I have been trying to implement the 1986 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals equal access ruling in our island’s high schools. This ruling states that public schools are legally obligated to allow students to receive information about the military not provided by recruiters and to discuss the moral arguments against war. Most parents are unaware of this ruling, as are many educators. At a time when our country is fighting a controversial war, teachers and school staff can be misunderstood if they try to exercise this First Amendment right. Emotions can run high. Those exercising the precious constitutional rights everyone in our military has sworn to protect can be seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful to those in the Armed Forces.

Since the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act, the military now has almost unlimited access to our children; public schools are now required to give personal information on students to recruiters. Of course, informed parents can submit an opt-out request, which removes their child’s name from school lists that go to the military. But there are still many avenues open to recruiters to pitch military careers to students and obtain their personal information. These include school career fairs, military aptitude testing in schools (the ASVAB test), the About Face after school program, and various other community events such as Family Fun Days.

Michael Berg, director of the Carolina Peace Resource Center, has aptly stated: “Military recruiters use a high pressure sales pitch to present children a very biased picture of military life. They offer travel, careers, and educational benefits. These are only incidental to fighting wars. The full truth about killing, dying, and other critical information is omitted. The purpose of recruiting is to obtain soldiers. The purpose of the military is to fight wars. Recruiters are salespeople, not guidance counselors, and should be treated as such. They are not certified to teach or counsel, and they do have a conflict of interest. The primary goal of a recruiter is to meet his quota of new recruits, not to have young people fully examine their options and make the best choice for their future. The best time for a person to confront these serious religious, moral and personal dilemmas is before signing up for the military, not after. And the best thing a school can do for the sake of its students is to educate the students on all of the realities of military life.”

At Kea‘au High, Iraq War vet John Riser helped clarify kids’ perceptions of military life. He witnessed many enlistees who entered the military with a sugar-coated idea of service, only to be blindsided by the realities they faced. He found that many students had unrealistic ideas of what the army would do for them, such as buy them a car or a home. Rodd Biljetina, a 25-year military vet, was surprised by many students’ assumption that military service would guarantee a free college education.

Unlike most military recruiters, John has seen combat. Many of the kids we talked to had never even considered the possibility of having to kill anyone, much less civilians. Most of them didn’t even understand what a civilian casualty is; their idea of war is soldiers efficiently killing enemy soldiers. A good number of the students hadn’t really given the U.S. role in the Iraq war much thought. They are not acquainted with all the issues surrounding our involvement in the Iraq war. Some said they were against war, but when pressed to explain, they couldn’t really articulate their reasons very effectively. They are young, many have not travelled much, their history classes may not have covered the Middle East extensively, and they haven’t developed much of a global view yet. Most students don’t understand that when they join the military they give up their civilian rights and how this can impact them if they are troubled by what the military orders them to do. Is it fair to send them into such a complex situation so far from anything they know?

We often hear someone say, “The army will make a man out of him.” I wonder, what KIND of man? An angry, cynical man? A bitter man who feels used or betrayed by his government, or a self-loathing man ashamed of his naive trust? A man with a broken body or damaged mind? This can be the worst possible way to grow up, a true loss of innocence and trust.

Kids join the military for a variety of reasons. One of the most common is to get money for college. Others sign up to give their life a higher meaning, to help others, or to serve their country. Many see it as their best opportunity to travel and experience the larger world. These are all valid reasons. My concern is that in the course of fulfilling these desires, the students can lose their life, become severely wounded, or suffer mental disorders, including long-term depression and disillusionment over what they experience in combat. The statistics on returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are alarming. Soldiers are surviving heinous wounds that are life-altering. Our island’s children are a precious resource, just like our land and our special intangible and unique trait of aloha. Do we really have the infrastructure to cope with a group of damaged youths, or the impact of these wounds, or untimely deaths on family members?

The vets and I had a great time at the Kea‘au job fair. It was an opportunity to experience what is so wonderful about our country: that we can openly express ourselves and show different points of view. Witnessing this is in itself an invaluable learning experience for young people. I am extremely thankful to the career fair committee for allowing our table. I hope other island schools will understand that our goals are not subversive, but merely to engage in meaningful dialog with our island’s children to help them make INFORMED DECISIONS.

Catherine Kennedy was a teenager during the Vietnam War, and her father is a WWII vet. She founded Truth 2 Youth, a group dedicated to informing Hawai‘i’s children about alternative to military service and of the realities of war. Following is a list of some of the literature she distributed:

“Careers in Peacemaking & Social Change,” Project on Youth & Non-Military Opportunities,

“Financing College Without Joining the Military,” Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors,

“Frequently Asked Questions About Opt Out/Military Recruiter Access,”

“10 Points to Consider Before You Sign a Military Enlistment Agreement” and “Do You Know Enough to Enlist?” American Friends Service Committee, National Youth & Militarism Program,

Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq, a flash movie,

The Ninth Circuit Court ruling is explained here:

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft ( It appeared originally in a slightly different version in Hawai‘i Island Journal,


About Us - Articles - Draft NOtices - Youth - Militarism - Publications - Products - Links - Contact - Home