The sport of military recruiting

Posted: July 12, 2012

IS THE IDEAL military recruit an independent thinker who refuses illegal orders, an obedient automaton who does anything he's told, or a vicious sadist eager to rape and kill? Is courage more important or strength? Does it make the slightest difference if a soldier is gay?

We can agree to disagree. But most people are going to agree that the ideal recruit is not a drooling idiot who announces, "I want to join up because the military sponsors NASCAR drivers." Yet, the Army says that's how it gets a third of its recruits — from motorsports sponsorships. Recruitment stations at racetracks help.

The U.S. military spends billions every year on recruitment and advertising, producing video games and movies, flying jets over football games, taking gas-guzzling vehicles and inflatable soldiers to picnics, etc. I'm not even talking about military bands, which have a massive budget all their own. I'm talking about the campaign to make killing look like a cool and painless sport, a campaign funded in the way that a campaign to save our climate would be properly funded if we had one. We spend enough money attracting and recruiting each new recruit that we could have hired him or her, and some of their friends, to do something useful. I say "we" because it's our money.

We spend $80 million a year on military sponsorships of sporting events, primarily NASCAR and primarily through the innocent-sounding National Guard. Guard recruits are often falsely told they won't have to go to war.

A bipartisan measure in Congress has passed through the House Armed Services committee that would stop this. The effort has been led by U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Jackson Kingston, R-Ga. This is a case of the more progressive Democrats lining up with the Republicans who actually mean some of that talk about cutting spending, and against the Congress members of both parties who give funding the war machine top priority. That latter group includes House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who is fighting to restore the funding.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., whom the National Guard has paid $136 million over the past five years to put a National Guard sticker on his race car and wear the logo on his uniform, predictably agrees with McKeon. Yet McKeon has not agreed to wear the logo of any of his war-profiteering campaign funders.

Congress members funded by weapons corporations are intent on avoiding the minor cuts imposed by last year's Budget Control Act, much less the serious cuts needed to benefit our economy, the environment, our civil liberties, or the nations at risk of facing our bombs.

The Army on Tuesday appeared to see the writing on the wall, announcing that it won't sponsor NASCAR next year. But we need Congress to ban all military sports sponsorships by law. The National Guard is a far bigger funder than the Army.

If we can get the military out of NASCAR, who knows where else we might be able to get it out of? n

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at and and works for the online activist organization

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