Michael Wong: ‘We must stop JROTC now’

AsianWeek reader Michael Wong penned a letter to the editor in which he shares his personal experience with JROTC. And how he’s now participating in the peace movement.

About 30 to 50 percent of JROTC students enter into the military, according to testimony given to Congress by the four chiefs of staff of the armed services — including General Eric Shinseki — in Feb. 2000. What does this mean in human terms?

Forty years ago, I graduated from Galileo High School as a 1st Lieutenant in Army JROTC. Of my five closest friends in JROTC — four of whom were Chinese and all of whom were either cadet officers or sergeants — four entered into the military after high school. Three went to Vietnam. One saw heavy combat and came back suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. One was lucky enough to be stationed at a large base and saw occasional shelling but came back more or less O.K. One I never heard from again, and I don’t know if he’s even dead or alive. One never went to Vietnam and is O.K. The fifth friend tried to join the Army but was rejected because of a physical condition. I joined the Army only to learn first hand how much of what the JROTC taught us were lies, particularly about the role of America and the U.S. Army in the world, and what it means to be an American soldier. Out of the six of us, five ended up in the military — and the sixth would have if he could have. So don’t believe it when they tell you that JROTC “is not a recruiting program.”

What was my experience in JROTC? JROTC taught us to believe totally in the Army and our government; to obey authorities above us; and to admire the values and virtues of the combat infantryman. Military literature given to us said things such as, “The American fighting man is the best fighting man in the world!”; “Never give up!”; or “The mission of the infantry is to engage the enemy in ground combat and capture or destroy him!” Army training films instructed us in everything from military organization, small unit tactics and bayonet fighting to “citizenship” and “leadership,” as defined by the Army. I learned to handle weapons in JROTC and found it easy to disassemble an M1 rifle and put it back together blindfolded, or to do a bayonet-style lunge with a rifle at the throat of an imaginary enemy. Photos of soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets, tanks roaring across the ground, and soldiers charging out of a helicopter filled my mind. The pictures excited me. I wanted to be one of those soldiers. I wanted to join the Army right out of high school. This is what I learned from JROTC. So did my five friends.

What were the lies I learned about in the real Army? I learned from fellow soldiers returning from Vietnam that the My Lai massacre — where an American Army platoon murdered 500 Vietnamese civilians — was just the tip of the iceberg, and that such war crimes were mostly unreported, widespread and driven by policy, not just “a few bad apples.” I learned how our government lied to set up the South Vietnamese government and the war, and how our war there was illegal under international law and immoral. This was documented by our own government in the Pentagon Papers, released by Daniel Ellsberg.

Soldiers returning from Iraq today are now telling us that Haditha and Abu Ghraib are likewise just the tip of the iceberg and also driven by policy, not individual soldiers. And we all know about the lies of Saddam links to 9/11 and WMD that George Bush used to invade Iraq. One simply has to go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War website (http://ivaw.org/) to read many accounts, particularly in their “Winter Soldier Investigation.”

JROTC fills youths’ minds with pictures of heroic military images, excites the blood and thus recruits young people with false images of war and “loyalty” to country. Yes, the majority of JROTC may be Asian; it certainly was in my time, too. But that just means our minority group gets majority brainwashing and exploitation, big time. Would you support a form of exploitation of Asians? Not if you recognized it for what it is. Our youth, Asian or not, should never be used as cannon fodder for Bush and Cheney’s rich friends and the big oil and arms industries that are profiting from the Iraq war. Is this what we want our children to die for?

As for JROTC teaching leadership, well…O.K., I am now a leader in the peace
movement. But I have met many movement leaders who have never been in JROTC or
the military, and they are as good or better activists than me. There’s a lot of better places to learn leadership and discipline. Don’t fall for exploitation to learn it. We must stop JROTC now.

Michael Wong
San Francisco, Calif., June 14

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