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Tomgram: Ann Jones, Suffer the Children

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Ever since we published it, I've been telling you that our new Dispatch Book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars -- The Untold Story by Ann Jones, is amazing.  But you no longer have to take my word for it.  Someone else has just weighed in -- big time.  Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars was recently chosen by Publisher's Weekly as one of its top ten picks of the year.  That magazine then asked Scahill and the other chosen authors to create a new top ten list in which each would select his or her favorite book of 2013.  Scahill chose They Were Soldiers .  Here's what he wrote about it:

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"My pick for the best book of 2013 comes from Ann Jones, who shows us a side of America's wars that we often don't see. She embeds with the doctors who spend their lives dealing with soldiers who are grievously wounded, psychologically scarred, or killed in combat. She talks to the families of troops who speak of their inability to recognize their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, or mothers and fathers because they have come home so transformed by their experiences in war. It's a stunning portrait of the psychological and physical effects of war, with which we so rarely reckon. Jones, the daughter of a World War I veteran, brings a real understanding of the gap between the celebrations of our vets and the reality of how they are treated when they return. "America's soldiers return with enough troubles to last the rest of their lives,' she observes. She also questions the idea that war is inevitable. "War is not natural,' she writes. "We have to be trained for it, soldiers and citizens alike. And the "wars of choice" we were trained for, the wars these soldiers took part in, need never have been fought.'"

So forget about me. Listen to Scahill and then pick up a copy of a book that truly is a must-read! Tom]

Another week, another revelation about spying by the National Security Agency.  This time, it was the NSA's infiltration of online video games and virtual realms like World of Warcraft and Second Life.  And it was hardly a shock.  More than a decade ago, TomDispatch began reporting on the U.S. military's collaborations with the video game industry, including a virtual world known as There.  As the years went by, the military became ever more enmeshed in the digital world.  In 2008, while covering the 26th Army Science Conference, I spoke to the chief of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command about a new recruiting initiative he was setting up in the fantasy realm of Second Life.  General William Wallace was over the moon about the possibility of engaging with the "four million young people" who had signed onto that virtual online environment.

While the Army was making an overt play for new recruits in the digital universe, the NSA was secretly targeting virtual worlds for clandestine activities.  A top-secret 2008 NSA document, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to the Guardian and shared with the New York Times and ProPublica, cast online games as a "target-rich communication network."  They were imagined (with little evidence) to be potential terrorist havens and so, as one document gushed, "an opportunity!"

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In the time since I spoke to General Wallace, virtual worlds have bloomed.  The number of Second Life accounts, for example, has grown to 36 million registered users, according to its creator, Linden Labs.  And it seems, as the Times and ProPublica reported, that a surprising number of those new visitors were from the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Second Life, in fact, became so thick with spies from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI that it was necessary to create what one of the leaked documents called a "deconfliction" group to keep them from duplicating their efforts, spying on one another, and so turning their online push into a digital snarl.

And yet, after all that virtual snooping, there is no evidence that the untold millions of dollars spent infiltrating digital spies into worlds of pixies, scantily-clad lion-women, and pony skeleton avatars (no, I'm not making these up) has uncovered any terrorists or foiled any al-Qaeda plots.  It has, however, allowed the U.S. government to penetrate the lives of the young (and increasingly, the not-so-young) in new and intrusive ways. 

Today, Ann Jones, author of the acclaimed new Dispatch Book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars -- The Untold Story, examines another way the U.S. military targets America's youth -- via a completely non-virtual, off-line, old school social network: the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.  It's a startling look at the sort of everyday military indoctrination that may be happening, possibly in your very neighborhood, and almost as quietly as government agents slip in and out of their favorite digital fantasy worlds.

After recently shining much needed light on what happens to America's veterans once they return from this country's war zones, Jones turns her perceptive gaze on one way the military gets hold of young men and women in the first place.  If you thought only countries like Yemen, South Sudan, and Chad had child soldiers, think again. Nick Turse

America's Child Soldiers
JROTC and the Militarizing of America
By Ann Jones

Congress surely meant to do the right thing when, in the fall of 2008, it passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). The law was designed to protect kids worldwide from being forced to fight the wars of Big Men. From then on, any country that coerced children into becoming soldiers was supposed to lose all U.S. military aid.

It turned out, however, that Congress -- in its rare moment of concern for the next generation -- had it all wrong. In its greater wisdom, the White House found countries like Chad and Yemen so vital to the national interest of the United States that it preferred to overlook what happened to the children in their midst.

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As required by CSPA, this year the State Department once again listed 10 countries that use child soldiers: Burma (Myanmar), the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  Seven of them were scheduled to receive millions of dollars in U.S. military aid as well as what's called "U.S. Foreign Military Financing."  That's a shell game aimed at supporting the Pentagon and American weapons makers by handing millions of taxpayer dollars over to such dodgy "allies," who must then turn around and buy "services" from the Pentagon or "materiel" from the usual merchants of death. You know the crowd: Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, and so on.

Here was a chance for Washington to teach a set of countries to cherish their young people, not lead them to the slaughter. But in October, as it has done every year since CSPA became law, the White House again granted whole or partial "waivers" to five countries on the State Department's "do not aid" list: Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.

Too bad for the young -- and the future -- of those countries.  But look at it this way: Why should Washington help the children of Sudan or Yemen escape war when it spares no expense right here at home to press our own impressionable, idealistic, ambitious American kids into military "service"?

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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