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Ruth Lopez
Kerry was - inadvertently - right. His "joke" may have been mangled; but there was truth in what he said. And what he said is something the GOP doesn't want Americans to think about: who is joining today's military? Who isn't? And why?

The Bush Administration has claimed a doctrine of infallibility regarding our troops. They can do whatever they want to the troops; send them into unnecessary wars, use them for photo ops, or as fodder for political attacks, blame them for Iraq, even manufacture fake war stories, as they did with Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. And always to benefit the GOP's political needs, never to benefit the troops.

They also think the troops should not be made up of them or their children. Today's GOP leadership is overwhelmingly filled with people who have made their careers feeding at the public trough but who have never served in the military.

They don't want attention drawn to this, especially right before this election, when they are mired in scandals, corruption and the damage inflicted by the worst President in modern history. Because the truth is this: the Bush Administration's treatment of our troops is not much better than their treatment of Katrina victims.

They have deliberately exploited certain segments of our society to fill the ranks of our ground forces. Bush's vaunted "Leave No Child Behind" program actually requires public schools to give students' personal information to military recruiters or the schools won't get their Federal funding. "Leave No Child Behind" should more accurately be called, "No bodies, No bucks".

Recruiters are trained to focus on those most likely be receptive to offers of financial and educational assistance; in other words, poor students from poor schools.

Many of these young people join the military with unrealistic and uneducated expectations. They are driven by many factors: lack of opportunity, poverty, ignorance, jingoistic propaganda, thrill-seeking and, yes, honest patriotism. These are largely unworldly, undereducated kids. Recruiters are trained to take advantage of this with slick salesmanship and not-to-be-kept promises.

Are these kids really prepared for extended and repeated tours in the quagmire Iraq has become? The answer to that is in the increased rate of suicides, PTSD, desertions, assaults, murders, rape, divorce, domestic violence, and substance abuse among our troops.

Demand for replacement bodies to fill the ranks of our ground forces is such that recruiters have been caught falsifying enlistment forms to meet the quotas they deny having, even though enlistment standards have been lowered, and those who once couldn't enlist for reasons including felony convictions and the inability to pass minimal educational standards can now sign up.

And, for the first time in the history of our military, there is evidence that gang members are joining. Gang sign graffiti has shown up in Iraq, as well as other military bases. They are said to be joining to get tactical and weapons training which they then bring back to their street wars here at home.

If our ground forces are being increasingly filled with kids who are disproportionately from the lowest economic classes, poorly educated, barely literate, felons, and/or gang members, what kind of military will we have? The Best and the Brightest or the Dregs and the Drop-outs?

Meanwhile, religious schools, and expensive private schools - the kind of schools Congress and the Republican donor base send their children to - are exempt from having their students preyed upon by quota-driven military recruiters. Their kids are going to college, not war.

But if the terrorist threat isn't serious enough to compel the children of the Bush Administration and his Republican Congress to the defense of their country, why is anyone else's child dying for it?

That's why Kerry's gaffe struck such a nerve with the GOP. They don't want us to look at the fact that their kids are safe at home, enjoying the good life, partying on campus, in spite of mushroom cloud threats, Dick Cheney, and "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" rhetoric.

Bush and the Republicans know that the unnecessary war they have hyped is fought by other people's children, not theirs. They know they have cut funding for essentials our troops need while ensuring their children will have elite educations, cushy jobs and tax free inheritances. They know that if they can't sell military service to the poor with apocalyptic threats of imminent terror attacks, false patriotism and enticements of a better life in exchange for military service, we will have no military at all - without a draft.

They know all this, and they don't want America talking about it.

Kerry didn't insult the troops. He just came a little too close to the unspoken reality of today's military; who's joining - and who isn't.
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Ruth Lopez: mom, veteran, citizen.
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