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When Should Propaganda Begin?

By Gregory Flannery · May 17th, 2006 · Burning Questions
How old should kids be before we teach them the virtues of taking up arms to kill people of other countries? The question occurred to Angela Garcia last week when she took her daughter to Fairview German Language School in Clifton Heights.

"I was dropping her off in the morning," she says. "I saw an Army van pulling into the parking lot."

After returning home, Garcia called the school and learned that another parent, serving in the military, would be addressing the children as part of Career Day. Garcia asked to have her daughter removed from the class.

"Even though they're not technically recruiting 7-year-olds, they're socializing and sending a message that I find very disturbing," she says. "It never occurred to me that, in an elementary school, this could happen. If they're going to bring in a military person for Career Day, they should also bring in a professional peace activist."

Exposing children to military service as a career option isn't morally equivalent to talking about the work done by chefs or bookkeepers, according to Garcia.

"I don't think the military is the same as a chef or accountant," she says. "There are religious issues, there are political issues that come into play. I'm 50. I don't think people have the same associations we had with the military and recruiting in the '60s, when recruiting on college campuses was very controversial."

It would be easy to dismiss her objection as political. But what about other jobs that could be highlighted in Career Day? Would a stripper be welcome? Would a minister?

Fairview Principal Karen Mulligan didn't return a reporter's call, and neither did the public affairs office for the Cincinnati Public Schools.

Garcia says she opposes the U.S. war in Iraq, but that's not the point.

"I really don't think that's part of what's going on here," she says. "The military is not just another institution in society. It's a political arm being used as an alternative to diplomacy. That adds to my displeasure at seeing military recruiters in an elementary school."

Told soldiers have been participating in Career Day at the school for several years, Garcia says parents should be notified in advance.

"My daughter's been at the school for three years, and this is the first I've heard of it," she says. "I really would like to have been notified in advance."

Federal law requires high schools to give military recruiters personal information about students unless parents ask to opt out. While the military might not have an active recruitment program for kids in kindergarten or elementary school, the federal government actively lures kids into thinking good things about agencies involved in spying and torture.

The CIA Kids' Page (www.cia.gov/cia/ciakids/ index.shtml) features the story "Ginger's CIA Adventure." Ginger decides to stroll about CIA headquarters while her handler, Marta, is otherwise engaged.

"Hmm, Marta is going to be out of the office on business most of today," the story says. "Maybe I can take a little tour by myself and get back before she does."

Deception and snooping -- how's that for a dose of American family values?

Even federal agencies you might not have heard of have kids' pages. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) (www.nrojr.gov) explains its role in planning military operations and teaches a song that kids sing to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot." The song makes spy satellites seem almost cute:

I'm a little satellite shiny and bright,

I'm up in space where it's dark as night.

When I get a signal hear me squeak,

'Round the earth many times a week.

Kids can learn the darnedest things from Uncle Sam. One NRO children's story, "Proud to Be an American," even seems to offer religious backing: "I have God to watch me. I love America."

The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has a kids' page at www.nga.mil/ngakids/index.html. The National Security Agency has one at www.nsa.gov/kids/ home_html.cfm.

If military personnel are visiting elementary schools, do you really believe there's no agenda?

BURNING QUESTIONS is our occasional attempt to afflict the comfortable.


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