What I’ll have to say about STARBASE this evening

by Steve, March 8th, 2010

warI was planning on addressing the school board tonight, but they’re limiting us to three speakers. So they’re having me address the rally ahead of time. Here’s what I’ve got:

Regardless of the curriculum offered by STARBASE in exchange for access to our preteens, there is a civil rights question to be answered: Is this military recruiting aimed at poor and minority students?

The second half of that question is easily answered. The Portland STARBASE Web site says the program is aimed at “at-risk youth.” Fourteen of the 18 schools participating this year are Title 1 schools, and the students at these schools are disproportionately non-white and poor when compared to the district as a whole.

The recruiting question is pretty clear to me, too, even though students, parents and teachers may love the program, and even if they don’t detect recruitment.

I want you to join me in a thought experiment tonight.

Some of you have been ten-year-old boys, and some of you have had ten-year-old sons or grandsons or nephews. I want you all to pretend, just for a minute or two, that you are all ten-year-old boys.

Boys of all ages love things that go. Things that go fast: even better. Now, as a ten-year-old boy, listen as I describe some of what you will see at Portland Air Base.

This base is home of the 142nd fighter wing, a fleet of F-15 Eagle fighter bombers. This supersonic twin-engine jet airplane is so light and powerful that it can accelerate into a vertical climb, like a rocket. The thrust of its engines is greater than its total weight, so it can make sharp turns without losing air speed. The F-15 has a thrilling combination of speed, maneuverability, high tech weapons, and avionics, including heads-up instrumentation display. This is one of the most performant vehicles in the world, and the only people who get to fly them are in the military.

The F-15 Eagle is typically outfitted with a variety of industrial weapons, like the Sparrow, AMRAAM and Sidewinder missiles and a 20 mm Gatling-style cannon, capable of firing depleted uranium shells at up to 7,200 rounds per minute. A modified version of the F15, the Strike Eagle, can deliver the B61, a multi-kiloton thermonuclear bomb.

In use since 1974, the F15, with all its various armaments, is among the deadliest, most formidable weapons systems on the planet. It continues to be a key piece of US air superiority, able to outperform every conceivable enemy aircraft. It is widely used by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Now, I know a lot of ten-year-old boys who would be getting pretty excited about this. The STARBASE Web site shows children climbing into the cockpit of an F-15 Eagle.

Without knowing anything about the curriculum, or anything about the base tour, or anything about the hour and a half talk about military careers that ends STARBASE, I’m here to tell you that showing a ten-year-old boy this aircraft, possibly introducing him to its pilot, is a form of recruitment.

The military’s recruiting manual notes the importance of contact with very young students as soon as they start thinking about the future. Many of the boys in my daughter’s fifth grade class are already talking about joining the military, even before they go to STARBASE.

So:

It doesn’t matter if students return from STARBASE and say there is no recruiting.

It doesn’t matter if some parents don’t think their children are bein recruited.

It doesn’t matter if teachers say the curriculum is great.

It doesn’t matter that the program is taught by civilians, and no recruiters are present for most of the program.

If the Departement of Defense considers this a recruiting program, it is a recruiting program.

A military recruiting program aimed at poor and minority preteens is a civil rights violation, and we should not be taking part.