Caitlin Johnstone: America’s Perverse Poverty Draft

Some lawmakers worry partial cancellation of student debts will harm military recruitment and they’ve written to the president and defense secretary about it.  

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon speaking at  groundbreaking for a new Veteran Affairs facility in Omaha, Aug. 7, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Charles J. Haymond)

By Caitlin Johnstone

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Nineteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written a letter [pdf] to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin cautioning that the partial cancellation of student debts can have the unintended consequence of reducing military recruitment in the United States.

The letter reads as follows:

“Dear President Biden,

We write to you to share our concerns about the unintended consequences of your decision to cancel up to $20,000 of student loan debt per borrower. We are particularly concerned about the negative impact this will surely have on our nation’s military and their ability to recruit and retain top talent.

As you know, some of the most successful recruiting incentives for the military are the GI Bill and student loan forgiveness programs. The idea that the military will pay for schooling during or after completion of a service obligation is a driving factor in many individuals’ decision to join one of the services. A recent estimate showed that as many as 178,000 servicemembers [sic] were eligible for some type of forgiveness.

By forgiving such a wide swath of loans for borrowers, you are removing any leverage the Department of Defense maintained as one of the fastest and easiest ways to pay for higher education. We recognize the loan forgiveness programs have issues of their own, but this remains a top recruiting incentive.

Currently, a mere 23 percent of the population is eligible to serve in the military. Even fewer of those have a propensity to serve. At the end of last month, the Army had only reached 66 percent of its recruiting goal for the year. The Navy, only 89 percent. It is no secret that each of the services continues to battle hardships in recruiting and now these problems will be exacerbated by removing the uniqueness of this benefit.

As the services try to adopt unique approaches to tackle their recruiting challenges, including historic bonuses, it feels like their legs are being cut out from underneath them. With this in mind, we ask for you to provide us answers to the following questions:

  1. Was the effect on military service considered in the development of the recent student loan forgiveness decision?
  2. What is the administration’s plan to develop incentives to augment the loss of those who might join the military to help pay off student loans?
  3. What improvements are being made to ensure timely payments to those currently enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs for both active duty and reserve components?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

So, they’re just coming right out and admitting it. One of the reasons the U.S. government doesn’t offer the same kinds of social support systems that people have in all other wealthy nations is because otherwise there’d be no economic pressure on young Americans to sign up for service in the U.S. war machine.

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This is no secret, but it’s generally considered taboo for government officials to actually say so. People have been talking about the poverty draft for many years — about the established fact that a majority of U.S. military recruits come from neighborhoods with below median income levels and that those neighborhoods are targeted for recruitment because impoverished communities often see military service as their only chance at upward mobility.

But the term “poverty draft” can create a bit of confusion, because when most Americans hear “poverty” they think homeless people and those who can barely afford to eat or keep a roof over their heads. In reality the U.S. is a nation where a majority of the population would be unable to pay for a $1,000 emergency expense from their savings, and the level at which economic pressure is felt to join the military is much higher than the very poorest of the poor.

Those economic pressures are why U.S. Army officials have explicitly said that the student loan crisis is to thank for their success in meeting recruitment goals.

So the U.S. empire has a huge incentive to maintain a very large population of Americans who are economically uncomfortable, and this plays a significant role in the domestic policymaking decisions of that nation’s government.

The U.S. empire is held together by constant violence and the threat thereof, and its ability to apply that violence would be crippled without a steady supply of warm teenage bodies to feed into its war machine. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the U.S. empire would collapse without the economic pressures which coerce teens to sign up to kill and be killed over things like oil reserves and Raytheon profit margins.

It’s one of those things that looks more ghoulish the more you think about it.

In the wealthiest nation in the world, economic justice is actively suppressed in part to ensure that young Americans will feel financially squeezed into killing foreigners who are far more impoverished than they are. They are keeping people poor so that they will commit mass murder.

It’s actually hard to think of anything more depraved than that.

But such is the nature of the capitalist empire. You’re either a useful gear-turner of the machine or you are liquidated and turned into fuel for its engine.

If you’re not a successful capitalist, you can be used to defend the empire with pricey weaponry. If you’re not helping the empire, you can be used to drive up profits for the military-industrial complex as a target for war machinery whose costly munitions will need to be replaced.

If you’re not a good gear-turner you can be sent to become a prison slave or incarcerated in a private for-profit prison. There’s a use for everyone in the empire.

The globe-spanning power structure that is centralized around the United States is the most evil, soulless and destructive force on this planet. The young people who are duped, manipulated and financially coerced into joining its war machine come back horrifically traumatized by the experiences they have in the situations they are placed in.

Something better is needed. This cannot continue.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This article is from and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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24 comments for “Caitlin Johnstone: America’s Perverse Poverty Draft

  1. rgl
    September 22, 2022 at 11:15

    I sincerely hope the US implodes soon.

  2. Michael McNulty
    September 22, 2022 at 06:48

    The Republican and Democrat parties are the two ends of the same turd.

  3. Verity Dies
    September 21, 2022 at 13:36

    Freedom — where we force you to do exactly what we command, but, its a new and improved ‘freedom’ and much better than ‘slavery’ because we don’t actually use a whip against your bare back as the means of coercion. We simply starve people and make them homeless and make them listen to the hungry cries of their children before they finally submit and join the military and go and fight to spread such freedom to all of humanity. How else would we be able to stand up with such patriotic pride and proclaim that our billionaire oligarchs are the best billionaire oligarchs there ever were?

    Ain’t Freedom Grand!

  4. Harvey Reading
    September 21, 2022 at 13:08

    LOL! I love it when fascists let slip the truth! Good job, Ms. Johnstone.

  5. Robert Nothhouse
    September 21, 2022 at 11:49

    It is unfortunate that in the course of time
    And it’s rising inflation,
    That the value of a human life
    Has not also increased
    To a point…
    Where war would be…
    An economic impossibility.

  6. Rick Ehrlich
    September 21, 2022 at 09:05

    Caitlin really tells it like it is. Boils it down to the essence. Profits for Raytheon. Prison slaves. Nobody just suggests reducing the size of our military by half, since no country has threatened the USA since 1945, this is the only additional area she might also explore.

    • J Anthony
      September 22, 2022 at 06:00

      I agree. Defenders of our bloated military argue that, if they did reduce the size and scope of the U.S. military, that other nations would see that as weakness or vulnerability and start planning for an attack against the US. I find it a bulls*** argument as well, but that’s what some of them say.

  7. susan
    September 21, 2022 at 09:03

    Hey, I have an idea – if we MUST have WAR, why not send robots (or politicians) instead of killing our youth?

  8. kevin
    September 21, 2022 at 07:21

    Both wings of the oligarch party have ensured a less than subsistence minimum wage for decades, knowing this facilitates people “volunteering” to join the armed services. Entry level service members are paid around $18K to start plus health care, dental, room, board, retirement, and other benefits which far exceeds the $7.50 an hour, with little to no benefits one earns working in U.S. in low skill entry level jobs. It is no coincidence that warmongering, fake progressive DEMs support $15 hour minimum wage, which they know is not sufficient to afford an apartment in most cities in U.S., therefore not threatening enlistment in services as the better economic option for those desperate enough to sacrifice their personal freedom, safety, morals, and principles of fairness towards other human beings.

  9. Vera Gottlieb
    September 21, 2022 at 03:51

    Is this all this frigging hegemon can think about…money and military? How about some humanity? How about some respect for others? How about some integrity? How about some honesty? How about some consideration?

    • J Anthony
      September 22, 2022 at 06:02

      Yes, those are traits of decency that elude power-gaming, warmongering a***oles. They don’t possess any of them.

  10. rosemerry
    September 21, 2022 at 02:20

    So the USA needs to force its youth into continuing the world takeover it regards as its duty. Democracy and freedom! Ukraine is the example we all see- try to ensure large numbers of people are “protecting their country” by giving their lives because they could not possibly make any agreements with their neighbor, declared an enemy.

    “it feels like their legs are being cut out from underneath them.” is a rather suitable metaphor for the military needs.

  11. doris
    September 21, 2022 at 01:45

    But, but…we need them to fight for our FREEDUMB!!

    Imagine even half of the military budget were to be spent on social/educational programs. Or if TV were used for higher education instead of capitalist indoctrination.

    Caitlin, you always seem to nail the issue at hand. Thanks for always being a much-needed voice of reason in a totally unreasonable world.

  12. Cynic
    September 21, 2022 at 00:58

    Another great article, succinctly expressed by Miss Caitlin. USA inflicts tremendous suffering on a majority of its population and on the rest of the world just for the benefit of the 0.1%. Robs the majority of any chances of happiness for their lives, just to make the billionaires even more billions. Why does the Americans put up with this? Even if Americans are willing to self sacrifice for the elites, the rest of the world is not. They are starting to rise up.

  13. Frank Lambert
    September 20, 2022 at 23:00

    Yes, I haven’t heard or read the term “cannon fodder” for many years, but it’s been the same moniker, said in different ways and different languages for thousands of years.

    War profits the richest people the most, and military-oriented industries thrive on either direct war (unless their facilities are bombed to smithereens) or fearful war propaganda in direct ways and sometimes passive ways in convincing the general population to support militarism and, unfortunately, armed conflict itself.

    The best anti-war sign I ever saw during the protest marches was this:

    “Kill one person & it’s murder; kill thousands and it’s foreign policy.”

    American Hubris will one day end in defeat or the Empire of Chaos will collapse from within. Time will tell.

  14. bardamu
    September 20, 2022 at 19:57

    Just in case you ever thought you were free.

    People think money is not like a pistol to their heads because when the trigger gets pulled, they don’t see the money.

  15. Brian Murray
    September 20, 2022 at 17:42

    How intricate and detailed the machinations of the US empire are with its non-stop propaganda through the corporate media 7 days a week. I always thought that low-income families and their offspring were paid barely survivable wages in order to find low paid workers so the capitalists can increase their profits with a steady stream of applicants to the shitty, dead-end jobs they have openings for. But, of course, the “empire” must be maintained with its own flow of bodies for the war machine. Thank you, Caitlin, for the now obvious second reason to keep a vast majority of families barely hanging on year after year. I hate to use a religious sounding word, but this is evil, pure heartless evil imbedded in our society. It’s interesting to me that somehow history, in the US at least, can bring about a form of Karma [i.e., what goes around, comes around] where white folks are now forced into wage peonage, barely hanging on, not unlike our black citizens did and are doing now. Most of our white forebears did nothing at all when they tolerated the obscene brutality against black African slaves decade after decade. Now we see the Capitalists needing to protect their profits and their “empire” now must turn to poor whites to maintain their privileges in this country. Using a well-known Malcolm X phrase, “the chickens have come home to roost”.

  16. Drew Hunkins
    September 20, 2022 at 17:14

    Massive SL debt means life ruination. A 25 to 40 y.o. in $60,000 to $500k SL debt will never have a home, never have children, and suitable marriage mates will reject them bc of the monumental SL debt.

    Circa 1977 the Washington elite eliminated the ability for SL debtors to discharge SL debt in bankruptcy court, thereby sentencing millions to a life of debt bondage.

    For many, a stint in prison would be better off for them than the lifetime of massive SL debt.

    Something has got to give.

    For many young folks in high school or just graduating high school, all that’s ever drilled into their heads is, “Go to the best college you can possibly get into!” We’ve seen what that’s led to: millions of Millenials and Gen Xers in lifetime debt peonage.

  17. John R
    September 20, 2022 at 15:43

    Not enough young people signing up as military fodder – then send your own effing kids and grand-kids to fight the god dam wars you MFers start without much thought or heart. Thanks Caitlin and CN. These effing “leaders” make me sick. I hope No One signs up !

    • Vera Gottlieb
      September 21, 2022 at 03:52

      Yeah…how about universal health care??? Or free education?

      • John R
        September 21, 2022 at 14:01

        Right on Vera !

  18. September 20, 2022 at 15:29

    Amerikkka knows no boundaries to is moral deparvity.

    • Vera Gottlieb
      September 21, 2022 at 03:56

      Oh, I think it knows it full well…it just would NEVER EVER admit to it or apologize. And this is the country that wants to rule/dictate the world – setting the worst examples. Trying to brainwash us with ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’. Part of the problem is…too many people all over the planet don’t see this and keep kissing the Yanx behind.

      • September 21, 2022 at 12:37

        While too many people in the world don’t see this, the real problem is too many people in America support this; and there are just as many people in America who don’t care about this.

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