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military recruitment at colleges

A young woman checks out weaponry during Military Exhibition Day at California State University, Fullerton on April 14, 2022. (Photo: Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

'Quiet Part Out Loud': GOP Warns Biden Student Debt Cancellation Will Hurt Military Recruitment

"The GOP is admitting that the military relies on poor young people to keep the war machine going, and that's why they oppose canceling student debt."

Brett Wilkins

Progressive voices on Monday rebuked Republican U.S. lawmakers for repeatedly warning President Joe Biden that forgiving student loan debt will harm the military's ability to attract recruits with the promise of free college.

"The price of a college degree should not be bloodshed or a lifetime of crippling debt."

Nineteen Republican members of the House of Representatives last week signed a letter to Biden expressing concern over the "unintended consequences" of the president's plan to cancel $10,000 to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers in lower-income to upper-middle-income families.

The letter counts the GI Bill—which covers all in-state tuition and fees at public colleges and universities—among "some of the most successful recruiting incentives for the U.S. military" and "a driving factor in many individuals' decision" to join the armed forces.

"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 of paying for higher education," the Republican lawmakers asserted.

Progressives accused the Republicans of saying "the quiet part out loud," while offering backhanded praise for inadvertently acknowledging what critics call the poverty draft.

"Every time I see a politician just come out and say, 'We can't forgive student debt because we'll lose one of our best military recruiting tools,' I have to stop and marvel at the absolute moral repugnance of the sentiment, and the audacity of stating it so bluntly," poet Stefan Mohamed tweeted.

"The GOP is admitting that the military relies on poor young people to keep the war machine going, and that's why they oppose canceling student debt," the group Our Wisconsin Revolution argued on Twitter. "The price of a college degree should not be bloodshed or a lifetime of crippling debt."

While Pentagon brass often tout the "all-volunteer" nature of the U.S. military, critics have noted that the poverty draft—which disproportionately affects people of color—is fueled by the student debt crisis.

Despite record enlistment bonuses, U.S. military recruiting is currently in crisis. According to Army data, up to 70% of potential recruits are disqualified in the first 48 hours due to obesity, low aptitude test scores, or drug use—an increase from previous disqualification rates of 30%-40%.

During the height of the so-called War on Terror, which was launched in 2001 and continues to this day, the U.S. military made up for recruitment shortfalls by lowering admission standards to allow people with felony convictions, gang members, and racists—but not openly LGBTQ+ aspirants—to sign up, resulting in widespread infiltration of white supremacists.

Deception, falsification of qualifying records, and outright lies were also commonly reported during recruitment by a military that, when faced with enduring shortfalls, simply extended combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan through compulsory "stop-loss" orders.

Additionally, military recruiters—who operate under mottos like "first to contact, first to contract"—have targeted children as young as 10 years old via pre-Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, JROTC, and ROTC programs from the elementary school through collegiate levels.

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