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Op-Ed Thu May 21 2015

Memorial Day Awakening - 2015

By Arnold Stieber

An awakening... to summer festivities and the anticipation of warm weather and fun, picnics, a holiday — that's what Memorial Day is for most. Some will march in parades or stand on the sidelines waving flags and unwittingly support the military model of conflict resolution by violence. There will be words like "heroes" and "bravery" and "God bless America."

memorial day parade chicago
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

The Chicago Memorial Day parade is Saturday, May 23. It's billed as the largest Memorial Day parade in the nation. As an Army infantry veteran of the U.S. war against the people of Vietnam, I attended the parade in 2013 with several members of Veterans For Peace. We were expecting to see a somber memorial parade that recognized the death and destruction caused by war. Instead we saw militarized police and fire departments, military groups and military vehicles. At least 80 percent of the parade was hundreds and hundreds of children, in military uniforms, proudly marching behind military banners. We were overwhelmed with sorrow.

Why were so many child soldiers in the parade? We found that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is the most militarized public school system in the nation. Using terms like "service" and "leadership" and counting militarism as physical education, CPS has encouraged, and sometimes forced, 10,000 children, from middle school and high school, to learn to honor the military model of conflict resolution by violence, and CPS has plans for more.

Our research revealed that militarization of public education is a national epidemic, but most people are unaware of it. The ones who acknowledge it think the military provides a "way out" for many children, and that militarization provides "discipline" and "skills." We found CPS pointing to test scores at military "academies" (CPS has six of them) as proof that militarization is good for children.

ChicagoVFP concluded that educating the public would be our thrust and our first step would be to speak at CPS Board meetings. We theorized that we could make contacts and take advantage of the fact that CPS videos all meetings, archives them on their web site and rebroadcasts them on public TV. We added a Facebook page: DeMilitarizeCPS. We undertook a crowd-funding initiative.

We distributed a Position Paper to the CPS Board, Rahm Emmanuel and the community. It reads in part,

The military model is conflict resolution by violence. The military model is following orders without question. The military model is humanly, environmentally and financially expensive. The military model is the antithesis of democracy. If children are taught that the military model of conflict resolution by violence is the right way, and they are given recognition and special treatment for participating, and parents and the community encourage them, they will participate. Children do not have the maturity to question. Children do not have the mental strength to challenge the culture. It has been said that children do better academically in military academies. Children thrive when they are given opportunities, resources and recognition in any environment. Give them opportunities, resources and recognition in a music academy, a science academy, a poetry academy, or a traditional classroom, and they will thrive.

Make Memorial Day an awakening day. Explore the fallacy and myths of war. Explore what you are being told. Explore what your children are being told. Explore your fears. Join us in promoting "Education Not Militarization" for the children and this nation.


Arnold Stieber was Army infantry in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971. He is a father, grandfather, retired business person with an MBA. He is the current coordinator of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace.

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Kevin / May 22, 2015 8:15 AM

Thank you for taking on this important issue, Arnold. Good luck with your efforts.

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