The Few, the Proud, the Masters of Manipulation: How Madison Avenue seduces our children for the war machine

PROTECT YOUR KIDS from the Military-Seduction Complex

Being an American soldier is like being the Daddy to all the world's adorable children!

   The commercials are more moving and stunningly tender than any ad campaign I've ever seen. First, there's the music:  a radiant, expansive, heart-rending hymn of somber violins that sounds worthy of a beloved president's funeral. The visuals are of noble young Americans: Beautiful, brave, principled, determined, competent and strong -- an idealized profile of what this country is supposed to be about.

    The few. The proud. The Marines. I have seen this series of ads over and over again the past two years.. Even though I despise war, and believe that our military-industrial complex is the world's biggest, most dangerous source of corruption and suffering, I never tire of watching them. They stop me in my tracks every time. They pour forth with the poignant  power of superb human beings doing what they believe is truly righteous. There is grace and magnetism in the way these clean-cut kids hurl themselves out of planes, surge through forbidding terrain and leap with awesome fortitude over one barricade after another.The ads use sophisticated psychology to lure today's peace-loving young adults into our "humanitarian" military. Watch out!



    You fall in love with their faces. One man's modest, exhausted smile after his long crawl through the mud makes you want to give him a bath, wrap him in a cozy robe, and serve him dinner. And then adopt him:

    What these ads never show is any glimpse of battle: No killing, no leveling of villages, no explosions. There is no screaming, no blood, no sobs, no smoke-and-flame billowing oil fields. There are no weapons! Just great kids who seem heroic merely for training with such good-natured grit. This is a dangerous, cynical mind-control machine that cruelly deceives our kids and keeps our War Machine running the world.

     "For Honor. For Courage. For Country." The music enfolds you in a warm bath of love and pride. It concerns me deeply that our Department of Defense is producing such BRILLIANT PROPAGANDA. It probably always has, but this is the first campaign that has gotten me in its grips and roused me, completely against my will.



See -- it's just a test. What could be wrong with that?







      As recently as 2009, the Marines had "highlighted in high-definition detail the grit, sweat and tears" of service, according to the New York Times, but the response among potential recruits was underwhelming. Even so, advertising agency J. Walter Thompson -- now known as JWT -- went ahead with its gripping "Toward the Sounds of Chaos" campaign. It was a visual banquet of bravery, and it made one wonder, "Could I do that? Run toward the chaos instead of away (cue 9/11)?" Of course we love courage, but we have learned over the past few pointless wars that what we seem to do is create chaos, or magnify it exponentially. Have we created peace anywhere?





    "They’ve long been known as devil dogs, leathernecks and the first to fight,"  the Times reported. But Marines, with their self-described expertise in “killing people and breaking things,” realized in 2012 that they'd better reverse course and go back to the relaxing, violin-music ads -- the ones without the forward-charge, staccato score and the bombs bursting in air. 

    That explains the ads "promoting their kinder side," that are in such heavy rotation right now, and which have such an impact on me. They spotlight dignity, seriousness and physical fitness, according to a Marine press spokesman. He made no mention of the mass slaughter and traumatic brain injuries that young people, enticed by the worshipful tone of these ads, might be getting themselves into.

    These lovely, turquoise-tinged ads were originally developed before the Iraq War even began, but were abandoned for the more aggressive "Chaos" approach, to attract the Toby Keith demographic (but most of them have gotten kind of fat and wheezy, and can't do much to vaporize Evildoers, as much as they'd love to):


The eagle will fly and it's gonna be hell,
When you hear Mother Freedom start ringing her bell.
And it'll feel like the whole wide world is raining down on you.
Ah, brought to you, courtesy of the red, white and blue. 

An' you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.
'Cos we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way.



   Ah yes, Mr. Keith: the American way. We have so many "ways" that are American. Have you noticed that we sure seem to get off on putting our boots in people's asses? And our guns in villagers' vaginas? Stadiums of people were screaming their heads off as Keith belted out his freedom-loving ditty.

Oh Toby -- you can be such a mindless prick.

    But when we started seeing the reality of war on the news every night, we decided it might be nice to keep our boots to ourselves.

    So the lovelier, but radically less honest, ads are back on TV, analysts say, because old-fashioned themes of teamwork, pride and service to country have resurfaced — messages that research says appeal to today's teenagers.

    Last year, JWT celebrated its mind-bogglingly profitable 65 years of partnership with the Marines. 

    When I originally contacted JWT about this advertising campaign, I got three emails within 30 minutes from brimming-with-pride account executives eager to talk about their creative achievement. They are so ecstatic about their slick, skillfully effective ads, they seemed thrilled that "a seasoned journalist" had noticed their savvy effort to "change hearts and minds" about what being in the military really means. Maybe it was because I said I had been extremely moved by the ads, which was true, that they were so responsive. 



Leni made Nazis look as wholesome as our Marines!

    But when I teasingly compared their brilliantly manipulative work to that of Hitler's genius propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl, a "Berlin Wall" between them and me was erected post haste (no surprise), and they decided to save their publicity machine for reporters who didn't question their tactics. 

    I do question them. I am furious about them, on behalf of myself, prospective recruits and the country at large. These ads contribute to the danger and damage that is already inherent in our never-ending war machine. I thought someone at JWT might actually want to defend his idyllic portrayal of a life that is harrowing and savage, and that devastates the minds and bodies of his "target audience," but no one felt like chatting. 

       JWT's new, kinder and gentler approach to luring young people into military service is easy to understand. In one study after another, today's kids reflect a sentiment expressed by Michael Jackson in 1982: "I'm a lover, not a fighter."

    According to the New York Times, 2012 research indicates that those who are currently in the "recruitment pool" are interested in helping people. So the Marines, like the good soldiers they are, rewrote the job description to stress humanitarian and peacekeeping endeavors that called for both courage and compassion. The job hasn't really changed, of course -- just the description of it. 

    Photos and videos distributed on television, in American movie theaters, on YouTube and elsewhere, show Marines talking with children, bringing food, water and medical supplies to earthquake victims, and clearing rubble from a tsunami-devastated village. It's so heartwarming! 

Let's play yo-yo! Isn't this fun? It isn't warlike at all!

Just enlist, and "Try a Little Tenderness" will be your theme song!


Here we are, to save the day! Relief is just a drop away!


    It's a not-so-subtle appeal to the generation known as Millennials, who have said in survey after survey over the past decade that they believe in giving back to society, voting in national elections and “helping people in need, wherever they may live,” said Marshall Lauck, director of the Marine Corps’ advertising account at JWT ad agency.

    JWT does year-round research and periodic larger efforts with the Corps to keep an eye on what the pool of potential American recruits is thinking. It found in the late 2010 survey of 17- to 24-year-olds that roughly 70 percent believed helping others was essential to being a good citizen today. Only 31 percent of the same 5,000 surveyed thought serving in the military was important to being a good citizen, but only about five percent said they would consider enlisting. Go figure.

    So offers an array of images to entice the hip, decent young adults among us. The relevance is unclear, the strategy is diabolical, but the pictures are nice:


The Marine as cyclist, in between drills.


The Marine as horse whisper, in between battle cries.



The Marine as potential criminal, turned into a potential Purple Heart honoree!


The Marine as virgin. Need we say more?


    (Just yesterday, the Army, in an internal email, was criticized for using attractive women in recruitment ads, according to the ABC affiliate in San Francisco. The message seemed to be: "They're asking for it!" Hoover Institution senior fellow Thomas Henriksen said, "You don't want to send the wrong message that the military is simply a place for the glamorous people." I really don't think we need to worry about that. The glamorous people are working for the advertising agencies that target "regular" kids to become cannon fodder.)

Get that kissable glamor-puss out of here!"


    The military is desperate to keep the ranks filled, and it is using an array of tactics -- some blatantly dishonest, some essentially constituting bribes of big signing bonuses, "re-up" bonuses and enhanced benefits -- to get to that exquisite "Mission Accomplished" phase. Thousands have been enticed into signing on by recruiters who promise them superb job training that they can use "on the outside," and other have been assured that they'll get a safe desk job in a noncombat zone. The next thing they knew, they were fighting for their lives in Falujah.

    JWT is the largest  advertising agency in the country, and the  fourth-largest in the world, boasting clients such as Rolex, Johnson & Johnson, Energizer, Kraft, Shell Oil and Royal Caribbean. The Marines' multi-year contract with JWT is worth approximately $213 million.

    The other armed services are equally desperate:



 Who would be so petty as to object to an afternoon of swimming?



Who hasn't dreamed of being a country-music star?


At last -- a place for a beautiful black man to "be all you can be."


     There is a reason for this that has everything to do with truly scary Mind Control that is carefully calibrated  in response to public opinion. The military uses some of the best experts in neuropsychiatry and conscious/subconscious attitudes to analyze the brains of recruitment-age Americans. Then, it merely tailors its marketing to their dreams and values. The emotional wallop of these ads keeps the rest of the American public on board with the whole enterprise as well.

    Even though I was aware of all that, I was impressed -- and deeply unsettled -- by the manipulative and deceptive genius that had gone into the I liked so much.

    Military recruitment ads, even from the recent past, were all about heroic battle, true grit, adrenaline-producing, shock-and-awe obliteration of people and places. It was "hear me roar!" and so much more. It was the essence of Manhood.

    But this multimillion-dollar "Towards the Sound of Chaos" campaign to keep "fresh troops" pouring into Afghanistan and Iraq (and Yemen, Pakistan, goes on) wasn't working very well. 







    The ads made made patriotism look all dusty and tiring and sweaty and uncomfortable, and perhaps dangerous to one's health, despite the cool sunglasses. But they also didn't really look like Peace was imminent -- or even the ultimate goal -- and so our delightfully sensible youngsters were kind of turned off, except for those who had an excess of testosterone or a deficiency of opportunities.

   The inconvenient truth is that today's young people really don't want to blow people apart, whether it's a heated, gory, face-to-face encounter in a distant wasteland, or whether it's done from a nice climate controlled cubicle stateside, where they can press buttons and watch as drones turn human beings into mist.

    Today's kids, bless their hearts, don't see the point. They have better things to do. They are, for the most part, a "can't we just get along?" generation.


Let's just be friends, despite our differences! It will be so nice.



     The military is using slick ads and video games designed by the

same marketing firms that create commercials for major corporations, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Nintendo. These ads and video games "do not accurately portray the lives of soldiers and do not mention the dangers of war," according to a Rutgers Law School investigation.


    Advertising costs among all the services was nearly $700 million in 2012, and overall recruiting costs reached $30 billion last year, up from $4 billion in 2006, according to a report by Rutgers Law School's Constitutional Law Clinic. 

  The harder it is to recruit teenagers to enlist, the more tax dollars are spent on recruitment advertising and the ever-more-invasive brain research to help design it. The budget has increased tenfold since 9/11, according to Defense Policy Analytics. 

    Last year, despite some opposition by deficit-conscious members, Congress voted to continue spending $72.3 million yearly to sponsor sports. Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, as well as IndyCar Series driver JR Hildebrand, are major beneficiaries. So are the National Hot Rod Association,  the Ultimate Fighting Championship and (get this: ) bass fishing.

Money well spent, no doubt.

     ( Less than a year ago, Marine Corps recruiting commercials that aired during Ultimate Fighting Championship events were discontinued. The service ended its three-year partnership with the organization following months of pressure from a labor union, women’s groups and members of Congress who objected to the "hate and brutality" that were inherent in the sport. Isn't that kind of like war, though?)

     America's minority kids are particularly vulnerable to military advertising, because many of them have so few options for education, careers, and lives in which self-esteem can be achieved.

The Army has the dubious distinction of contracting with four separate firms to create recruiting ads that target different ethnic groups, using cultural indicators to customize the ads, according to Rutger's University's excellent investigative commitment to this subject. IW Group, Inc., based in California, creates the Army‘s recruitment ads for Asian-Americans. The Army contracts with Images USA, of Atlanta, to produce recruitment ads for

African-Americans. It contracts with Casanova Pendrill, based in California, to create recruitment ads for Latinos. Find these kids weaknesses, tease out their psychological needs, and HIT THEM HARD. The ranks are too thin. Do what it takes!


    Uunder 10 U.S.C.A. § 503, the “Secretary of Defense is required by law to enhance the effectiveness of DOD’s recruitment programs through an aggressive program of advertising and market research targeted at prospective recruits and those who may influence them.”  

    One result is that "through Channel One in-school programming,

the Marine Corps is able to precisely target these ads to students while in class, reaching up to 35 percent of our target market on any given school day," a JWT report claims.

    It is disturbing that vulnerable young people are captive audiences to this propaganda by an order of Congress.


    Beginning in 2004, the military routinely fell short of its recruiting goals. In response, the military began a multi-billion dollar Madison Avenue-driven marketing campaign to sell military careers to America’s youth. Facilitating this effort is the No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB”), a federal statute aimed at equalizing the quality of education throughout the nation. 

    A little-known provision of that law aids military recruitment. The NCLB requires public high schools that receive federal funding to give recruiters access to students and student information, including contact information of all juniors and seniors. As a result, children are exposed to aggressive recruitment tactics without parental knowledge or approval.

   In 2011, the Army was particularly desperate to entice new recruits. This state of affairs led it to its first official sponsorship deal with a Hollywood film, “X-Men: First Class.”

    On the Army Facebook page visitors were invited to “view exclusive content from the upcoming movie” as well as watch a trailer for the film and a commercial that promoted the Army by comparing the experience to becoming an X-man. Awesome!

Wow, these are sexy, first-class people all right! Join the Army and become one!

     The movie “is about young people who are ordinary doing extraordinary things,” General Benjami Freakley said. “Ordinary people come in the Army and do extraordinary things every day.”

    The Marines also stress connecting with "high-impact media in male teen destinations, and "driving prospects from popular teen destinations to Navigating the pages, youth are exposed to the message in a dynamic, compelling manner that immerses them in the Marine Corps brand."

      It's exciting that everything has become a brand. The advertising people are having a blast, so to speak. JWT bragged last year that it has "positioned the Marines brand as an elite military force."

    Eliteness is a big thing, even when tanks and bombs are your "bling." But all the other services have their own claims to elitenesss, so it gets confusing.

The success of JWT’s campaigns has positioned the Marines brand as an elite military force, generating the positive brand awareness key to recruitment goals. - See more at:

The success of JWT’s campaigns has positioned the Marines brand as an elite military force, generating the positive brand awareness key to recruitment goals. - See more at:


Shock and awe. You can't beat it.


("Our finest" pissing on the dead.)


 "For Honor. For Courage. For Country."



For fun.



It's OK -- we pay $50,000 per massacre victim. They're rich!



America's proud legacy in Baghdad. The bombings have intensified.

     So, it becomes a challenge to maintain a "warrior class." If we had a draft, it would be so much easier. But the public would rise up, since their own precious kids would now be affected, and it would become an even greater challenge, if not an impossibility, to sustain a state of perpetual war.  


    Bravely, JWT presses forward with aggressive appeals in schools, online, at events and through mailings. 

    "Six mailings designed to reach high school juniors and seniors at critical decision times throughout the year are conducted. Through detailed database analytics, the Marine Corps’ direct mail program was expanded to deliberately target six behavioral segments of the prospect market based on their demographic and geographic information, as well as their military propensity," a JWT report discloses.


    The use of social media has dramatically shifted the constantly replenished heap of money used to reach young people away from conventional outlets. In just four years, funds spent on traditional media declined by 75 percent, according to the New York Times, as the military honed in on the hangouts -- virtual and physical -- where teens could more efficiently be enticed. 

    JWT’s much-vaunted “Chaos” campaign featured a “customized Facebook tab,” which “leveraged an already robust social foundation.” The Marines recruiting command launched its Facebook page in 2008 and became the first of any military branch to do so, it claims. JWT is proud, in a childlike way, that it was “the first government or military organization to surpass 1 million ‘likes’ and quickly reached 2 million ‘likes’ in just one year.”

    Chalk up all the "likes" you can. That doesn't change what you do, guys. Think about how likable you'd be if you Declared Peace.

     I realize that every other major institution in the country is also characterized by waste, fraud and, mismanagement, but their destruction of our "democratic" society is easier to contemplate without gagging or crying.




America thinks ahead: prosthetics waiting for the next Afghan victims.



The campaign also features a customized Facebook tab, leveraging an already robust social foundation.

The Marines recruiting command launched its Facebook page in 2008 and the first of any military branch to do so. They were the first government or military organization to surpass 1 million ‘likes’ and quickly reached 2 million ‘likes’ in just one year.

- See more at:

Baghdad girl was at the wrong place at the wrong time during a U.S. bomb attack. 


So was she, in Basra.

“Metal just came from everywhere. Believe me, there were no soldiers in the area. Only civilians. There was no reason for attacking us in our homes. No justification for this murderous act. Tell your countrymen what is happening. Let them see with their eyes instead of listening to George Bush's lying words. Look, this is reality — not the make-believe world of Bush and Blair.”       

     The few. Too bad there aren't fewer. The proud. Too bad we can't find something else to give them pride. The Marines. And all the rest of the Armed Forces, stomping all over the world, letting everyone know who's boss. We're looking for "bad guys"! Isn't that elementary-school thinking? (

Since he's so bad, our CIA electrocutes his genitals. Just stop being bad!

     The Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) administers the Youth Attitudes Tracking Survey (YATS) to students annually so that changes in youth “demographic trends, cultural characteristics, attitudes, and educational attainments” can be tracked by the DOD to formulate recruiting strategies. The DOD uses information derived from its behavioral research to guide its recruiting strategy and to influence teenagers to join the war machine.

This game gets you so damn psyched! Sign me up, dude!

     TheArmy employs a range of techniques to entice potential recruits. It developed its own video game, “America’s Army,” which is available for free download at the Army’s

recruiting website. The game has 6.5 million registered users according to the Army’s website. “America’s Army,” which has “become the gold standard for recruitment video games, cost $5.5 million.”

    The Army also uses text messages, helicopter simulators in the back of eighteen wheelers, and visits to sporting and entertainment venues that have been deemed to appeal to the military's desired demographic. 

    They also offer the immersive "Army Strong" experience to publicize how fun and exciting it can be to serve your country. Jumping out of planes is one of the most popular features of this program:

It's not just a job -- it's a cuddle, and almost a kind of 'twerk.'

     Recruiters still hang around payday loan storefronts, inner-city convenience stores and the other time-tested spots for latching onto kids in need of money and stability, but the military has more fun with the flashier stuff, and it matters little how much it costs. Congress can't bring itself to curtail these expenditures, since "The Homeland" is at stake. 

   All glitzty media and events aside, frontline military recruiting remains a job that is fraught with rejection, failure, pressure, changing parameters and seemingly impossible quotas. The desperate tactics and outright lies employed by recruiters have been repeatedly and exhaustively documented in the nation's major media. The Associated Press reported in March 2012  that recruiters make roughly 10,000 contacts through phone calls and canvassing to bring in 104 prospects. That’s winnowed down along the way — some change their minds, others fail to make it through basic training or infantry school — and ultimately 57 Marines emerge from the process out of the original 10,000 contacts.

    As I wrote in the Spring of 2011 ( we wind up not with a team of ardent patriots, but rather a bunch of kids who need a sense of belonging, who want a free college education, who want to escape from the farm or the ghetto, or who have aggression that needs an acceptable outlet. They admit, almost universally, that their goal is to get out alive, not to defend your freedom. There are very few who enlist for patriotic reasons, and most of them come from military families, so they're already thoroughly indoctrinated. 



     Recruiters are placed under enormous pressure, and some of them will do anything to moderate that pressure — including cutting corners, big time, according to a Time magazine article in June of last year.

    Here’s author Leonard H. Le Blanc III's Top 10 list of the ways he witnessed — or heard about, and believed happened — to try to get unqualified recruits into the U.S. military. I am quoting this material in its entirety:


10. Create a new birth certificate.

Either get a real birth certificate, scan it, erase the name electronically and place the “new” name in place of the old one. Or request a “real” birth certificate for someone who is already dead. Or you can “borrow” a real birth certificate from someone else who is unlikely to enlist.

9. Lie to the doctor about a chronic or disqualifying medical condition at the Military Entrance Processing Station.

Childhood asthma is the usual disqualifier for most people who are not medically qualified. Diabetes is another easily-hidden condition, if it is being kept under control through oral medication, or (temporarily) through insulin injections.

8. Bribe the person running the weigh-in scale at the MEPS.

Works great for overweight applicants if you can get some poorly paid, corrupt medical tech to go along with you.

7. Create a new high-school diploma.

There are many tales of recruiters bribing high-school counselors for blank high-school diplomas, to be filled in when needed by a deserving recruit who failed to graduate.

6. Forge a parent’s signature.

Ideal for someone who wants to enlist, but at under 18 is too young to do so without a parent’s formal OK. (You can enlist at 17 if one of your parents signs for you, but more often than not the parent(s) refuse to sign.)

5. Have a ringer take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB) in place of your prospective recruit.

Taking the test requires a photo ID, but creating a fake driver’s license – or swapping photos on the applicant’s license – are ways around this.

4. Create a college transcript.

You can get a counterfeit one, or buy one at a diploma mill. It makes your applicant eligible for a higher rank upon enlistment.

3. Create a whole new person.

Start with a fresh birth certificate, add a new Social Security card, toss in a new driver’s license, and top off with a new high-school diploma.

2. Provide a false urine sample at the MEPS.

Concerned your drug use might keep you out of uniform? Attach a fake bladder to your belly filled with someones else’s urine, and use a discharge tube to give “your” sample.

1. Steal someone else’s identity.

Just hijack all the relevant data from someone’s who’s never going to enlist.

The old saying — when the cat’s away, the mice will play — still applies. None of these scams could have happened if the next-level supervisors had been doing their jobs and spot-checked the process.


This post originally appeared on the site. Another post, "Mad Men, Bad Women: A summer in the '60s New York ad world" is relevant to this issue: