JROTC manuals offer an alternative view of the world

A manual for high school military cadets says girls should wear lipstick when in uniform. Another offers what a history professor described as a “scary” take on how the Vietnam War was lost. Another attributes the death of Kurt Cobain, the leader of Nirvana who committed suicide in 1994, to heroin addiction.

The majority of public school textbooks undergo extensive professional and governmental scrutiny, review, rejection, and public debate. But the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, in courses taught in thousands of high schools across the country, uses textbooks that have circumvented these standard public exams.

JROTC educational materials cover a wide range of topics, with lessons on financial literacy and public speaking, healthy eating and first aid, college readiness and life in the army. Most of them offer a layout similar to what one would find in any public high school study material.

But a New York Times review of thousands of pages of the program’s manuals found that some of the books also included outdated gender messages, a conservative undertone of political issues, and accounts of historical events that falsify or downplay the failures of the program. US government.

Here is an overview of 10 questions addressed in the texts:

A textbook produced by the US Air Force informs students that the United States entered the Vietnam War after the North Vietnamese attacked an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964.

But the authors never mention a key part of the story: It was the report of a second full-scale attack two days later that led Congress to approve America’s increased involvement in Vietnam – and that attack , history finally revealed, never happened.

A review of this story published by the US Naval Institute concluded that the second incident did not occur and that US officials, including the country’s Secretary of Defense, “misrepresented the facts and misled the American public. on the events that led to the full involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War”. .”

A manual the Navy distributes to JROTC students is clearer than the Air Force book, but only says that “evidence collected later seemed to indicate that the alleged attack may never have had venue”.

The textbooks give students insight into the dangers of alcohol and drugs, warning especially about marijuana. A Navy manual falsely claims that marijuana is more likely to cause lung cancer than cigarettes.

An Air Force manual published at a time when states were approving both medical marijuana and broader legalization measures offers a critical view of these trends, saying voters who approved such measures ” don’t necessarily understand how harmful a substance like marijuana is.”

“These new laws may make it seem safe or ‘okay’ to use marijuana,” the manual says. “However, that’s not OK!”

Air Force officials, in response to a question from The Times, said they would review this section for possible revision.

A textbook implies Kurt Cobain died of heroin addiction, omitting the fact that it was a gun that ended his life.

A Marine Corps manual tells female cadets that in uniform they should wear lipstick and do their hair in an “attractive feminine style”.

At a time when women are fully integrated into combat jobs, an army manual explains how men are not to sit “until all the ladies at his table are seated”. He recommends that men help women sit down.

“If a lady leaves the table at any time, the gentleman who seated her gets up and helps with the lady’s chair,” the book says.

Army officials said in a statement that their pages were designed to “teach cadets the customs, courtesies and etiquette referring to military balls and other formal events.”

An Army manual begins by laying out the case for diversity, saying it can enrich culture and allow people to better understand each other. The text then notes that some people fear that diversity will erode “social cohesion”.

“It could also harm our ideas about the common good, as people focus more on their own interests,” the text reads. The section ends by asking students: “Is there too much diversity? »

The military said in a statement that the lesson was not intended as a statement on multiculturalism but as an exercise in critical thinking.

A Navy manual describes the US bombardment of Libya in 1986, carried out in response to an attack on a dance club in Germany.

The United States carried out the bombing “with the agreement of most of its European allies”, he said. But Stephen Zunes, a University of San Francisco professor who specializes in Middle East politics and who has reviewed excerpts from the JROTC manuals, noted that Spain and France were so opposed to the bombings that flights Americans had to circumvent their airspace.

A navy manual puts a defensive spin on a disastrous 1988 incident in the Persian Gulf, when a US Navy missile cruiser shot down an Iranian airliner inside Iranian airspace. All 290 people aboard Iran Air Flight 655 were killed.

Mr Zunes noted the manual called it an “unfortunate incident” and downplayed the US military’s culpability, saying the airliner approached the Navy ship “in a way that appeared to be a threat”. But a Navy investigation found the plane was “normally climbing” out of Iran and “within the established air route” to Dubai.

Two of the Navy’s textbooks examine why the U.S. Army failed in Vietnam, a failure that continues to be examined and debated to this day. One section is titled “Restrictions Hinder Victory” and describes how political leaders limited who and where the military could bomb.

“According to many analysts, America lost the Vietnam War largely because of these limitations,” the other handbook says. (This text goes on to question recent limitations imposed by political leaders on the military in conducting an air campaign against Islamic State militants in the Middle East.)

This assessment is far from universal, especially among the many historians who have studied the Vietnam conflict. They broadly concluded that many factors – including, perhaps most importantly, the region’s messy political dynamics – meant that a US military victory was not attainable at a reasonable cost.

Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, a Columbia University history professor who specializes in the Vietnam War, said the text misinterpreted the war.

“It’s one of those warmongering, conservative interpretations of military history of warfare that says if the army hadn’t had to fight with one arm behind its back, it would have won. This is wrong,” Ms Nguyen said. “It’s scary what is written.”

A typical California civilian classroom textbook dealing with the Second Amendment informs students that the courts have authorized the government to regulate guns. A Texas textbook in a similar section on constitutional amendments does not include information on how the courts have interpreted the amendment.

But a manual used in the Navy’s JROTC program offers a different analysis of either, saying, “This amendment prevents the government from prohibiting citizens from owning weapons.”

In introducing freshmen to the idea of ​​leadership, a Marine Corps textbook offers Confederate General Robert E. Lee as an example to emulate. Lee, the manual says, “showed, in his attitude and appearance at Appomattox, that he was an officer and a gentleman.”

In discussing the history of how Native Americans were driven from their lands in the southeastern United States during the 1830s, a Marine Corps handbook describes what is widely known as ” Trail of Tears” as a “walk” and a “trek” inland. west of the Mississippi River which extended for several months and thousands of miles. But the text omits any mention of the brutal reality of this massive displacement: thousands of Native Americans died along the way.

Military officials said they seek to regularly review and update the manuals used in JROTC training, relying in part on instructors and consultants to shape the curriculum. Some of the highlighted manuals were published years ago, they said, and should undergo periodic reviews that are carried out “to ensure that the information is up-to-date, relevant and accurate”.

In response to inquiries from The Times, some of the service branches said they planned to take a closer look at some of the highlighted passages. The Marine Corps said it was “grateful for the attention given to these necessary modifications.”

Dana Goldstein contributed report.


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