By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The various high-sounding rationales for war with Iraq that dominate media coverage are hardly the focus among this group of teens and kids in their earliest 20s. Alfredo Alatorre, the Manual Arts senior, thinks about his enlistment this way: “I’m going both ways. I help my country and I get my career.” Alatorre wasn’t originally convinced by the Army recruiter who came to his campus. “The recruiter came to my class, and I wasn’t interested. He called me on the phone and asked what I wanted to do.” Alatorre told the recruiter he hoped to attend UCLA and study paleontology. “He asked me, ‘How are you going to pay for this?’ My mom’s a housewife. My parents didn’t have that kind of money. I am going to be the first high school graduate in my family. That got me thinking. All I had to do was conquer the [Army entrance] test.
“Tanks caught my attention, from war games and war movies — the power they are throwing . . . If I could drive a tank, that would be, like, whoa!”
“It does. But if it’s a threat, like right now, it’s got to be taken care of. And life is scary. My mom came running away from that in Guatemala,” he continues. “War. She tells me stories of when she was a kid. It was nasty. I’m going into the Army to protect her from what she ran away from.”
Alatorre pauses, and thinks for a moment. He grew up at 41st and Vermont, where life can be scary. He is searching for the words that best express the hopes he has invested in the Army. “In those Army ads, when they go home with their uniforms on, it’s really cool. He’s going home. He’s not going in jail, or dead. That’s really cool.”
Those ads for America’s military are the products of recruitment budgets — among the four service branches — that exceeded $270 million last year. The current volunteer Army was an outgrowth of Richard M. Nixon’s shrewd political insight that ending the Vietnam-era draft would undermine opposition to an unpopular war. His maneuver created a military that was, essentially, an enormous job market, but with the added hindrance of having to sell itself to its potential employees — mostly teens who are unlikely to have a strongly developed sense of the nobility of national service.
“In the 1970s, when we went to an all-volunteer military, it caused a lot of problems,” says Alan Whitley, the creative director of the Marines’ advertising account at J. Walter Thompson. “After Vietnam, the military left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. The branches became independent marketing organizations.” That is what they have remained, to this day.
how does the military, especially on the eve of war, sell a four- or five- or six-year stint to kids like Veronica Jimenez and Alberto Alatorre? How does Whitley, whose “job it is to put 40,000 recruits into boot camp” for the Marines, make his pitch? First, he says, each branch uses a “different . . . appeal. The old commercials, ‘Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines,’ were ineffective. The Air Force became high-tech. Navy, adventure. Army had the biggest mission of all, they had to get a lot of guys. Marines, hell-bent for leather. If you want a career, go to Army. If you want adrenaline, go into the Navy. If you want to learn to fly planes, go into the Air Force. If you want to be a warrior, join the Marines.”
Playing in local theaters this winter season, and on televisions nationwide, for instance, is “The Climb,” part of the Marine Corps’ most successful recruiting campaign ever, according to JWT’s executive creative director, Michael Lollis. “‘The Climb,’” Lollis says, “uses symbols and metaphors” to get its message across. The spot, filmed in Monument Valley, Utah, begins as billowy white clouds speed across the blue heavens and a young man in a tank-top T-shirt peers up at a 600-foot vertical cliff. What we see — and he sees too — is the image of a full-dress Marine emanating from the rock. As he begins his free-hand ascent (an impossibility that the producers acknowledge was meticulously staged employing the safety precautions of a firemen’s rescue squad), the shadows of Marine infantry shimmer against the rocks. At each new level of his climb, another image is superimposed. Footage of helicopter gunships and Marines charging through a field whisk across the rock face. The face of a lone Marine in green fatigues and carrying a rifle flashes across the screen and then appears like a giant mural on the stony precipice.
The climber stares into the Marine’s eyes, which stare back. Inspired, he finds his next toe- and handhold, and shimmies between two towers of rock. The image of a black Marine spoon-feeding a pale Asian girl arises. He climbs higher, and as he sashays from ledge to ledge, the image of a training officer, firm-jawed, erect, hands on his hips, barking orders, exhorts the climber on. And then . . . the music stops! The climber loses his grip and dangles by one arm from a sharp overhang. He faces death. He reaches out, finds a firm grip and surmounts the lip. A momentary jump cut interposes the famous photo of Marines about to plant the flag at Iwo Jima, in World War II. As the flag is planted, the climber re-appears, the flag sweeps across the face he is climbing, and the men of Iwo Jima merge with the rock to become its surface. A Ă¤ voice announces: “The passage is intense. But if you complete the journey, you will find your destiny among the world’s greatest warriors.” At this moment, a ghostly hand reaches for his as he peers over the summit. A WWII Marine helps him up. The ghost stands at attention, salutes. The rock climber, in awe, snaps to attention and is transformed into a modern-day Marine. The whole teton becomes a unit of Marines, ramrod-stiff.
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