The Militarization of Young People in Chile

When examining militarisation and young people in this country, we must necessarily look back and take into account the hundreds of years of militarism in the area's history: land occupations and violence by European colonists, construction of the 'national heroes' to motivate patriotism, legislation of obligatory military training, exponential military spending versus the social spending diet, introduction of of military training in civilian schools, and mutation of the armed forces according to the dominant economic model. All of these measures have targeted sectors of the population that are economically vulnerable but are also potentially quite strong in political terms: the boys and girls and young people of this country. The vulnerability of this sector of the population allows militarisation to settle in comfortably and then neutralize possible pockets of resistance. Today militarism projects itself into society, youth and childhood in three ways: by creating actual violence (as in the south of the country against the Mapuche people), acting directly upon young people (protected by legalised, obligatory military service), and constructing social images (via formal educational institutions). In the medium and long term, these three proposals complement each other. However, each one is also worth examining individually, based on goals set by the State and its armed branches.

Militarization of the land and excessive violence in Mapuche territory

While the Chilean State's harassment of the Mapuche people goes back to the 19th century, in recent years we have seen some very violent scenes in the south of the country. Attempts by the Mapuche people to recover lands that had been seized from them has led to the state's militarising the area with the permanent patrol of private lands, as well as attacks with heavy artillery on Mapuche communities. The military occupation has let to human rights violations, the death of Mapuche community members, the arrest of community leaders, and other damage. The construction of a 'militarised zone' has allowed children to grow up in a hostile and insecure space, while young people have responded in both violent and non-violent ways to defend their communities.

Military Service: Obligatory

Military service is obligatory for men and voluntary for women. In addition, the army has the ability to automatically sign up young men, as the legislation allows the personal details of potential soldiers to be transferred from the National Civil Identification Registry to the army. For the last five years the military service system has been made of up two stages: First, there is a period in which the vacancies are filled with volunteers. Then, if not all vacancies are filled there is a lottery of the young men who by law are required to serve. Due to the student mobilisations that began in 2006, young men have shown reluctance to do their military service. But the army's strong recruitment campaigns allow them to fill the places without needing to have a lottery. The recruitment campaigns mainly promote the economic and educational benefits of completing obligatory military service and highlight the image of the 'soldier/hero' in the country, using the Army's positive contribution in times of natural disasters as an example.

Military indoctrination in schools

In the educational programs developed by the ministry of education, a certain dichotomy is deliberately generated: On one hand it is oriented towards the strengthening of civic education and reflection on the condemnable acts of history carried out by armies and militaries (the Nazi holocaust, dropping of atomic bombs, world wars, etc.), but on the other hand it does not criticise local militarism at all. In fact, it puts military heroes on a pedestal and extols the country's military 'victories', promoting patriotism and xenophobia. The theorization of militarism, showing it as natural and unquestionable, causes young people and children to see military intervention as 'normal'. This acceptance is additionally strengthened through ceremonies on dates memorable to the army, when schools interrupt classes in order to commemorate the anniversaries. Also, in many everyday school activities come practises which were born in military barracks and long ago became established in civilian spaces: pseudo-military brigades which keep order during recesses, military music bands, uniforms and protocols which are very similar to those used by military schools (short hair, shined shoes, insignia displayed), and other practices that accompany the students through their entire educational experience.

While these are not the only strategies for persuading or, plain and simply, damaging civil society, the Chilean military knows very well that they are in a privileged position and are supported by wide sectors of society. But there exists the fear that young people will generate radical changes in society, giving way to new forms of liberating, non-authoritarian, just coexistence. Such a scenario would divest the military of its moral power.