Columns

Waite ’11: Politics and patriotism in the ROTC issue? No thanks

By
Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two recent opinions columnists have expressed different views on the Reserve Officer Training Corps issue. Chris Norris-LeBlanc (“The ROTC Question,” Jan. 28) paints a political picture: Brown should not endorse the army by allowing an ROTC presence on campus. Heath Mayo (“The ROTC Answer,” Jan. 31) rejects the politicized view in favor of one centered around patriotism: Brown has a responsibility to support the forces protecting us abroad.

 The issue, while it can be made about politics and patriotism, should be about neither. As much as Brown students tend to be of a liberal persuasion, the University would be going a step too far in continuing to ban ROTC based on an apparently universal disapproval of our military’s actions. We send many students each year to be investment bankers and consultants on Wall Street — the actions and moral choices of whom I frequently question. But it would be ridiculous to stop Goldman Sachs from recruiting at Brown. Clearly, the situations have differences, but the point is that Brown has little business unilaterally opposing the military and everything it does through a ban on ROTC.

Does that mean we have a patriotic duty to support our military in all of its endeavors? No. As a Brown student generally skeptical of much of our international activity in the past few decades, I stand strongly by the claim that my skepticism does not preclude my patriotism. Brown students can and should continue to question our policy abroad. We can continue to do that even with an ROTC option here — in fact, it might make our questioning even more relevant.

Ay, there’s the rub, and now we come to what will likely be the most controversial part of this column. I think we generally have very little direct experience with or connection to the U.S. military. Relatively few of us have acquaintances, let alone close friends or siblings, in the armed forces. An ROTC presence on campus would be exactly that — a presence that we hardly ever see now. It makes me cringe on Veterans’ Day when Brown students uncomfortably give a wide berth around uniformed men or women, wondering what business the army has on a campus like ours.

Frankly, if more students at universities like Brown were to enter ROTC, and by extension the U.S. military, I think we just might give that military — and the missions it undertakes — a little more rapt attention. Perhaps if more of us actually knew about U.S. military presences the world over and had met some of the women and men making up those presences, we would be in a better position to make the changes we want to see in our foreign policy.

Countless articles in recent years have exposed how much of the U.S. military is made up of recruits from rural America, most of whom are from poor or lower-middle-class families. For all that Brown students tend to criticize the military, we certainly don’t have much of a role in it. If we, and others like us, had more of a presence in, or exposure to, the armed forces, perhaps — dare I say it? — we would do more than passively disapprove of its actions. Coming at the same point from another angle, our judgment of our current military leadership and decision-making does not have to color our judgment of peers interested in such a career, nor does it have to color the program in which they have chosen to enroll in order to achieve their goals. An ROTC presence at Brown would invite, I believe, a more dynamic discussion about the U.S. military and a more nuanced perspective from those inside and outside the program.

In sum, I see the ROTC issue as one of choice and awareness. No one would be forced to enter the program, and quite honestly, I don’t predict it would be very big here. But allowing that option would open the range of experiences and perspectives on our campus. It could also help to populate the top tiers of the military with some well-educated Brown students who have trained in an environment of great ideological diversity. Furthermore, a closer-to-home experience with army recruitment and training might spur those of us opposed to certain military choices to back up our arguments more and take them farther.

Whether it’s about politics or patriotism, I stand where I usually do: Let’s have a healthy debate about it. I believe that debate would be enriched by the participation of Brown students also interested in a military career.

Chelsea Waite ’11 could have put this article on a sign at the Rally to Restore Sanity.

  • rfinch

    I can’t agree with you more. I’m from small-town America and didn’t have money for an Ivy League education. A ROTC scholarship would have been a great opportunity for me, but most of the best schools didn’t offer ROTC programs. Instead of a mediocre liberal arts degree at a ROTC school, I went to West Point where I was part of a very small liberal presence on a campus full of (sometimes bizarrely Christian) conservatives who would frequently question why, as a female, I was attending a school for men. After six years in the Army, TRUST ME. THE MILITARY NEEDS BROWN.

  • airborneduck

    I don’t agree that the Army needs Brown—the cost of establishing an ROTC program on Brown isn’t worth the investment especially if the author is correct in the assumption that there would be few students who opt to participate in the program. My bet is that the students at Brown who are interested in service to the Nation through ROTC already participate in ROTC at a neighboring university that is one of the 270ish ROTC hosts. So the Army is probably already getting the onsie twosie Brown grad that is propensed to serve. The Army should spend its limited funds where it makes sense: where it gets a good ROI. Based on your stated disconnect, it seems that Brown needs that Army a lot more than the Army needs Brown.

  • airborneduck

    I don’t agree that the Army needs Brown—the cost of establishing an ROTC program on Brown isn’t worth the investment especially if the author is correct in the assumption that there would be few students who opt to participate in the program. My bet is that the students at Brown who are interested in service to the Nation through ROTC already participate in ROTC at a neighboring university that is one of the 270ish ROTC hosts. So the Army is probably already getting the onsie twosie Brown grad that is propensed to serve. The Army should spend its limited funds where it makes sense: where it gets a good ROI. Based on your stated disconnect, it seems that Brown needs that Army a lot more than the Army needs Brown.