Columns

Park ’12: Students can change the military – by keeping ROTC out

By
Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The only way the United States and its military are going to cease conducting themselves as they have is through symbolic and physical pressure consistently applied in opposition to their conduct. The Brown community has a unique opportunity to apply such opposition by refusing to reinstate the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on our campus.

While I realize there may not be a consensus that this conduct is objectionable — despite the fact that the majority of Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are not clear about our goals in Libya — I’ll assume that we can agree that our military’s current conduct is concerning. It is irrelevant whether you are worried about the exclusion of transgender people, the documented climate of sexual violence and racial discrimination, the wars themselves or the culture of heartless violence — not to mention attempts to cover up this violence — demonstrated by war crimes, like those committed in Iraq at Abu Ghraib or in Afghanistan by the aptly named “Kill Team,” a cadre of soldiers that bragged to their battalion about killing civilians. The military will not change just by throwing in more Brown students, and it has not earned the right to our endorsement.

This is not now, nor has it ever been, a question of bringing diversity to our campus. No student is excluded from ROTC, though they must travel off-campus to participate. While ROTC scholarships could benefit some, these would not be the lower income students we lack, who are excluded not by the University’s financial aid, but rather by admissions policies which demand high scores on tests proven to be biased against the economically disadvantaged. Students committed to service have the opportunity to enlist or apply for officer training after graduation, when the rest of us embark on our chosen paths.

It is not only baseless to claim that an Ivy League education best equips people to transform the military, it is elitist and incorrect. Neither Former President George W. Bush nor President Obama figured out how to change the military or stop sending its troops to war, despite respective degrees from Yale and Columbia. Though Obama has repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” pending military review, there is no guarantee that this will come off successfully, given what Newsweek recently called the military’s “Secret Shame” — the prevalent sexual assault of men by men — and the already described climate of violence against women. Donald Rumsfeld, a graduate of Princeton ROTC, apparently learned little but how to get us stuck in quagmires. Meanwhile, Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn and Princeton have all had ROTC on their campus up through the present day to no apparent effect.

The CIA — which traditionally recruits from the Ivies — has a long history of questionable practices, interventions and violations of international law. This includes everything from the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, purposeless human drug experimentation, political assassinations, torture and the outsourcing thereof and the deployment of drones in countries where we are not at war, like Pakistan, killing approximately 10 civilians for every successfully suppressed target. We have all seen the CIA at the career fair — Brown’s recruits have done nothing.

Organizational theory and military culture demonstrate why it is so difficult to create change from the inside. The combination of a regimented hierarchy with devotion to mission objectives and following orders provides little wiggle room for troops and officers to produce positive change within a military environment. Those who seek change, like Ehren Watada or Bradley Manning, are court-martialed.

Military leadership necessarily consists of people who have most efficiently socialized to military culture. In the Air Force’s own report on “Resistance to Organizational Cultural Change in the Military,” the obstacle is stated simply — institutions would rather maintain “consistency and stability” than change, regardless of whether this stability is producing consistent harm. As the report notes, senior officers must realize most changes will not be well received. Claims that Brown ROTC officers would be uniquely better at overcoming these obstacles seem difficult to support. What is most concerning is that the military is overtly seeking the sort of “critical thinking” they believe that “elite” schools have to offer. If current military leadership desires assistance, this is so that established practices and objectives can be more efficiently carried out, rather than so these practices and objectives can be questioned.

If we are concerned with the military, we would be best served by calling on our University to maintain its current stance by rejecting the reinstatement of ROTC. This is not some elitist liberal logic, but the logic of a former community organizer who is now our president. To paraphrase, change does not come from the military — change comes to the military. This does not happen by following the lead of our peers, but by demanding something better. As Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Demanding that the military shape up would send a clear signal — that would be the University’s only chance to exert the influence wielded by its much-touted progressive reputation. And maybe being progressive at Brown could mean something for once.

Julian Park ’12 is a member of the Coalition Against Special Privileges for ROTC. For more information, contact julianfrancispark(at)gmail.com.