Columns

Taking Sides: Should Brown bring ROTC back to campus?

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Opinions Columnists
Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dorothy Lutz ’13: Yes

In 2011, then-President Ruth Simmons upheld the 1972 decision to ban the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Program on campus. I urge President Christina Paxson to reconsider this decision and re-establish ROTC at Brown. The University’s ban on ROTC denies students the freedom to explore an important career in public service, cultivates a counterproductive anti-military bias on campus and exacerbates the worrying rift between the U.S. military and civilian society.

To begin, the clearest recognizable majority of current students and alums support Brown’s greater involvement with the ROTC Program. According to a 2011 Herald poll, the largest plurality of students, at about 43 percent, favored or somewhat favored Brown’s increased support for the ROTC Program, whereas 13 percent held no opinion. A minority, about 23 percent, opposed.

Second, alums’ favor for the program is clear. The Committee on ROTC, convened in 2011 by Simmons to investigate the debate, polled alums. Seventy-seven percent of alums were either in favor or strongly in favor of bringing the ROTC program back.

Lastly, our peer institutions across the Ivy League have all invited ROTC units back on campus, due largely to the military’s repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Brown is currently the only Ivy League institution that does not field an on-campus ROTC unit. Students, alums and our peer institutions all support ROTC programs because they add significant diversity to communities, combat anti-military bias on campus and prepare students for valuable careers in public service through the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Open Curriculum ensures students the freedom to direct the course of their educations. Banning ROTC from campus denies students interested in military careers from exploring and pursuing their ambitions to the fullest possible extent.

Many counter this claim by asserting that the military’s fundamental principles run counter to a liberal education. Opponents to ROTC fear the “militarization” of campus and claim that ROTC’s curriculum espouses “indoctrination” counter to the Open Curriculum and our commitment to free thinking.

This claim is inflammatory and false, and we need look no further than to the significant contributions the small group of military veterans at Brown have made within the past few years. Every year, the Alfred H. Joslin Award is awarded to exceptional members of the senior class who have “not only enhanced their own liberal education, they have also provided services, programs and other opportunities for involvement to their peers, thus enhancing the learning environment for all students.”

Speaking in 2008, President Obama made the following statement in response to Columbia’s decision to reinstitute an on-campus ROTC unit, “The notion that young people here at Columbia, or anywhere, in any university, aren’t offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake.”

Paxson, Brown’s decision to uphold the ROTC ban was a mistake that ought to be reconsidered.

 

Dorothy Lutz ’13 can be reached at dorothy_lutz@brown.edu.

 

Mika Zacks ’15: No

Before coming to Brown, I was to be drafted to the Israel Defense Forces and had to go through a process of conscientious objection to obtain my exemption. Part of that process was an illuminating interview with an objection committee composed of a military psychologist, some grave-looking male officers and one or two female soldiers who clung so tightly to the right to remain silent I barely noticed their presence. I was asked, among other things, whether I’d consent to performing a nonviolent task as my service.

I closed my eyes and thought of Joan Baez’s grandma and answered well enough to be exempted, but my larger point is that a conscious, moral being cannot get past the simple fact that what a military does is kill and terrorize with the full backing of the state. You may not see this terror while doing human resources statistics in a dusty office or comparing notes with your soldier classmate, but it continues to rage in places we have deemed somehow less human, be they Pakistani schools or Gazan hospitals.

To me, the question is not one of discrimination against queer folk — of which there remains plenty, despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — or of sexual violence against women, which is endemic. The fundamental issue is the imperialist violence to which millions are subjected worldwide — violence that no internal reforms can address. The notion that an outpouring of brilliant and ethical Brown students can make the U.S. Army a better and more socially responsible institution is laughable. But when I think back to the elite school I attended in Israel, and to my former classmates who flocked to intelligence units, the relationship between academic and military institutions becomes decidedly not funny.

I know many of the activists who have worked to maintain the ban on ROTC do not share my position. There are many compelling arguments to be made against special privileges for ROTC that do not address the legitimacy of the institution itself. But in this platform I wish to emphasize that in my opinion, we should not bring ROTC back to our campus because we choose to reject state-sanctioned violence and making a contribution to it. The original ban occurred in the context of the Vietnam War, in denunciation of US imperialist war crimes. Our contemporary moment is no different.

Finally, a hugely important point to keep in mind is that the Solomon Amendment, enacted in 1996, makes it virtually impossible for universities to remove ROTC from their campuses without losing federal funds. Thus, reinstating ROTC would be an irreversible step, inaugurating a complicity without end.

 

Mika Zacks ’15 thinks bringing ROTC back to our campus is a terrible, terrible idea. She can be reached at mika_zacks@brown.edu.

 

Zacks’ rebuttal:

Lutz argues that Brown’s ban on ROTC “cultivates a counterproductive anti-military bias on campus” and I ground my opinion in an anti-military worldview.

To speak of bias is to assume neutrality — that is, to mistake the status quo for an objective, self-evident position. Yet to reinstate ROTC on our campus is to take a stand for U.S. imperialism. By training commissioned officers for the military, we are giving our active institutional support, both material and symbolic, to a state-sponsored system of organized murder. If it sounds dramatic, that is because the deaths of tens of thousands of children in Iraq and Afghanistan, the destruction of homes and livelihoods of millions, the daily violence inflicted on nonwhite non-Western peoples around the globe by the United States Armed Forces are all dramatic. Keeping the ban on ROTC is one small way in which we can denounce these acts.

Lutz makes the interesting point that banning students from exploring potential careers in torture and destruction goes against the principles of the Open Curriculum. A practical retort is that Brown students who wish to pursue such careers can do so through the ROTC unit at Providence College. But beyond that, it is important to note that ROTC has required courses taught by military instructors, which undermines the role of faculty members in shaping curriculum and clashes sharply with the Open Curriculum.

I am inclined to agree with Lutz that, sadly enough, the Enlightenment notion of a liberal education has always existed alongside colonialism and imperialism. We live in a militarized society, and even without special privileges to soldiers we are embedded in a military-academic complex. Clearly, we differ in our moral and political evaluations of this fact.

I would like to emphasize once more the implications of the Solomon Amendment for reinstating ROTC. If we bring ROTC back, we can never remove it again. Finally, if I were to address President Christina Paxson as well — divest from the illegal Israeli occupation, cut our contract with Adidas and keep the military out!

 

Lutz’s rebuttal:

Zacks’ argument hinges on the false claims that our contemporary moment is no different to the Vietnam Era and that Brown ought to reject ROTC in opposition to the use of state-sanctioned violence. We cannot compare the contemporary moment to the Vietnam Era in this regard. With the institution of the All-Volunteer Force in the wake of the Vietnam War, young Americans increasingly chose to opt out of military service, and a smaller and smaller portion of citizens now shoulder the burden of military service. In the words of military historian Andrew Bacevich, young Americans today don’t “turn against” the war as protesters did in Vietnam — they simply “tune out.”

By rejecting ROTC on campus, we here at Brown have the luxury of “tuning out.” We tune out the fact that unlike those living in Israel, only .75 percent of Americans shoulder the burden of military service. We tune out to the fact that Congress has the lowest number of military veterans since the United States began collecting data on veteran service in government after World War II. While Mika and I spar over the newspaper pages of an elite institution, we “tune out” the fact that war is a reality of modern life and push the necessary public service that is joining the U.S. military onto others.

Zacks also suggests that Brown ban ROTC in keeping with an all-out rejection of the military and the use of state-sanctioned violence. Zacks ignores the fact that Brown sustains a relationship with the U.S. government in the form of federal financial aid for students and federal research funds. We invite the U.S. government to provide valuable resources to campus, yet we reject the notion of inviting a certain branch of that government — the military — onto our grounds.

Brown’s decision to ban ROTC on campus wasn’t motivated by a “turning against” state-sanctioned violence and the war. It was motivated by the ability for elite institutions to “tune out” the U.S. Military and the realities of war. The more elite institutions choose to “tune out” the war, the greater the likelihood that the American public will continue to remain detached from the country’s increasing use of force within our lifetimes.

  • Patriot

    Zack’s argument is ridiculous. It is completely political in nature and does little more than display her own personal views about the US Military’s actions. Should the US not have a military? That’s an absurd claim. Lutz brings up a great point that Brown has a relationship with the federal government that goes beyond ROTC – does Zacks not think Brown grads should work for the federal government at all? The civilian branches fund and run the military, so maybe all Brown grads should go to Wall Street instead of public service…

    Great to see a non-American taking a strong side on how to run our country and armed forces. Oh, and you had to throw in the Gaza reference – couldn’t help yourself.

    • An Even Bigger Patriot

      I know, right? I hate it when people bring up Gaza. They’re always like, “Humans rights violations, illegal occupation, blah blah blah.” What is their deal? It’s almost like they don’t like illegal occupations and don’t want them to happen anymore. So weird.

      • Mr. Softee

        Gaza is completely irrelevant to a discussion about why or why not ROTC should be at the Clown College.

    • An Even Bigger Patriot

      And don’t get me started on how these people get all political when they talk about the military. Why can’t we be apolitical about wars anymore? Is nothing sacred??

    • Optimist

      Kutz,

      Can you really say you’ve never benefitted the US military? Ever donate to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Own anything made by GE? Maybe we should avoid companies that help veterans to dissuade people from joining the military. Ever shopped at a store that employs veterans? Ever used a bank that’s committed to hiring veterans? You should definitely stop using Google!

      Should we stop giving money to the homeless without asking if they’re veterans? Should we fire the 1/3 of TSA agents who are veterans?

      I’d like to see you walk up to a veteran and say this stuff. If you don’t want to say it one of our Brown student-vets, I’ll give you my grandfather’s number.

  • anonymous

    When we worked to keep ROTC off campus we weren’t trying to “tune out” the military. We were trying to fight it because what it does is fucked up and bullshit, and when the military is doing something fucked up and bullshit, “combating anti-military bias” isn’t actually an important thing to do.

    The military’s killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in our lifetimes. I’m pretty comfortable with a healthy anti-military bias.

    • Mr. Softee

      In my lifetime, the US military also killed a lot of Germans. Unfortunate, yes – as many of them were innocent (e.g. Dresden). But at the time, there really wasn’t any other good way to get the buggers running the show out of Berlin to stop all that Thousand Year Reich nonsense. NATO also dropped some bombs on innocent people in Belgrade to get the Serbian government to stop killing muslims in Bosnia. But I guess that’s all “fucked up and bullshit” as well.

    • raptorjesus169

      It’s not healthy at all. Your bias is making you blind to any good the military does. It makes you completely ignorant, only taking in information from like minded sources.

  • Optimist

    Katz,
    You are imposing your worldview on the rest of us. Should we stop admitting students we deem immoral? Homophobic? Anti-Israel? Pro-Israel? Pro-life? Why do we all have to accept your view of the U.S. military? Maybe some of us see it as the force that freed Europe. Would you have argued against ROTC in 1940 because the US government was interning Japanese? What about when Libyans being oppressed begged for our help, and we came? What about when the USS Ronald Reagan went to Japan in the wake of Fukushima? Balkans? Kosovo? Uganda? Mali? South Ossetia? Say goodbye to South Korea…

    No one can dispute the mistakes made by our military at every level, but please give the smallest acknowledgement to the good they do.

    For the record we don’t have a “ban on ROTC.” We have had a relationship with the Army since 1952 (as you realized by the time you wrote your rebuttal) no different than hundreds of other institutions. The limitation is that we cannot commission into the Navy and Air Force. Get it right before you write an article. Second, you say, “we choose to reject,” but you really mean you and the other 23% of students.

    Lastly, I don’t see how the military’s requirement of four courses is any worse than the 25 required by engineers or X# for pre-med…It’s still “open” because you choose your field.

    • Optimist

      *Zacks

  • Miriam

    Thank you, Zacks. People in our society all too often forget the tragedy intrinsically involved in military.

    • Mr. Softee

      Actually no. Plenty of people remember the tragedy of war all too well. They just don’t believe the nonsense that Mika Zacks believes in.

  • beigedingo

    Bring ROTC back to campus. While we are at it, also bring honesty, integrity, hard work, and academic excellence back to campus too. Start with the deans.

  • Michael Segal

    Barack Obama’s remarks about Columbia, quoted by Dorothy Lutz, were made on 11 September 2008, when Obama was running for president, and Columbia was considering whether to stop barring ROTC but had not reached a decision.

    Lutz’ point about Brown being the lone Ivy League college to continue to bar ROTC, and how this reduces campus diversity, is a very real issue. One high school student who is applying to college and plans to serve as a military officer told me that she won’t even consider Brown because it bars ROTC. When you are on campus, you are not just tuning out the US military, you are tuning out those who want to serve in the US military.

    People who serve in the military are taken more seriously as potential leaders because they understand the tradeoffs of military action. But this reasoning even applies to those who don’t themselves serve: people who are educated in communities sheltered from the tough issues in the real world will be taken less seriously as leaders.

  • Recent Alum ’10

    Bring back ROTC. The core organizing principle of a Brown education is that “the student chooses.” If you don’t believe in military service, don’t join ROTC. The ban is not about what you think of the military. The ban is about prohibiting other students from making a choice for themselves.

  • Dual Bag

    If a conservative doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t buy one.
    If a liberal doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.

    If a conservative is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.
    If a liberal is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.

    You get it. GROW UP!