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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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!
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.