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Pro-ROTC doesn’t mean pro-war

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I graduated from Brown with a degree in fine arts in 1968 and was commissioned as a naval officer the same day, having spent two years in Brown’s Naval ROTC program. The school banned us from receiving our commissions on the stage with the graduates, so we were relegated to Sayles Hall.

I have written to the Brown administration and the Alumni Monthly, trying to get some attention to the restoration of ROTC at Brown. The comments of some of those interviewed in “Focus on: Brown and the military” (April 27) help make the case. For example, Professor of Anthropology Catherine Lutz’s notion that “public and private universities shouldn’t be in the business of making better officers” is off-base.

Think about it. When we send soldiers and sailors into harm’s way, do we want them guided by “better” officers or “worse” officers? The mental skills of an officer can mean the difference between a successful operation and one with casualties. In fact, it is the duty of our universities to provide the best leaders possible for the thousands of enlisted people whose lives will be more or less at risk depending on the quality of the officers responsible for them.

Lutz’s point of view comes from a general anti-war perspective, which would end all wars and have no military. That’s admirable, but in the meantime, we need to deal with reality, which is that this country is going to be putting military forces out there at risk for the foreseeable future. Do we want to put those folks more at risk, or less at risk? Beyond that, what kind of admiral or general would you want in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the future – one from Brown, or one from somewhere else?

If you’re a pacifist, you would want that person to be from Brown. If you’re worried about stupid wars, you want that person to be from Brown. If you’re concerned about casualties, you want that person to be from Brown.

Today, people like to say they support our troops, but not war. Often a shallow sentiment, but better than calling involuntarily drafted soldiers in Vietnam “baby killers.”

But why not “support our troops” by providing them with the best and brightest leaders? When it comes to a school like Brown, aren’t our graduates exactly the kind of people we would want to have out there influencing the way the military does business? The degree I earned at Brown was as “liberal” as you can get, and I thought it was critical in my ability to make a difference in the Navy for four years. I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything, and those who worked for me felt the same.

So the next time you see an ROTC cadet walking around, go thank him or her for volunteering for the challenge of protecting our soldiers and sailors and making sure the ugliness of war is handled in the best way possible. That is what they are doing, not promoting warfare. No one is more anti-war than people active in the military. When I was in the Navy, I hoped every day that the war in Vietnam would end.

Military officers protect our country when the administration deems it necessary. If you have a beef with that, talk to the politicians, but don’t take it out on the military. And think about getting ROTC back on campus. It’s what Brown can do for those future “poverty draft” soldiers and sailors that anti-war activists are so concerned about. It doesn’t mean you’re pro-war.

Brian Barbata ’68 graduated from Brown with a degree in fine arts.

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