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Park ’12: Is there any justifiable reason to reinstate ROTC?

Opinions Columnist
Thursday, March 10, 2011

If identifying the empirical implications of U.S. military culture and policy is to “demonize the military,” as Oliver Rosenbloom ’13 has argued (“ROTC and human rights: putting the military’s record in perspective,” March 1), then this says nothing of those of us identifying these implications. To describe what I have written as “demonization” could only mean the facts we’re discussing are demonic.

I have no desire to write about demons — I don’t think they exist. I’m talking about the grave harm that our military perpetuates within and without, at home and in its occupations abroad — as people acting upon people.

Anthony Badami ’11 (“Just saying,” March 4) recently asked an important question: Is it “a good idea for Brown to train students to potentially hurt, damage or kill other human beings?” Yet he subordinates this question to whether such training challenges the spirit of “free inquiry.”

That the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps obstructs such inquiry is doubtless. For example, participants in Army ROTC follow the “Cadet’s Creed” — promising to adhere to the “Warrior Ethos” and “Army values.” ROTC challenges key components of academic freedom like faculty governance and peer review by demanding its own instructors and its own curriculum — it did when it was removed from campus for this reason, as it does today.

Nonetheless, subordinating our concern with violence to “free inquiry” is to suggest that Brown’s goals are ultimately educational. Brown’s mission statement tells us otherwise, that education is a means towards another end — “serv(ing) the community, the nation, and the world.”

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does not make the military compliant with our community’s non-discrimination policies. It is unclear to me how a failure on Brown’s part to follow through on its own official policies can claim to have the interests of our community at heart. Even if one believes that Brown’s current ROTC program, which requires a mere three-mile commute to Providence College, limits the individual freedoms of students — should the right to learn in an environment free of discrimination not trump comparatively superficial limitations?

Were the U.S. military — which considers transgender people “disordered,” and prevents their participation — to return to campus, Brown could no longer claim that it “does not discriminate on the basis of … gender identity, or gender expression in the administration of its educational policies … or other administered programs,” as it does in its stated principles. That Harvard ignored this aspect of its own policies to reinstate ROTC is concomitant to suppressing the existence of an entire category of people.

Given that 97 percent of people responding to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey said that they are “mistreated at work” and that transgender people experience a “similar number of hate crimes” per year as folks deemed worthy of legal protection, to ignore their existence is also to ignore the violence they experience in our society.

Such ignorance cannot but foster a hostile environment for Brown’s transgender students, present and future — a hostility that directly conflicts with free inquiry.

Rosenbloom claims the “U.S. military is the only force that stands between the barbaric Taliban and the brave Afghani women.” Permit me to set aside this comment’s ethnocentrism.

While the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission acknowledged in 2003 that the “denial of individuals rights, particularly women’s rights were all legal practice by the regime during 1996 to 2001” it also reported in 2009 that the “deteriorating security situation has continued to severely hamper the enjoyment of human rights throughout the country, particularly by vulnerable people such as women, children, persons with disabilities and internally displaced persons.”

Contrary to claims that we are conducting counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, army officer Capt. Matt Golsteyn points out that “we’re the insurgents here … and we’re selling a poor product called the Kabul government.” And if we can stretch our memories back to the 1980s, we might remember that the United States supported the Taliban’s rise — when it was in our strategic interests during the Cold War.

Then, as now, U.S. strategic interests come first — as suggested by President Obama’s silence on the Bahraini democracy movement, of which women are on the front lines. The Kingdom of Bahrain has of course been called “the Middle East anchor of U.S. defense strategy.”

If anyone is going to suggest that globally promoting human rights ought to be considered before the rights of one-third of the women in the U.S. military who experience sexual assault, they are thereby calling for Brown to endorse a “military culture that fails to prevent rape and sexual assault” and “mishandle(s) cases that were brought to its attention,” as CBS News and the New York Times have reported. The 11 percent rise in assaults in 2010 buttresses this point. Proponents of ROTC better be standing on firm ground.

Until proponents empirically support the alleged benefits justifying ROTC’s reinstatement — which none have yet to do — there is no reason for it to occur.

I won’t be so reductive as to claim that you’re either with or against me. But that does not change the fact that so-called “neutrality” on this question is nonexistent. To not care about ROTC is a political opinion — that you don’t find the military’s documented practices and policies objectionable.

This is me objecting.

Julian Francis Park ’12 is a member of the Coalition Against Special Privileges for ROTC. For more information e-mail


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