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Lattanzi-Silveus ’14: Changing the debate on ROTC – a socialist’s perspective

Guest Columnist
Thursday, April 14, 2011

In the debate over whether the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps should return to campus, the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is usually given as an answer to the question “why now?” This is not the real reason, as ROTC’s history shows.

ROTC came into existence in 1916, part of the United States mobilization for World War I. It was designed to be an officer-producing institution for the U.S. Army, which it remains to this day. Between the wars, it gained its place on many college campuses to put the resources of universities at the disposal of the military training program.

In 1964, the ROTC Vitalization Act was passed. This act required that military instructors be given the status of professor, without the instructors or course material being subject to review by the faculty or any other university body. And indeed, many ROTC courses would not survive such scrutiny, then or now. One need only look at the subjects of some offerings, such as “Army Values” or “Warrior Ethos” to realize that they are more focused on indoctrination than education.

It is also important to note that American ground troops were deployed in Vietnam the year after the ROTC Vitalization Act was passed. The increase in the resources given to ROTC — the act also provided financial aid to enrollees — was part of the buildup to the Vietnam War.

The Brown faculty voted to take away ROTC’s academic status in 1969, at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War. Officially this was because of the absence of accountability concerning military course content, but the timing is no coincidence. Students and faculty were fed up with this unjust war, and as a part of their protest, they demanded the military organization of ROTC be removed from campus. Students and faculty across the country opposed the war and, in many cases, burned down the buildings that housed the ROTC programs on their campuses — including the ROTC building at Kent State, which was burned down during the protests that led to the shooting of unarmed students by the National Guard in May 1970. ROTC was finally fully expelled from Brown’s campus in 1972.

What does this brief history show us? First, that ROTC was expelled from campus because of its lack of accountability and role in the prosecution of the Vietnam War — not because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Its repeal does not therefore address the reasons for which ROTC was expelled in the first place. The U.S. military is still engaged in unjust wars around the world, and the ROTC curriculum still answers only to the higher ranks of the armed forces.

Second, it shows that ROTC’s expansion is directly connected to the expansion of American intervention abroad. For the past decade, the United States has pretty steadily increased its involvement in foreign countries — notably by invading them. This is the real reason there has been such a push for its reinstatement now. President Obama needs a military that is perceived as legitimate to help justify the continued occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the many other acts of American intervention around the world. This also helps justify the president’s request for $881 billion for the 2012 defense department budget while public sector jobs and wages are being cut everywhere due to a budget deficit. Giving legitimacy to ROTC by bringing it back to campuses is part of this effort.

Having ROTC on campuses also grants the military concrete access to the intellectual and scientific resources of academic institutions. The University would be providing its facilities to the vocational training that is ROTC, as the only use of ROTC courses is to join the military. You will notice that no other organization gets to have its own courses and access to University institutions and students. And quite rightly so — the idea of having courses run by Bank of America or Shell frankly appalls me. In bringing ROTC to our campus, the powers that be are trying to make us and our University complicit in the wars by giving the military special privileges and resources to which it has no right.

By opposing ROTC, we send a clear and powerful message that we are against the wars and against militarism in general. To keep it off campus, we need to show the administration and ROTC itself that we do not want it back. We need to do more than just debate this in The Herald or the Sharpe Refectory — we need to take collective action and make our opposition visible. I ask everyone who opposes ROTC, for any reason, to rally against it!

Other campuses have failed to block ROTC’s return, in part because University administrators, eager to please their political patrons, have artificially limited the debate. Let us make this a referendum on American imperial wars and our intervention in the Middle East, which most Americans today oppose, according to recent national polls. If you stand against our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, come out and oppose ROTC. There will be a rally against ROTC in the near future — keep an eye out for it. I’ll be there. Will you?

Luke Lattanzi-Silveus ’14 is a proud member of the International Socialist Organization and would love to be contacted at for more information about ways to get involved.

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