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Rosenbloom '13: ROTC and human rights: putting the military's record in perspective

The debate about the Reserve Officers' Training Corps has caused many students and alums to demonize our military and portray it as a habitual human rights violator. Even if these critics have some valid points, their overall impression of the army is distorted. Far from being a force for evil in the world, over the last decade it has actually been a noble protector and promoter of human rights.

If the ROTC panel wants to consider the army's human rights record, it should not limit its investigation to the army's policy with regards to American soldiers. The panel should also take into account the concrete ways in which our armed forces serve the global causes of human rights, freedom and dignity.

Many students have criticized the army's policy as it relates to gender issues, both for women and transgender Americans. Certainly, our army is not as progressive as our campus when it comes to sexual equality. But it is equally true that our armed forces have done far more to promote basic human rights for thousands of women of Afghanistan than any Brown students or administrators have done. It is therefore too simplistic to characterize the U.S. army as a force opposed to human rights. The Brown community is all too eager to portray our military in this negative light, even if the facts point to a more complex picture.

In Afghanistan, our soldiers have fought and died to protect human rights, especially for the women of Afghanistan. After living under the iron grip of the repressive Taliban from 1996 to 2001, Afghan women now enjoy far more freedom than they did before our armed forces invaded Afghanistan. Many Americans have lost their lives to win for the women of Afghanistan the rights to vote, serve in government and attend school.

Afghan women still lead horrendous lives, in large part because the Taliban continues to terrorize them. The group violently targets female students — they have even used poisonous gas on women's schools and have poured toxic acid on pupils. The U.S. military is the only force that stands between the barbaric Taliban and the brave Afghani women and American volunteers who are asserting their rights. Regardless of the popular image of our army at Brown, it's clear that the military deserves praise for protecting human rights in Afghanistan.

A Time cover story featured a picture of an Afghan woman with a burned-off nose. After a failed escape from her husband's home, this 18-year-old girl had her ears cut off and her nose mutilated. Her own husband administered the punishment, which was mandated by the Taliban. After receiving this cruel punishment, the woman was treated and protected by our military. This incident vividly represents the plight of Afghan women and the key role our army plays in protecting their rights.

Taliban barbarism does not justify our military's discrimination. But it is worth remembering that our army fights this barbarism and promotes basic rights and freedom for Afghan women. We must not overlook the real good that they do, nor the alternative that awaits the women of Afghanistan should the Taliban regain power.

The more fundamental fight for gender equality is being fought in the schools and polling places of Afghanistan, not in the U.S. army. By banning ROTC and not supporting the military, those with concerns for gender equality are not promoting the global cause for women's rights. They overlook the widespread persecution of Afghan women to push a narrow, anti-military agenda.

The U.S. army has also stood up for the rights of ethnic minorities. The Taliban has persecuted the Hazara people. The Kurds of Iraq faced ethnic cleansing at the hands of Saddam Hussein, who deployed poisonous gas and killed up to 180,000 of them, according to the New York Times. Regardless of your views on the war in Iraq, it's worth acknowledging that our military has fought for the rights of ethnic minorities.

Our military employs some sexist practices, yet it also combats genocide and protects the most fundamental rights of thousands of women in the Middle East. In assessing the human rights record of our army, a reasonable person must consider both of these truths. The U.S. army has a long history of fighting for human rights while simultaneously displaying its own prejudice. Our army bravely enforced racial equality in the reconstructed South immediately after the Civil War, even though it maintained racist policies. Those who cared about African-American rights did not boycott the U.S. army because they realized that an imperfect institution was a net positive force for human rights. Similarly, during World War II, our army still had discriminatory policies, yet it was clearly on the correct side in the battle for human rights. Even though our armed forces have many flaws, they still deserve recognition and a working relationship with our University. The best way to advance human freedom and dignity is to support our military's fight for human rights and simultaneously pressure the army for internal reform. Demonizing and isolating the army is unproductive and does not serve the cause of human rights.

Oliver Rosenbloom '13 is a history concentrator from Mill Valley, Calif.


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