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Makhlouf '16: ROTC: Return of the criminals

A November 2014 Herald article described the lack of military support on Brown’s campus. The article outlined how students considering careers in the military and participating in ROTC programs on campus feel marginalized by “the anti-military — and even hostile — stigma attached to ‘schools like Brown.’” Students anticipating careers in the armed forces outlined ROTC as one of their central concerns, and while ROTC is only one facet of military presence on campus, it is undoubtedly one of the most important. On Tuesday, the faculty endorsed a resolution to create a partnership between Brown’s campus and the Navy and Air Force ROTC programs.

Brown has a rich “anti-military,” anti-war history — said with pride. But is our campus today as anti-war as it once was, or are we losing a certain aspect of our past?

It’s a bit disillusioned to think that Brown students should be exposed to every potential career — even more unthinkable to assume that they should be exposed to all potential military careers. The field of military technology — including “military science” — is a field unlike any other. Reports of police units in Ferguson, New York and Berkeley, where the police have committed criminal acts against protesters, have shown the deleterious effects of increasing funding and intellectual manpower in the military sciences.

The overflow of military technology and funding has spilled into our police departments, which are now equipped with tanks, tear gas, riot gear and military grade weapons that can incapacitate crowds with deafening sound waves or pain-inducing electromagnetic waves. This says nothing about the prevalence of military technology dooming civilian populations from Afghanistan and Palestine to the favelas of Brazil and beyond — all of which have been subject to the glorious innovations of “military science.” Let us at least be honest enough to do away with euphemism. This is not science; this is the art of killing and torturing. It seems that ROTC’s attempt to recruit academically elite students is a calculated attempt to rope the best and brightest into the industry of state-sanctioned violence.

By outlawing ROTC and its byproducts on our campus, we have the opportunity to maintain and strengthen a tradition of refusing to capitulate to the increasing demands of military engagement in today’s global agenda. Half of the battle — pun definitely intended — involves doing away with systems of indoctrination on our campus that classes such as ROTC would offer. ROTC aside, normalizing a militant ethos on our campus through programming and information sessions would invalidate Brown’s status as a bastion of military opposition and anti-intervention sentiment.

The anti-military “bias” that certain students have is a firmly grounded ethical stance — an insistence that we will not support the aggression of the United States throughout the world. At a time when we most need a brave intelligentsia to speak out against the craven acts of U.S. imperialism, the thought of extending the poisonous branches of the armed services to our campus should be wholly denounced.

And yet I question whether that legacy of opposition lives on today. The anti-war movement at Brown has dwindled over time. The flame of resistance has been taken up by the waning number of true leftist activists remaining on our campus. The majority of “liberals” on campus tend to be socially liberal centrists who thrive on affective showings of liberalism. In a 2011 Herald poll, over 80 percent of faculty members who have been at Brown more than 20 years reported a dwindling number of student activists.

Further, it is not the case — as Matthew Ricci ’15, president of the Resumed Undergraduate Education Association, intimated in a 2014 Herald article — that there is a clash between a conservative military and a liberal campus.  The majority of “liberal” students on campus are too disengaged from international and domestic policies to take an insistent stance against the military. And our liberal faculty had no qualms in approving further partnerships with ROTC programs and the availability of scholarships for ROTC students, further illuminating the chasm between liberal ideology and military opposition.

The real clash, it seems, is between those who support the policies of the U.S. military and those who refuse to allow their presence on our campus. Positing this as something akin to a liberal vs. conservative dialectic is an attempt to make anti-war activists out to be fashionable liberals rather than consistently conscientious students. And despite the claim by both Walker Mills ’15 and Professor of Biology Kenneth Miller ’70 P’02 that effective change requires on an influx of liberals and their values into the military, it is not liberals’ duty to change an army with an epidemic of sexual assault, LGBT prejudice and war crimes.

And are we really foolish enough to think that liberal ideology would change these entrenched abuses?

Admittedly, Brown is more active than most schools, though the overwhelmingly centrist nature of our campus’ political discourse should be further reason for opposing military presence. The push for normalizing militarism on our campus needs to be opposed because Brown students are so often unsure of their political leanings. Students and faculty alike often oppose the armed services on such isolated incidents as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” but a far more fundamental stance needs to be taken. Both during Ruth Simmons’ time here and during Tuesday’s vote on new ROTC partnerships, the central issue regarding opposition was the barring of transgender individuals, as if that were the most egregious offence committed by the armed forces.

I and others firmly take an anti-interventionist, anti-war posture. Moreover, those who oppose military presence on university campuses are wholly aware that the issue extends beyond those planning a career in the military. Ivy League graduates will take up positions in all facets of society that the military relies on for support. From soldiers to senators and politicians to professors, the destructive foreign policy of the state is dependent upon the ideological backing of its citizens — particularly those in positions of power. Opposing indoctrination in the form of military support is a necessary part of thwarting public backing for such policies.

This past week, Code Pink, a women-initiated, grassroots anti-war movement, protested the testimony of Henry Kissinger at a Senate hearing, insisting that he be tried for war crimes. It was once, in 1969, when members of our senior class chose to stand up and turn their backs towards the University and Kissinger as he was awarded an honorary degree for his criminal foreign policy in Indochina. Perhaps, once more, our campus can take up that proud tradition of resistance and refuse to support glorified, state-sponsored killing.

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