Op-Ed: ROTC and the Academy are Compatible

In my four years as a cadet in Georgetown’s ROTC program, I largely ignored the debate over ROTC at institutions that had banned the program from their campuses. I was pleased to stumble across an article this week detailing how Stanford had begun to ease life for its small platoon of ROTC cadets, which led me to start combing through some related links. After a quick perusing of the “Stanford Says No To War” website, I found myself laughing at the absurdity of “evidence” being presented against the ROTC program at Stanford, and find myself compelled to respond in a public forum to this specific organization’s thesis.

I am a Bostonian. Most people would classify me as a liberal. I am a history major (Medieval focus) and my ultimate aspiration is to earn my Ph.D. and teach in Harvard’s Medieval Studies program. Georgetown’s ROTC program is probably single-handedly responsible for stimulating the development of my academic habits. As both a Dean’s List student and platoon leader, it was quite surprising to learn about the apparent “intellectual distancing” of the military from civil society, as suggested by “Stanford Says No To War.”  Those military science courses I’d been taking, it turns out, “do not reflect any of the disinterested academic objectives of Stanford’s own undergraduate curriculum, such as knowledge for knowledge’s sake, [or] student-driven engagement with the ‘significant issues, themes, ideas and values of human identity and existence.’”

It seems rash for “Stanford Says No To War” to make such an absolute statement regarding the ROTC course curriculum, especially when the inaccuracy of that statement makes it obvious that SSNW is completely ignorant of the actual content of that military science curriculum. The most basic tool of the empathetic scholar is knowledge. In my military science courses, we spent the majority of our time discussing the philosophy of ethics, the politics of the Near East, the history of our nation and even got to slip in some theology with a 25-page paper on the injustice of the Iraq War within the framework of Walzer’s just war theory. I fail to see how the study of history, philosophy, theology and political science falls outside of the realm of “significant issues, themes, ideas and values of human identity and existence.” Our professor was no fascist cave dweller; he was a very evenhanded and fair officer with a Ph.D., a former speechwriter for the Army Chief of Staff. I had as much respect for him as both a person and academic as I’ve ever had for any college professor. All opinions in his class were given their fair due, and the seminar-style discourse of the course was conducted well within the academic standards of our university.

The conclusions made regarding the “intellectual distancing” of the military from civil society are absurd. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, military personnel and veterans have a higher proportion of high school degrees, Master’s degrees, degrees from private institutions and current enrollment in programs of higher education than do their civilian counterparts. Probably most shocking to the “Stanford Says No To War” organization is the fact that military service has provided the opportunities for a far higher proportion of its serving minorities to receive college educations than their counterparts in “civil society.” Brash conclusions about the “intellectual distancing” of the military from civil society have no place in the body of published academic material.

This is my personal and unrestrained opinion of “Stanford Says No To War.” I don’t want, nor do I need, your approval or your enlightenment. I’ll not bore you with some sob-story about how I’m “fighting for your freedom.” We’re all free to think what we want, and for me to say otherwise would make me the greatest hypocrite of all. The only thing I request from you is honesty.

Delete all that “evidence” on your website and post a giant banner centered in bold bearing the truth: “We don’t want ROTC on campus because we don’t like war.” That is a fair and honest opinion that we can all respect.

But in a more practical sense, just remember this: you can avoid us military officers now, but you won’t be able to forever. You are going to find out that there was a whole population of men and women who were developing themselves at light speed while you were trying to shut them out, and you will be competing with thousands of us in the real world. We keep our hair cut close, we keep our faces shaved clean and we keep our bodies in shape. We can wake up at 0530 any day of the week, work a 20-hour day and then do it over and over and over again. We don’t need vacations, we don’t need weekends, we never sleep through our alarms and we’re never late for appointments. We’re respectful, we’re honorable, we serve others selflessly, we always tell the truth, we know how to shake hands, we know how to speak publicly, we’re excellent managers and we’re excellent leaders. We’ll be responsible for 50 people and millions of dollars of equipment, on our first day. We’ll have real people’s lives in our hands, we don’t break under pressure, we make the right decision quickly and we’re highly trained at applying our highly educated minds to highly challenging problems. We’ll have done all this before we’re 25 years old. We very much prefer for you to be our friends, and we think you will too. To Stanford University, thank you for your efforts to reintegrate ROTC, and to the Stanford platoon’s cadets: drive on, because Georgetown ROTC’s got your back.

Dominick Healey

Georgetown University

About Op Ed

  • Guest1

    Inspirational.

  • pol_incorrect

    The real problem at Stanford (and other elite universities) is that they are one “party” rule. The “party” here means take the most extreme positions of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and that’s what Stanford promotes top down. What Stanford has going for it to counter that, that arguably other universities don’t have, is twofold: 1) The Hoover Institution, 2) A wildly successful wealth creation engine in its school of engineering that relies on ruthless capitalism. There are a lot of embittered faculty in the humanities that realize that they are absolutely nobodies when they reach their fifties (yes they are tenured but they produce scholarship that is rubbish and that will not leave any significant blueprint once they are gone). Compare that to faculty/graduates in engineering that have produced the Sun (now part of Oracle), Cisco, MIPS, Rambus or Google. So what these losers (the humanities faculty) attempt to do as a legacy is to brainwash as many people as they can while they still can. Their victims are the most impressionable Stanford students (think those who came from broken homes, minorities admitted through affirmative action, etc). The rest could care less about what these losers teach. These losers have now a friend in the university provost, who is the poster example of said loser humanities Stanford faculty, which is why they seem to have such influence.

  • student

    This is a great article but, to the credit of the Stanford student body, few people here take Stanford Says No to War very seriously.

  • Jonathan

    The last paragraph is one of the greatest boo-yah moments I’ve ever read.

  • Brian Good

    Looks like the guy’s angling for a position as a speechwriter, like his mentor.
    They make the right decisions? Like massacring Iraq’s army on the Highway of Death when they were retreating from Kuwait? Like flying straight out to sea when flight 77 was headed for the Pentagon? Like the failure to intercept any of the 9/11 airliners even though NORAD had actually drilled on a hijacked-airliner-into WTC scenario.

    Like letting Osama bin Laden and 1600 al Qaeda guys walk out of Tora Bora into Pakistan? (The Brits said they had bin Laden and they backed off to let the Americans have the honor of capturing him and the Americans let him go.)

    Like letting 4000 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters fly out of Kunduz into Pakistan?

    Like lying to the 9/11 Commission about the military response on that day?

    Like invading Iraq? Like failing to take control of the al Qa Qaa armory so that hundreds of tons of high explosives went to insurgents? Like failing to establish civil order and allowing looters and vandals free reign?

    Like covering up the friendly-fire shooting (or murder) of Pat Tillman and destroying his notebooks?

    Like getting involved in, and continuing, a pointless quagmire war in Afghanistan? Those kind of right decisions?

    It seems while our historian has been pondering the Medieval glories he hasn’t paid much attention to what’s been going on around him. Maybe some day he’ll grow up enough to learn that it’s easy to be a “leader” when all it means to you is doing what you’re told–no matter how idiotic, wasteful, immoral, or illegal it may be.

  • Brian Good

    I bet that Mr. Healey doesn’t even know that on September 10, 2001 Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense, announced to the press that the Pentagon could not account for $2.3 Trillion in expenditures. That’s TTTTTTTTTTTtrillion. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s cbs:
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/01/29/eveningnews/main325985.shtml

    Since 9/11, of course, Pentagon budgets have skyrocketed. Does any reasonable person doubt that the corruption, waste, bureaucratic bloat, and inefficiency of the Pentagon has increased as well? Still, Republicans who advocate fiscal austerity consider Pentagon pork sacrosanct, and Democrats who are willing to cut Social Security payments for widows and orphans do too.

    Last time I checked, 67% of every April 15 tax dollar went to the Pentagon. Last time I checked, the top 5 defense contractors got $100 billion total. Lockheed Martin got $40 billion in federal contracts a year. Stanford has an annual budget of $4 billion. Lockheed Martin is 10 Stanfords.

    Think how different the world could be if the resources that Mr. Healey’s enterprise hoovers up could be used to make the world a better place.

  • Veteran/Stangradschool Alum

    Brian Good,

    I agree that while Dominick Healey’s editorial was engaging and had some good points/ criticism of Stanford’s Say No to War group. It also, as you point out, has a great deal of chest thumping. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not immune from sleeping through an alarm or being late to something. I also enjoy 8+ hours of sleep when I can get it.

    The fact is, as you point out, of that our military leaders are not super-humans. They make mistakes. I certainly made many myself – and I have to live with them. Our leaders are faced with monumental tasks and daily ethical, legal, and tactical decisions with limited information (they are also faced with long days, frustrating catch-22 type scenarios, and a sometimes soul-crushing bureaucracy). It is much easier to point out errors in judgment after the fact when all the evidence has been collected and analyzed.

    You are obviously interested in this area, have a critical eye, and are developing a broad perspective on our use of military abroad. As the world continues to change we need smart, engaged, well-read, and critical thinking folks who are actively engaged in decisions as they are made. Having ROTC on campus encourages a generation of folks, like you, to be at the point where they can affect these decisions real-time. Our soldiers, and our country, need leaders who are talented, smart, and able to face the hardships of service to our country and the good things it still stands for (and there are a lot of good things we often overlook).

    I’d encourage you to think hard about how you can make a difference. I think that facing some of these tough decisions first hand would temper your criticism, give you some perspective/ empathy, and allow you to eventually develop well-informed, long-term, solutions to some of these challenges. For example, our experienced veterans were some of the harshest critics with how we went about the Iraq war, but they were muscled out of the way by policy makers and politicians who did not share their experience. They have been successful in many other instances in avoiding these types of mistakes.

    Serving inside a military institution itself is certainly frustrating at times, but it also does provide opportunities to influence outcomes for the better. It also provides the invaluable experience in learning how to influence an organization, and, as Dominick points out, is an invaluable opportunity to have a great deal of responsibility at a young age. In short, peoples’ lives depend on your decisions, discipline, and leadership (moral, ethical, and tactical). Those students that chose to participate are going to be tested and grow in ways that our investment bankers, consultants, and engineers won’t. Having them on campus, interacting with folks like you, is certainly a good thing.

    In lieu of serving and bringing your talent into the fray, which I would encourage. You may want to spend some time with these folks and Stanford’s small contingent of veterans. Come with an open mind and see what you can learn. In the end you’ll have a better, more well rounded, perspective to show for it. So that one day, if you are in a position to affect policy on the national level. You can hopefully make better decisions – that will survive criticism after all the information becomes known. Maybe you’ll draw from your own experience; maybe you’ll call up one of these guys/gals and bounce ideas off of them. Either way I think you’ll be better off for it.

    Let me know if you want to chat further off line, and I’ll shoot you my email.

  • Brian Good

    @Vet/Stangradschool I already know a lot of veterans. Veterans for Peace in its 2011 national convention voted in a
    resolution calling for the impeachment of President Obama for war
    crimes.

    The problem is not that our military leaders are Only Human, the problem is that they think they’re Übermenschen. I know it’s terribly stressful to try to dominate the globe on a paltry budget of $700 billion a year. I don’t see where serving so I can make the world a better place by hanging a prisoner from the ceiling only 20 out of every 24 hours instead of 22 out of 24 hours is something to brag about. And if I ever had any true potential to make change, like Pat Tillman did, I’d probably wind up with my head blown off and my diaries disappeared, as he did. No thank you, sir!

    Dr. Robert Bowman, Lt. Col. USAF (ret.), a veteran of 101 combat flights in Vietnam and the former director of the DoD’s Star Wars program, says that if the DoD was redeployed to concentrate on defending our own borders, its budget could be cut by 80%. Fighting to make that a reality is a much greater service to my country than going without sleep trying to improve logistics, or develop less expensive or more powerful weaponry, or researching how to manipulate the Poor Bastards (Gen. Patton’s term) more effectively, or charging up San Juan Hill with a Gatling Gun under my arm.

    Here’s Dr. Bowman’s vision for America:
    http://www.thepatriots.us/pg_02_speech.html