I remember well the “debate” leading up to the war in Iraq. First, a fringe right-wing position was drawn up by a motivated segment of the nation’s elite. Then the propaganda onslaught began, blasting the public with a smorgasbord of deceptive justifications for bloodshed, with both “conservative” and mainstream media outlets banging the war drums. Conscientious citizens who opposed an illegal and immoral war were largely excluded from the “debate,” often with a deafening bray of, “Support the troops!” (as if the best way to “support” a person were to catapult him into a war zone to kill and be killed).
We face a similar, smaller-scale debate about militarism today, but it’s not a foreign country that is going to be invaded—it’s our university.
The Stanford Daily and The Stanford Review have both recently come out against keeping the various military ROTC programs off Stanford’s campus. Their editorials have been more verbose versions of that nauseating yellow-ribbon, bumper-sticker splatter. The thing about the refrain “Support the troops,” however, is that it is a cleverly designed propaganda phrase designed to distract from the implied message: “Support our policies.” It is the policy of transforming the campus into a four-year military staging area, and whether it benefits the campus as a whole, that we should be discussing—not vacuous and misleading slogans.
So, is there a compelling reason to bring ROTC back on campus? If there is a good argument, I haven’t heard it. One argument that I can identify is from a 2007 Daily editorial much to the same effect as this year’s. It makes the case that poor kids are disproportionately killed in war and postulates that rich kids should be killed as well, as if the real problem were economic inequality of corpses instead of human beings getting killed in the first place.
And there are plenty of reasons to exclude ROTC. First, I’m not aware of any other organization that blackmails its members with financial penalties if they discover years down the road that the group isn’t for them. Second, I also haven’t heard of any student group that forces its members to pledge several years of their lives to the organization after graduation. These requirements make Stanford less of an institution to nurture intellectual interests and more of an assembly line for the Army.
Third and most important, we must decide if hosting an enduring presence of the U.S. military on campus is compatible with Stanford’s mission. By my count, the military currently runs afoul of the ideals the University purports to stand for. Stanford’s founding grant calls for the University to “[exercise] an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Does training students to participate in the world’s most effective and well-financed killing machine facilitate this goal? Clearly not.
Campus militarization advocates often state that attitudes have changed since the Vietnam (and Cambodian and Lao) War. That is true, but not in the way that they think. American aggression in Indochina was not opposed en masse until many years after the start of the war, while the most recent Iraq war was protested before it even began. All peoples are by nature pacifistic, but the civilizing influence of the ‘60s and beyond in this country has made many confront the gruesome reality of what war is and question why anyone should be assisting its execution.
Thus is it really any wonder why, in The Review’s words, “all we hear is silence from the students”? Perhaps students are less than enthusiastic about their university being turned into a military base.
The Review’s suggestion that students would be clamoring for ROTC’s return if they were better informed about the program is patently absurd—or is this just a not-so-subtle way of declaring all people who oppose militarism ignorant? Either way, not too convincing.
In any event, “don’t ask, don’t tell” still remains in the way before we can liberate out-of-the-closet gays to go halfway around the world to shoot up Afghanistan. But once DADT is repealed, and everyone recognizes its days are numbered, ROTC should stay where it is: out of our school.
Danny Colligan M.S. ‘11