Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Our School, Not Your Army Base

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
Computer Science

  • the shallow alto kid

    Stop, Mr. Colligan! Your bleating makes my hairs hurt! You surely were born sixty years too late, for you would have been an exemplary representative of the anti-military hysteria of the Vietnam era.

    It is indeed a tragedy that after all these centuries, we still engage in warfare against each other, for whatever reason, but such is the reality of life. If war is the ultimate extension of depolmacy than maybe the United States has the world’s premier diplomatic corps. Maybe during peacetime, the military should be administered by the Department of State (imagine Hillary Clinton as Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs…better yet, imagine Condi Rice as such! It must be frightening for you), but I digress…

    Since the military serves in the nation’s interest, shouldn’t those who serve in the military be well educated; shouldn’t those who lead the military services have a Stanford perspective on war, peace and diplomacy? And, of course, should the military be comprised solely of modern mercenaries of a warrior class, or should it populated by those who may see military service through the prism of a rigorous liberal education? Whether from Stanford or Yale or San Jose State, give me a military officer who can think independently and who can craft solutions creatively; those are the ones we need to wage peace, if possible, and wage war if necessary.

    You know Mr. Colligan, there are many who think we should bring back the draft. Not to fill the slots needed to staff the military, but because the draft, particularly during World War II, was a common experience shared by nearly the entire nation, whether as a draftee or a family member. And, quite frankly, there is precious little we have in common these days. Absent the return of conscription, encouraging those at Stanford to participate in the military can only lead to a more educated and a more egalitarian armed force, if it must be so.

    Carry on with the cliche if you must, Mr. Colligan, but the 60’s are disappearing rapidly in your rear view mirror. ROTC will not turn Stanford into a military base. Walk towards the light, if you can. And William Treseder, upon your return, share your experience with the Stanford community. You are this university’s ambassador and its true window to the world.

    I am the Shallow Alto Kid and I have authorized this message.

  • lol

    I can understand people not wanting ROTC on campus with DADT still alive, but this op-ed is just ridiculous. I’m a very liberal person and was against the war, but if DADT gets repealed, I’m 100% with bringing back ROTC here. I lived in a dorm with a couple of people going off campus for ROTC.They not only had to wake up incredibly early for ROTC, but they also had to commute 30-40 minutes. If these people want to serve our country, let them have that opportunity here.

    Mr. Colligan people don’t sign up for ROTC to go kill people across the world, they sign up for the military because they believe that this country is worth serving.

    Your clever (or despicable not sure which is a better choice here) use of defining anyone who wants to bring back the ROTC to Stanford as “Campus militarization advocates” to try and make your argument stronger is actually just hyperbolic. As a Stanford student and especially as a CS student, you should know what you are saying doesn’t follow logically.

  • Anonymous

    Irrespective of this Op-Ed’s content, it is probably the most functional writing I have ever (5 years) read in the Daily.

  • Jack

    A few men and women defend this country. They do so not because they are lower class or poor but because they believe that this nation is worth defending. Perhaps someday we will have the draft but today, for now, we have these few good people who join to defend our rights. The DADT is a good reason to ban the ROTC because it is arbitrary, and offends scientific reasoning; it is a bigoted law based on fear and religous intollerance. Once the DADT is gone, however, ROTC should be reinstated. Those who defend us, including the gays, do so in spite of the difficulties, and their own loss of rights. It should be made easier, if DADT is repealed, for students to participate in an ROTC program.

  • Sam

    S.A.K.’s argument can be summarized as follows:
    (1) War is inevitable.
    (2) It would be in the nation’s interest for our most educated citizens to join the military.
    (3) The draft contributed to social solidarity.
    (4) To adopt an anti-militarism position is clichéd.

    First, the defeatism of statement (1) is embarrassing. At the same time, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If there’s one good argument in support of the inevitability of war, it’s that so many people believe in the inevitability of war. Such people refuse to believe in the ability of citizens to affect government policy, notwithstanding significant historical evidence to the contrary, and prefer to protect themselves from feeling guilty about the atrocities being committed in their name, by convincing themselves that there’s nothing they can do about it. Shameful.

    As for statement (2), I fear that S.A.K. grossly overestimates the ability of members of the military to criticize U.S. militarism from within the ranks. An absolutely brilliant book on this subject is ‘The Kindly Ones’, by Jonathan Littell. I recommend it to anyone who believes that filling the military with intelligent, well-educated people would give it a more humanitarian approach.

    Statement (3): what a great idea, let’s sacrifice people’s lives (ideally the lives of foreigners!) to improve U.S. social solidarity. Seriously?

    Regarding statement (4), the fact that something is a cliché says absolutely nothing about whether or not it is true. More specifically, I fail to see how Mr. Colligan’s argument is undermined by the fact that S.A.K. can trace it back to arguments made by the anti-militarism activists of the 60’s.

    lol’s argument is even better:
    (1) We should make the lives of ROTC members easier, because they “serve our country” and “believe that this country is worth serving”.
    (2) Mr. Colligan unfairly defined anyone who supports the ROTC @ Stanford as “campus militarization advocates”.
    (3) Stanford students, and particularly Stanford CS students, are better at logic than the average citizen.

    So statement (2) is plain false. Mr. Colligan refers to “campus militarization advocates”, but in no way does he suggest that this label can be applied to everyone who wants to bring the ROTC back to Stanford. He merely refers to an argument that such advocates have put forward, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, providing that such advocates exist (and surely lol would not argue that no such advocates exist).

    Regarding statement (3), kind of trivial point to be sure, but this kind of elitism would make a great justification for keeping ROTC off the Stanford campus. Can you imagine the look on the face of the ROTC officer when a Stanford administrator tells him that Stanford students aren’t interested in having ROTC on campus because of their superior logical thinking abilities? Seriously though, I would turn to a philosophy student before a CS student for advice on logic, but maybe that’s just me.

    Statement (1) lies at the heart of lol’s comment. By using the phrase “serve our country”, lol has identified a notion that may be even more meaningless and propagandistic than “support the troops”. It is downright dangerous to foster the belief that military service is admirable in and of itself. Sure, the military may be capable of doing admirable things, just as it is capable of doing appalling things, but in either case its actions must be carefully scrutinized, particularly by those who are contemplating service. There is no good justification for encouraging students (or any other individuals) to naïvely and unquestioningly believe that by joining the military they are necessarily making a positive contribution to society, and yet this is exactly what is achieved by promoting the moral superiority of notions such as “serving our country”.

  • Kerry

    Mr. Colligan, here are a few reasons why Stanford should allow ROTC. First, besides DADT which is out of our control as a military, the US military is one of the most diverse organizations in the nation. The ranks of our most senior leadership are filled with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, men and women, and they came from both wealthy and poor families. I would not be surprised to find a few homosexuals in the ranks of general and admiral if DADT is lifted. Second, ROTC produces graduates who, as newly commissioned lieutenants, are thrust into being a leader, a philanthropist, a sociologist, an economist and a psychologist with little formal training right into heart of exercising “an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” They do this in places of the world the world that I doubt you would go to if given the choice, and for many, it breaks their heart to leave behind the orphans and families they befriend during their tour. The soldiers I led I Afghanistan six years ago still talk about the family outside our compound with compassion and we were all deeply saddened to find out that one of our favorite locals that worked for us was recently killed right outside the compound on his way to visit his family. Having been part of the “killing machine,” you may be shocked to find out that through tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, both units I was part of turned in turned in every bullet we were issued for our combat load. Sorry to disappoint you, but we didn’t kill anyone. We were however involved in millions of dollars in reconstruction projects, development of education and economic programs, training foreign military forces, and developing good governance. As a young captain, I spent 8 months driving around Kandahar city in an unarmored pick-up to meet with the governor, the UN delegation, and the president’s brother to coordinate security for their elections and develop ways to make life just a little better for the people Kandahar. The psychologist piece? Have you ever had to talk someone down from suicide that you later had to trust with a loaded weapon? That was just in war. Never mind officers who put their talents to work to provide relief efforts to thousands of people displaced by earthquakes in Haiti only to turn around six months later to spearhead relief efforts for millions displaced by floods in Pakistan. Sometimes we have to carry weapons on our back or at the ready because the very people we are helping have the same views about our military that you display; only they view our entire country that way. Third, you don’t have to worry about ROTC militarizing your precious institution. We won’t be fitting you for a uniform anytime soon. We are still an all volunteer force, and to provide some perspective, I earned my commission through an ROTC program at a state university of about 35,000 in West Texas that is about as conservative as you get without being a bible college. Our program numbered less than 100 with 10 to 20 graduates a year. So yes, the military would like to have the talents of officers who graduate from the nation’s most prestigious universities as part of that team, but do we truly need them? No. We are still meeting all of our recruiting goals, and plenty of officers from less prestigious universities go on to be great military leaders. We’ll survive without the ten to twenty graduates that Stanford would contribute without having to enact the draft again.
    To dispel some of your misconceptions and inaccuracies, ROTC is not just an extra circular student activity group. It is part of the academic curricula for which students receive a grade and earn a minor in military arts and science. They do not “pledge” to be part of an organization; they sign a contract for employment. If you have not already graduated don’t be surprised if the contract you sign with an employers has conditions that are not in your favor should you voluntarily terminate your contract before fulfilling the terms. The only financial burden the student may incur is if they default on their academic scholarship. Then it is only fitting that they reimburse your tax dollars. Even then, the cadet can walk away within the first two years without penalty. To paraphrase, you said you are unaware of any other organization with similar stipulations. I would argue that you just haven’t looked for any as there are many medical students basically indentured for set periods of time in return for student loan repayment or scholarships. Many corporations will pay for post-graduate level education with an obligation to the company upon completion of the program. And if they fail to complete the program, they could be held financially liable for the expenses the company paid. Sound familiar? If you are worried about ROTC bringing down the quality of your Stanford education, rest assured that ROTC instructors must be vetted and accepted by the university, and students enrolled in the program must meet and maintain the enrollment requirements of the university. Instructor positions at a prestigious university would be highly competitive and draw only the most talented and credentialed officers, both active and retired. Although un-quantified, we also like to believe that scholarship cadets are attractive to prospective universities because of the high likely hood of graduation and a proven sense of discipline necessary to succeed in a rigorous academic environment.
    I said I would come back to DADT. I find it ironic that you criticize our institution for enforcing a LAW imposed on us by our congress, yet your institution CHOOSES to discriminate against an organization on principle. One recurring word in many definitions of liberal is “tolerant.” Personal beliefs aside, my institution would/will tolerate a repeal of DADT. There is no law preventing yours from tolerating ROTC right now. And while most institutions are resistant to change, we are an adaptive organization and once again will lead society as a whole in terms of full integration and acceptance of change, just as we have been in the past with racial integration and women in service. Here is a simple test to see how tolerant you are. I’m a conservative, and you are (presumably) a liberal. Would you tolerate your child becoming a part of the military institution? If my child wanted to go to your institution, or any other that discriminates against ROTC or the military, I would fully support them, work two jobs, and take out loans for their education.
    One thing I do agree with you and Sam on is we (military) don’t need patronizing support like ribbons, flags, banners, excessive thank you’s, etc. Not everyone who wears a uniform is a hero or serving our country. We have our fair share of screw ups, who are certainly doing our country a disservice, but for the most part, the other half million of us are making a positive contribution to society in at least the most basic sense (read, employed, paying taxes and buying stuff at the mall). It is nice to be appreciated, but I have my family and friends that show me all the appreciation I really need, and I get a decent enough paycheck at the end of the month from your tax dollars to serve as thanks from you and your family. As long as you don’t spit on me at the airport or protest at my funeral, we’re cool. If you choose to provide any support, you can do so by tolerating or even endorsing institutions such as ROTC that give every cadet guaranteed employment (good for Stanford’s graduation statistics), real world experience upon graduation, and with a little bit of effort along the way, the opportunity to become an influential leader in the world with guaranteed employment upon graduation.

  • ex-mlitary, double ivy

    I’ll say this: I learned a lot more about the world/real life/people in 5 years of army service than in 7 years in the ivies around smug, know-it-all 20 year olds who still think they’re the world’s smartest little prince or princess. Yes, in fact people in the military DO serve this country. You may not be aware of this, but the military does not choose its own deployments or its own wars. They follow the orders of the civilian government, elected by a populace the vast majority of whom are civilians. They do a job that you aren’t doing/won’t do, go places you aren’t going/won’t go, so that you can sit around, smoke weed, watch Family Guy, and wax arrogantly about how much smarter you are than all those pig-ignorant followers who joined the military to, “ha, ha, serve their country.” But if they weren’t do the job, you may have to do it, so yes, you do owe them a little bit of thanks, whether you support this or that action of the military. And if you DON’T, your issue is with your civilian government and voting population, not with the people in the military.