Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Closing the Citizen-Solider Gulf

ROTC’s absence from this campus has removed a critical mode of discourse between the military and the civilian population it serves. As the daughter of an Air Force officer, I grew up entirely behind the gates of U.S. military installations. The schools I attended were filled almost exclusively with fellow military dependents. College marked my first experience living off base and being surrounded primarily by civilians. I was struck that while I understood the nuances of civilian life, my civilian counterparts had virtually no notion of what life in the military entails. Worse, they seemed almost proud of their ignorance.

The gap between the military and civilian populations has been growing further apart in recent decades. Though we are currently prosecuting two wars, only 1 percent of Americans is directly affected. The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, recently warned of the danger of this increasing gulf between the military and the civilians they serve to protect. The implications of this gulf could prove to be detrimental not only to civil-military relations, but to the foreign policy decisions of the United States. For citizens and politicians to truly understand the cost of war, they must be intimately aware of the sacrifices we ask our military to make. By the same token, a military should be intimately tied to the society it serves to remain keenly aware of the values and freedoms they are asked to make sacrifices for. Our Founding Fathers feared the potential dangers of having a large standing army as a threat to liberty; instead, they placed emphasis on the formation of militias for the very reason that they were so closely knitted to their home communities.

Not only should the military be closely tied to the community it serves, but it is strongest when it is a reflection of that community. Thucydides once contended that “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.” His observation is no less relevant in his ancient Greek republic than our American one. The military should be a reflection of the society it serves, and this should apply to the academic community no less than any other part of the general public. Just as the concept of the citizen-soldier serves to sustain civic engagement and ensure political accountability, the idea of the warrior-scholar serves to provide enlightened military leadership and protect the core values of the population. ROTC enables future officers to learn in a hybrid military-civilian environment, where they can study military doctrine while engaging in the civilian academic world. ROTC has been a vital component of creating a more educated and more professional military, which ultimately benefits the society it serves.

A society should demand that its military leaders be the best and the brightest, but it must also allow them the opportunity to obtain such education. By denying ROTC’s right to exist at Stanford, opponents are turning a blind eye to the reality of global politics; they ignore the fact that the military will not cease to be a defining social force so long as violent conflict exists in the world. In actuality, opponents are promulgating a viewpoint completely antithetical to the values of a university education. Intolerance, xenophobia and isolationism have no place in academia, and yet these are the defining characteristics of those who seek to keep ROTC out of Stanford. The pervasive ignorance of this viewpoint does only harm to the state of civil-military relations and the prevalence of this viewpoint is detrimental for our society as a whole. Shouldn’t we ensure that our future military officers are as well educated as possible so that we may all benefit from enlightened military leadership in the future? As a society, we could ask for nothing more than to have educated warrior-scholars fighting to guarantee our rights. The wind of freedom does indeed blow here at Stanford, but let us never forget who secured this freedom.


Rebecca Young, M.A. ‘11

  • Embarrassing…

    “Intolerance, xenophobia and isolationism … are the defining characteristics of those who seek to keep ROTC out of Stanford.”

    What a horrifically unsupported assertion. Since when is it “intolerant” to oppose violence? Since when is it “xenophobic” to oppose imperialism? Since when is it “isolationist” to oppose militarism?

    It was Benito Mussolini who declared that “The function of a citizen and a soldier are inseparable.” Indeed, one of the defining features of fascism is a powerful military combined with a narrow (or non-existent) civilian-military divide.

    And what is it with ROTC advocates continuing to rely on rights-rhetoric? You seriously want to assert that ROTC has a “right to exist at Stanford”? You can argue that bringing back ROTC would benefit students. You can argue that bringing back ROTC would benefit the country. But in what moral universe does ROTC have a “right to exist at Stanford”. Asserting the existence of such a “right” is truly absurd, and you are undermining your position by doing so.

  • @Embarrassing…

    Some people don’t like the military. As a consequence they are the things listed above, and if you have doubts, ask them yourself. Unlike you, some people actually have dialogue about this issue.

    Mussolini, if you will kindly remember, lost the second world war to us…I bet he didn’t have ROTC and guess what!!! We did. At Stanford.

    ROTC advocates ‘rely’ on rights-rhetoric because anti-militaristic groups do. It’s a legal argument, it requires legal rhetoric.

    So thank you–for your embarrassing attempt at a response.

  • Finally, A Real Argument

    After enduring weeks of spam to Zimbra inbox about why I must “abstain” on voting on ROTC for civil rights, I’m finally seeing some real argumentation. I’m embarrassed that my school feels like we don’t have a duty to provide the opportunity for our top-tier students to prepare for a career in the military. The civilian-military disconnect is very real and is probably the reason why nobody paid attention when we invaded Iraq based on false intelligence. As for people who say that bringing ROTC back to campus will marginalize transgender students, I think you have to consider the purpose of the military. Yes, not everybody can serve in the military. To the extent that having gender separation in the barracks is important to the military, I can understand to certain degree why transgender people serving would be problematic. But everybody benefits from the security that the military provides. This is the bigger issue, and I’m surprised so few on campus can see it.

  • Robin Thomas

    It’s pretty amazing to me how much ignorance there is o this campus about what the military is and what it does. For instance: when I told other students that I was enlisting in the Marine Corps, a lot of them thought the Marines were part of the Army. That’s not necessarily a big deal, but if we don’t even understand that there are five branches of the military, I imagine that we’re pretty ignorant of many other aspects of the military as well. Whether or not you’re for or against the military, I think it’s still important to understand the thing — especially for the future leaders being bred at Stanford.

  • Confused

    What is a solider?

  • Rachel

    Maybe if soldiers were allowed to be part of campus, copyeditors would know how to spell “soldier”…

  • The Voice of Reason

    “I was struck that while I understood the nuances of civilian life, my civilian counterparts had virtually no notion of what life in the military entails. Worse, they seemed almost proud of their ignorance.”

    The public in general has had a negative or neutral opinion of the military since Vietnam.

    There are many petty, snobby people in the world. Some of them are at Stanford. It makes sense that they would be proud of their ignorance of everything related to the military.

    In general, the more extreme someone’s political beliefs are (in either direction), the more closed-minded and bigoted they are.