Widgets Magazine

Harris talk opposes ROTC

Former student body president and antiwar activist David Harris ’67 spoke to a group of 20 Stanford community members Wednesday night about his opposition to ROTC.

American journalist and author David Harris discussed his opposition to the return of ROTC to Stanford. Last night's event, held at Wilbur Hall, was sponsored by Stanford Say No to War. (JIN ZHU/The Stanford Daily)

The discussion, held at the Wilbur Meeting Room and sponsored by Stanford Says No To War, touched on a variety of topics that mainly focused on Harris’s personal experiences and general topics related to ROTC reinstatement. Transgender rights and the Campaign to Abstain were mentioned only once by an audience member during the hour-and-a-half talk.

“In terms of massive practical impact, it doesn’t have one,” Harris said of ROTC’s potential return to the Farm.

“But what Stanford does about it will be a tremendous statement,” he added.

Harris, who served as student body president from 1966-67, raised the issue of each individual’s collective accountability for the military’s actions.

“We will be responsible for the end product of all of these ROTC officers,” Harris said.

To illustrate the point, he touched on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” a famous scholarly work that examines the manifestation of evil in the Nazi regime. The book was published and made its way around Stanford in the mid-1960s. Harris said one of the book’s major questions—what fellow Germans did about atrocities committed by their government—was relevant to the United States both during Vietnam and today.

“ROTC is the place where we can address this,” he said.

Harris, who was imprisoned for 18 months for dodging the draft, led a number of antiwar campaigns during his time on campus. In 1966, he focused on selective service. In 1967, he rallied against the University’s cooperation, through research, with the Vietnam War effort.

However, he refused to take significant credit for ROTC’s 1968 departure, pointing instead to a faculty decision on the academic merits of the program’s curriculum that led to the program’s exodus.

The question of educational vitality is still present today and is among the larger issues that the current ad hoc committee on ROTC is considering.

“Stanford is supposedly a community of scholars in a search for truth,” he said. “You’re not going to learn how to think in ROTC.”

Harris was also dismissive of the logistical concerns of having Stanford cadets travel to other schools for training.

“The issues are a lot bigger than anyone’s convenience,” he said.

The greatest back-and-forth of the evening occurred when Joe Maguire ’13 challenged Harris on a number of points and posited that an antiwar and anti-ROTC focus would be more effectual if it centered on civilian officials rather than the armed forces.

“Policy needs to be addressed, certainly,” Harris said. “But my point is that we need less military.”

“What’s needed here is not better-trained officers; what’s needed here is fewer officers,” Harris added. “We can’t keep dealing with the rest of the world through our armies.”


  • Robin Thomas

    “You’re not going to learn how to think in ROTC.”

    Mr. Harris, unless you’ve participated in the program, you’re in no position to make that judgment.

    I was a Midshipman in Navy ROTC for one year, and it taught me a phenomenal amount. Being in ROTC even just for a year added a great deal of depth and meaning to my time at Stanford, and certainly gave me a richer understanding of our nation’s government — an understanding that many Stanford students unfortunately seem to lack. ROTC was a great mental and intellectual challenge, and I’ve since recommended it to many people.

    I quit the program simply because of the time commitment; having to commute to Berkeley every Thursday meant I couldn’t take any Tuesday/Thursday classes at Stanford. But I received no criticism whatsoever from the ROTC program, and wasn’t required to pay anything back to the Navy.

  • Dustin

    This from a draft dodger. So we are supposed to follow the ideological lead of this coward? . I’ll pass.

  • Robin Thomas


    I don’t know; I wouldn’t say he’s a coward. He’s standing up for what he believes, and I think being willing to go to jail to avoid doing something with which you fundamentally disagree takes a lot of balls. Coward, I don’t think so. But misinformed and/or ignorant? I could go with that.

  • Jim

    “What’s needed here is not better-trained officers; what’s needed here is fewer officers,” Harris added. “We can’t keep dealing with the rest of the world through our armies.”

    The question of number of officers and quality of officers is fundamentally two different questions. Even if you feel that the number of officers should be reduced (which there are many strong arguments for), why wouldn’t you still want better trained officers?

    SSNW has hosted four guests this week (three at Monday’s event and Harris last night) – three of whom were from the Vietnam War era, none of whom have served as officers in the military, and none of whom were involved in ROTC. The fourth, a Marine who served in the 80s, also had not served as an officer and not been involved in ROTC. I don’t feel SSNW is concerned about having an open dialog or real discussion on the nature of the military.

    The irony of it all is that most veterans on campus probably hate war as much if not more than do the members of SSNW. To quote General Schwarzkopf, “Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still, there are things worth fighting for.” or General Eisenhower, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” It is a shame to see SSNW decision to focus on the military as an institution and much less on the decisions to go to war.

    Is the military perfect or beyond criticism? Absolutely not, but any criticism should come after a balanced discussion and careful consideration of the challenges and difficult trade offs involved in the situations faced by the military and military officers. This has not happened with SSNW, nor have they shown much effort in trying to present a balanced view on the issue. SSNW may feel their events this week have been “informative” and “fantastic,” but I am not surprised because the speakers seem to have been selected based to present a viewpoint already in line with the groups line of thinking.

    For those who think the military has a closed view of thinking, West Point has hosted Noam Chomsky (strong war opponent) and Allyson Robinson (transgender West Point graduate) to speak to cadets, which to me feels like a much stronger attempt to bring in various viewpoints and encourage intellectual debate and discussion than have the events sponsored by SSNW.

  • rhone

    I’m so glad that he came back to campus to give everyone a bit more perspective on the issue.

  • Sebastain Gould

    @Robin Thomas & Dustin

    I don’t think it’s fair to call him a coward, because we don’t know him personally. But if he was scared of dying then going to jail would be cowardice, because he prefers incarceration to death. If he went to jail for protesting the war, that would be a little different.

    If they honestly believed that the war was that morally problematic, then I guess it’s okay to not fight in it. But he did take advantage of the United States’ economic viability in the past 40 years. Let’s assume that our current wars are being executed in like, with morally problematic circumstance–why isn’t he protesting these wars with the same fervor? Where are the burning buildings? The riots? Sounds like a bunch of cowards who only speak up when they have to fight.

  • @Sebastain

    The US government’s rhetoric and nationalism campaign has made you, among many others, believe that if someone does not want to go to war (whether or not they ideologically believe in it), they are “cowards.” In your view, if you don’t want to die, you are a coward. Newsflash: it’s the 21st the century. Some people are mindless enough to want to go out and “defend our country” (whether or not it’s under threat; and given the dominance of the US, it’s never under threat, no matter how much the US government tries to scare you into believing it is). But let’s try to get past this medieval idea that not wanting to fight in a war = cowardice. Really, you sound like an idiot when you argue the same values that the US has tried to brainwash (successfully, for the most part) the country with.

  • Sebastain Gould


    How dare you insinuate such things. First of all, my ideas of courage come from reading philosophical texts. Second of all, I am not claiming that they are cowards because they simply don’t want to go to war. I am saying so because of their apparent hypocritical behavior between the 1960’s and now. Please reread my post and stop being ignorant-it sounds like you are the one who has been brainwashed and lacks comprehension skills.

  • Get a life

    This old guy needs to move on with his life.

  • chris

    I am with Dustin 100%. This guy is a coward.

    If that’s medieval to say, you should hear the statements I usually make. they’re neanderthal.

    Either way, at least I know I have some balls.

  • chris

    @Sebastian: watch 300. repeat until you become a man.

  • Kyle


    You will feel a slight tingle in your lower abdomen. Don’t worry, this is a normal event in the process of becoming a man. Follow Chris’ above steps and the tingle will eventually transpire into a dropping sensation. Congratulations! Now maybe you can talk to women instead of posting ridiculous comments.

  • @chris and Kyle

    You have mistaken the daily for 4chan. Please respect public space.