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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

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