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Letter to the Editor: A Response from Stanford Says No to War

While the recent op-ed from Georgetown’s Dominick Healey offers a pithy restatement of what he construes as the essence of Stanford Says No to War’s (SSNW) opposition to ROTC on campus (“We don’t want ROTC on campus because we don’t like war”), it is not quite accurate.

True, we do not like war. More pertinently, SSNW’s opposition to ROTC on campus is grounded in the fact that we don’t want University space to be militarized. Other countries manage to train their military officers without turning university campuses into military installations. Our point in discussing this on our website is that, whether you agree with us about war or not, you should consider the alternative to ROTC that the military’s own studies suggest would be cheaper and just as effective by its standards (not ours): replacing ROTC with Officer Candidate Schools located away from college campuses, where students go after graduation.

The danger of the militarization of college campuses is not an idle concern. By hosting a program that recruits and trains soldiers, the University’s leadership is providing material support to a military force. Imagine the patriotic uproar if Stanford decided to take its engagement with China a step further and allow the PRC’s army to run a few courses in leadership and military history. Indeed, by welcoming ROTC back to campus, the University has, literally, taken sides in an active armed conflict. We think the academy is most conducive to the free pursuit of knowledge and ideas when it is, to the greatest extent possible, a neutral space.

Furthermore, according to the U.S. forces’ own targeting policy, the presence of ROTC on campus effectively transforms areas of our university into “training camps” and bases of “militants.” That would – again, according to the criteria used by recent U.S. administrations (and put into practice by the armed forces and the CIA) – mean that areas of the Stanford campus could be viewed as legitimate targets for combat by the enemies of the U.S. Non-ROTC students and workers (as well as infrastructure) would be at risk of being “collateral damage” or “human shields.” Let’s not be misunderstood; we are not advocating for those targeting criteria – they are, after all, illegal under international law. We are, rather, pointing to the hypocrisy and recklessness of U.S. militarism.

The individuals who participate or have participated in ROTC are, we believe, decent and honorable people. Some of them are our friends and family members. It is the institution that we are against. Organizations like the military – whose primary purpose is to efficiently apply coercion, threats, destruction and death – are indeed incompatible with the ideals of higher education.

Eric Craig Sapp
Member, Stanford Says No to War
PhD Candidate, Modern Thought and Literature

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