HPRgument Blog — December 31, 2010 7:43 pm

For ROTC

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The Washington Post has an OP-ED piece out that asks whether Harvard will have the “courage” to continue its ban on ROTC:

It should not be forgotten that schools have legitimate and moral reasons for keeping the military at bay, regardless of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They can stand with those who for reasons of conscience reject military solutions to conflicts.

They can stand with Martin Luther King Jr. and his view of America’s penchant for war-making: “This madness must cease,” he said from a pulpit in April 1967. Even well short of the pacifist positions, they can argue the impracticality of maintaining a military that has helped drive this country into record depths of debt.

Sandra Korn had a widely-read piece in the Crimson that argued the same. She wrote that, “[d]iscrimination against homosexuals aside, the U.S. military is far from blameless.” And then she preceded to list out the crimes:

[T]he U.S. Department of Defense has faced allegations of abuse ranging from torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to training Latin American soldiers in anti-humanitarian tactics and principles at the School of the Americas. The Iraq War alone has seen torture at Abu Ghraib, the Haditha massacre, and the horrifying shootings by Blackwater military contractors in Baghdad, as well as approximately 100,000 civilian deaths. Wikileaks recently exposed that within the last decade, the U.S. armed forces have engaged in countless non-humanitarian and debatably illegal practices in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has provided military aid in support of Israel’s aggressive actions against Palestinian civilians.

This is all true. But the premise that the military has to be “blameless” for a university like Harvard to publically support it strikes me as illogical in the extreme. The U.S. military is one of our most vital and most basic public institutions, like our Congress and our court system. That Harvard disagreed with specific wars (Vietnam) or specific policies (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) or even with all these specific military misdeeds combined was and remains a weak reason for the university to alienate itself from such a public institution; as Peter Beinart has written, it’s tantamount to deciding not to salute the flag because you don’t support the Bush administration – it’s to mistake vigorous opposition to the bad policies of flawed leaders with opposition to an institution (or a country) itself.

Of course, some liberals do oppose the military as an institution; they believe, like Noam Chomsky does, that all American power is imperialistic. That’s a legitimate intellectual position to take. And if it’s yours, then opposition to the ROTC is coherent. You oppose the military itself.

But if you’re like me and you believe at some fundamental level in the capacity of the U.S. government to do good in this world, then I think it’s clear that our university should not duck out of its responsibilities to the institutions that make our democracy work. To do so would be to suggest that we elites don’t have to deal with the moral consequences of American power; it’s to suggest that we’re entitled to leave the messy stuff for the proles.

Photo credit: Atlantic.com

  • Sam Barr

    I agree. Unless you think the military is inherently an evil, corrupt institution, you can oppose its policies and actions without opposing the institution itself. No good has come from the ban (as far as I can see) and at least some good will come from allowing ROTC on campus.

    I’d also point out that, if it took seriously the principle of “no institutions whose policies and behaviors we don’t like are allowed on campus,” then Harvard and other liberal-minded colleges should ban banks and other financial institutions from recruiting their students.

    In other words, either Harvard turns itself into the dystopia conservatives have always supposed it to be, one where students are forced to toe the liberal line, or it has to stop singling out the military.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUvBwHhP6qM bobf

    If the U.S. military is, indeed, violating the Nuremberg Accords in 2011 by waging endless wars in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan, then Harvard University should not, institutionally, contribute to this violation of the Nuremberg Accords by starting to train U.S. military officers on its campus for these endless wars.

  • Pingback: Solving the ROTC Problem: March the Middle Path « The Harvard Political Review

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