In a recent interview with a journalism student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, I indicated why the Columbia University Administration should not bring ROTC or NROTC back to Columbia University's campus in 2011:
What objections, if any, do you have regarding the return of the ROTC today?
Bob Feldman [BF]:The return of a ROTC program to Columbia’s campus would represent a decision by the Columbia Administration to, on an institutional level, contribute to the Pentagon’s military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011. If you think it’s moral for the U.S. government to continue waging war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, then it probably would seem o.k. morally to you for Columbia University to start training U.S. military officers on its campus.
But what if, like me, you think that it’s immoral for the U.S. government to continue waging war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Then wouldn’t it also be then immoral for Columbia University to contribute to prolonging this U.S. military intervention by training U.S. military officers who will be participating in this unjust and endless war?
In recent years, for example, 80 percent of all students who were trained on Cornell University’s campus by that Ivy League School’s ROTC program have served as U.S. military officers in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, if you check out the Wikipedia entry for “Reserve Officers Training Corps,” it seems to indicate that in recent years U.S. university ROTC programs have been producing 39 percent of all active-duty officers for the Pentagon—20 percent of all active duty U.S. Navy officers, 41 percent of all officers for the U.S. Air Force which has dropped bombs that kill civilians on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and 56 percent of all active duty U.S. Army officers (many of whom have—after being trained by U.S. universities—been involved in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, for example).
Or to put my objections another way. Imagine that you were a German student at a German university in late 1940 and you were examining the ways that German universities were contributing to the German war effort and occupation in Poland and France, for example. One way might be that science professors at German universities were doing research for the German Ministry of Defense. And another way might be that German universities were training some of their students to serve as German military officers in the German war machine that bombed and occupied Poland, France and other countries.
And imagine that you had discovered in 1940 that thousands of civilians had been killed in Poland and elsewhere by the same German military that the science professors at the German university you attended were doing research for; and that the German university you attended was training some of its students to be military officers for the German military? Wouldn’t you then feel that you had an internationalist moral and humanitarian obligation to do all that you could to stop the German university that you attended from training officers for the German military on your campus?
In addition, even if you don’t object to what’s been done overseas to foreign civilians and to the foreign soldiers, foreign insurgents and U.S. soldiers who have been casualties of the endless Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan military intervention by the U.S. government, an objection to the return of ROTC can be made on the philosophical basis that U.S. universities should be in the business of the pursuit of knowledge and the promotion of humanism and pacifism; and not be involved in training its students in ROTC courses like “the art of war” and the killing of the people that the U.S. government decides is now “the enemy.”
Before the DADT law was in place, what were the guidelines barring ROTC from being a campus activity: in other words, what do you see was the reason for its absence in the 1970s and 1980s?
BF:The official grounds for barring ROTC from being a campus activity before the DADT by most of the Ivy League administrations and their faculty committees may sometimes have been that the ROTC courses may not have conformed to the academic course accreditation criteria required by some of these Ivy League schools. But I think the real reason for ROTC’s absence in the 1970s and 1980s from places like Columbia was because anti-militarist student and faculty sentiment was still high, due to the campus political consciousness that had developed during the Vietnam War Era. And administrators at places like Columbia probably felt it made no political sense to disturb the relative campus calm of the post-1973 era by provoking its by then generally politically passive anti-war student body and politically passive anti-war professors into a potential new wave of campus protest--comparable to what happened in the 1960s—by trying to push ROTC back onto their campuses.
What do you think would happen if the ROTC was allowed to return to campus—at Columbia and elsewhere?
BF: Both the Pentagon and the U.S. corporate media—including the New York Times—would probably highlight it as an historical reversal of one of the legacies of the Vietnam War Era and the 1968 Columbia Anti-War Student Strike fall-out and the Sixties Anti-War Movement. And it would probably be utilized by the U.S. government as evidence that—under the Democratic Obama Administration—the alienation of U.S. college students from the U.S. military has decreased and that current U.S. college students—even at a bastion of anti-war sentiment historically like Columbia and Barnard—now have less objection to the continued endless U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan than did U.S. college students during the Republican Bush Administration.
The folks on the U.S. right-wing who don’t see anything morally questionable about the militarism of U.S. foreign policy will probably also feel more emboldened about bringing their pro-militarist agenda onto Columbia’s campus and re-militarizing Columbia to the point where they would eventually demand that the ban on secret military research on Columbia’s campus also be lifted.
And I suspect that some more juicy, lucrative Department of Defense research contracts would tend to get thrown Columbia’s way much more, if ROTC were now allowed to return to Columbia’s campus. So Columbia might once again, eventually, become “The MIT of West Harlem”—in terms of the degree to which it once again started to become dependent on Pentagon contracts for nearly half its budget, like it was in the mid-1960s.
Of course, once students wearing ROTC uniforms started marching around on campus and holding military-oriented ceremonies again on Columbia’s campus, it’s also possible that eventually—if the endless U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan isn’t ended or if an additional U.S. military intervention in Iran, North Korea or Venezuela is eventually started over the next few years—some anti-war students at Barnard College and Columbia College might mobilize eventually in larger numbers to again demand that Columbia stop training U.S. military officers for the U.S. power elite’s endless wars abroad.
What is your perspective on the acceptance, with faculty, alumni and current students?
BF: If you check out the chapter, titled “The Military Ascendancy,” in former Columbia University Professor C. Wright Mills’ book The Power Elite, J.W. Fulbright’s The Pentagon Propaganda Machine book or the CBS documentary The Selling of the Pentagon from the 1970s—and also Al Jazeera TV’s recent documentary on YouTube on the way the Pentagon uses Hollywood to promote support for U.S. military adventurism around the globe—you’ll see that since World War II there’s always been a big public relations effort by the Pentagon and the U.S. military-industrial-university-media complex to get people in the USA to feel that it’s “unpatriotic” to be opposed to the militarization of U.S. society and a U.S. foreign policy that is militaristic or to call for huge cuts in the Pentagon’s defense budget. And U.S. supporters of a pacifist U.S. foreign policy and the demilitarization of U.S. society and of U.S. universities like Columbia generally don’t get much mass media TV exposure—except when anti-war and anti-racist students occupy buildings in large numbers at places like Columbia in 1968 or when anti-war activists—like the Chicago 8—went on trial in Chicago during the 1969-1970 academic year.
So it wouldn’t be unexpected if current Barnard College, Columbia College students and faculty—as well as current Columbia Journalism School students and faculty—end up accepting passively the return of ROTC to places like Columbia in 2011. Especially if it’s marketed as “a way to influence the U.S. military in a more humanitarian direction”; or as something that only students and professors who are “soft on terrorism” or “stuck in a 1960s mentality,” or “politically naïve pacifists” would have moral objections about.
On the other hand it could be that the now-imprisoned Private Manning’s morally courageous de-classification of those Wikileaks cables and documents have revealed to enough people on campuses like Columbia that what the U.S. military is doing around the world contradicts the humanistic values and democratic moral values that most students and professors and workers at Columbia and Barnard have, historically, been brought up to adhere to. And that, therefore, the U.S. military still does not belong on Columbia University’s campus in 2011.