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Over the majority of my life, I’ve found myself opposing ROTC. When I was in college, during the Vietnam War, it was a part of the effort to end the war. Either while I was in college or very shortly afterwards, the college I attended got rid of ROTC. In subsequent years, there have been occasional efforts to restore ROTC at that university and I’ve always been one of those writing letters opposing such restoration, so far with success.

I’ve not done this without mixed feelings, however. The fact is, I’m not opposed to something like ROTC in principle, nor am I anti-military in principle; my dad was a World War II vet and I’m nothing but proud of him. I think knowledge of some military skills is a valuable thing for people to have. Ideally, having an organization like ROTC in high schools and in colleges would be a good thing, if totally voluntary. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t ROTC but the military itself.

The U.S. military branches, as currently constituted, are antithetical to good citizenship.

  • The military cultivates, even enforces, a uniform political outlook. It tries to prohibit any kind of criticism of the status quo, meaning especially the political party currently in power, and most especially meaning any military adventures in which the current administration is engaged. The practice of the military has been most disgusting in this regard, using prosecution, punitive transfers, dishonorable or less-than-honorable discharges and other methods of persecution to stifle any political views not approved by the military brass. And, the military has extended this persecution to civilians actively supporting members of the military who think for themselves and don’t just think as they are told to think.

    The near uniformity of political viewpoint of current members of the military, and among veterans, is easy for anyone to see. This viewpoint is also what is called “conservative,” or at least supportive of politicians who consider themselves conservative. The effect of this is subversive of the American ideal of having an informed citizenry that is free to think and act according to their individual consciences and views, and a military made up of citizen-soldiers. Further, having a military made up of soldiers with the ability to think broadly and independently, and the courage and spirit to act on those thoughts, would be true progress. Even if it were carried to the extent of them saying “Hell No, We Won’t Go,” it would be a step forward in helping to avoid the dishonest and morally reprehensible military adventures that have been foisted on the country by politicians.

  • The military cultivates religious bias. Officially, the military claims to be neutral, allowing people of various religions to join and practice their own religious views. Unofficially, it is very different. This became a public scandal a little while back at the Air Force Academy when cadets there, with the active support of faculty and administrators, were harassing cadets who were not evangelical Protestants, under the guise of proselytizing. I don’t know if it is still the case, but in the recent past, members of the military were required to go to church on Sunday. Upon entering the military, new recruits were required to designate a religion so that a code could be placed on their dog tags, in case of death. Neither of those things bode well for people whose religions do not designate Sunday as their Sabbath, or those who are not religious at all. Today, it has become public knowledge that soldiers of the Islamic faith have a tough time in the military. This is inevitable in an organization that cultivates uniformity and caters to the ignorance that results when individual thinking is suppressed instead of encouraged.

  • The military discriminates against homosexuals, with its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Any soldier who publicly acknowledges homosexuality or whose homosexuality otherwise becomes public, is discharged from the military. This is shortsighted in that people who like the military and want to contribute to it are removed from it by policy – it’s a waste of talent and resources. There is no policy in the country as a whole, nor should there be, that homosexuals are removed from society. It is widely recognized that people have a right to be they way they are so long as they are not hurting anyone. Since the military is an institution of this society and is supposed to be reflective of society, the military’s anti-homosexual policies should be eliminated for this reason alone. There are certain issues about homosexuality that society as a whole, not just the military, has not figured out. However, discrimination against homosexuals is not the solution, neither in society as a whole nor in the military.

  • Military training is a dehumanizing and violent process, under the guise of inculcating discipline and preparation for the violence of war. People who are volunteering to serve their country should not be subjected to insults or to other degradations. (There are special training programs in the military having to do with how to act when captured, interrogated and or tortured. A soldier who volunteers for such training and is informed about what takes place cannot legitimately complain about being “subjected to” the practices used in the training.) There is no place for any kind of bullying in the military, especially not by trainers. It needs to be prohibited not only because involuntary dehumanization and degradation is immoral and violates the ideals espoused by this country. It also needs to be eliminated because it tends to create the compliant, non-thinking, uniform type of individual that is antithetical to good citizenship.

Until the military is reformed to eliminate the above problems (and possibly other related problems), I could not support any ROTC programs that promote the military and its current ways of doing things. But it doesn’t have to remain that way.

Since the military was desegregated and it adopted racially inclusive attitudes, it has been a social institution that has provided relatively more opportunity to minorities than society at large. This progressive role unfortunately has been obscured by the military’s enthusiastic participation in the vile and destructive wars of recent decades, and causes many people logically to view the military as an exploiter of minorities to provide cannon fodder for the nefarious purposes of certain government administrations. Thus military opponents reasonably view any funds devoted to ROTC as wasted, when they could be better spend on educational purposes.

There are skills valued in the military that are also valuable in society at large. Teamwork is one of them. Although sports claim to teach teamwork, it also carries with it a lot of baggage. This includes

  • the silly rah-rah attitude that one is supposed to arbitrarily value one’s “home team” above all others,

  • the bullying of other team members (and all too often students in the general school population) that might not have the size or athletic abilities of a team’s all-stars,

  • the idea that the sport is more than just a game and that it’s too important to allow those of lesser prowess to play out of pure enjoyment, because it might cause a game to be lost, and

  • the idea students with sports ability should be somehow more important than other students and are somehow heroic and held in higher regard than those who outperform them academically.

Were the military to be fixed and ROTC programs geared to teaching skills valued by both the military and society as a whole, those programs could be valuable to students who don’t happen to think much of moving a ball hither and yon around a field.

Much of human history has involved war, and the military has been an engine of technological progress that has been passed on to civilian society to the betterment of all. This is a fact not dependant upon how approvingly or disapprovingly one views war. Teaching history as related to the military and to war, if done honestly and non-propagandistically, would also be a legitimate activity of an ROTC program. It would enrich any student by providing another way to view history. The ability to view things from different points of view is something sorely lacking in today’s American society and anything that encourages learning about history is valuable in comprehending the present and envisioning the future.

There is also social value to be obtained from teaching more purely military skills in schools and universities. I don’t mean teaching how to march in straight lines and other pseudo-patriotic, flag-waving activities. (There is nothing inherently wrong with the flag. I have one waving from the front of my house at this moment.) In modern society, the military is supposed to function to defend the ideals of society from others who would destroy those ideals. The fact that usually this purpose is perverted into offensive activities anathema to society’s ideals doesn’t change the worthiness of the defensive goal. Rather, it means that the citizens of the country need to regain control of their government.

There is also a positive social value from a broad knowledge and skill at arms.

  • Any legitimate program that teaches shooting skills also teaches safe practices while handling weapons. While firearm accidents have been generally decreasing for decades, accidents continue and those involving children are especially tragic. Teaching safe handling of weapons (and when to avoid handling them at all!) to school age children will never be a bad thing. Irrational fear of such training by people without such knowledge themselves is, unfortunately, common, especially among people who also oppose the military and ROTC. ROTC programs could do that.
  • A good program that teaches safe gun handling along with the skills of accurately hitting a target also teaches responsibility. Firearms tend to be physically heavy, but for someone who has had good training, the weight of the responsibility that results from the training is much heavier. The natural curiosity of most young people can lead to knowledge, but it can cause problems, as well. If a young person’s normal curiosity about weapons can be satisfied in a well-run training program, a by-product will be the sense of responsibility that tends to lessen the likelihood of misuse and accident. The rampant violence and inaccurate, unsafe firearm use on television, in movies and in video games is a bad teacher. (Watch those shows closely – the idiot actors can usually be seen closing their eyes when they pull the trigger.) Counteracting that with good training is a way to inculcate knowledge and responsibility instead of the flippant, casual and unsafe attitudes toward guns obtained from mass entertainment. ROTC programs could do that.
  • A population with solid knowledge of weapons and their use in defense of a civilized society would be the best available deterrent to terrorism. It would be the kind of defense that does not rely on the violation of civil liberties, but on the expansion of them. ROTC programs could do that.
  • Having a knowledge of arms and some training to safely and accurately use them provides more than just the fun hobby of target shooting, and the satisfaction of accurately making holes in a piece of paper. The skill, tempered with the sense of responsibility from good training, leads to a sense of personal confidence, the feeling that one has at least a fighting chance of getting out of a bad situation. It is akin to the personal feelings generated by the study of the martial arts and the philosophies that go along with them. A population better versed in such subjects is less likely to suffer so seriously from the fear aroused by terrorism and violent crime. A more confident and less fearful citizenry is also less likely to go along with much of the scary foolishness that the government has implemented in the guise of fighting terrorism. ROTC programs could do that.
Like the military itself, ROTC programs do not have to be inherently evil. Changing those programs from something negative for society into something positive will be one result of actions of people who stop bickering among themselves and concentrate on taking control of society back from those who have usurped it.

August 2, 2007

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