History Professor David Kennedy and Engineering Professor William Perry last week proposed to the Academic Senate that Stanford do its part to provide our country with military officers lest our age-old tradition of the citizen soldier be seriously compromised. The proposal was to create a committee to review the possibilities of returning ROTC to the Stanford campus, and the committee has begun to meet.
Strangely, they do not call for a reinstituting of military conscription, which would seem an obvious way to achieve a citizen army.
Such an army, which may or may not be a "tradition," is a problematic concept to begin with. Both napoleon and Frederick the Great claimed to have such an army: Napoleon was certainly closer to the truth. In the early years of its operation Napoleon's ventures had a liberating effect for many of Europe's peoples, yet it later in its metamorphosis became an instrument of autocracy.
But perhaps more to the point today's military forces feature un-manned aircraft, privately-contracted "militias" and other methods of warfare (and the killing of those who are not soldiers) that put such concepts as "citizen army" back into mothballs.
We are somewhat shy about admitting that today's "volunteer" army may be other than that. By their own testimony, many of those who enlisted simply couldn't find a decent job elsewhere. What does "citizenship" mean in a society characterized by extremes of wealth and various expressions of discrimination?
And, if a note of cynicism is permitted, does the army provide something of a cushion for problem that need to be solved elsewhere — as in federally financed work programs? Someday a faculty committee, drawing from many disciplines, will study possibilities for moving from a "security state" to (for want of a congenial term) a "facilitating state."
It's pointed out that the Vietnam War brought strong anti-war feelings to Stanford (as elsewhere). The university was implicated in ways not always acknowledged: There was forbidden usage of Stanford computers by SRI for programming amphibious landings in North Vietnam. Close ties with the military and with agencies that make Dwight Eisenhower's warnings about the military-industrial complex look naive are persistent and will continue to be.
It is hard to believe that the military has not profited from Stanford connections. I would like to believe that it is not just the hang-up over "don't ask, don't tell" that has crippled the relationship (as the faculty proponents suggest). Afghanistan may very well look like another misguided adventure which university-educated brains designed and that, despite the absence of a draft bringing the way close to home, opposition to killing will be a distinguishing feature of universities.
Stanford has Knight fellowships for journalists who wish to participate in studies here and it would not be remiss to establish such an opportunity for military officers and noncommissioned men. But ROTC curricula developed apart from the usual academic quality controls is something else.
And the university would, for its part, be reluctant to meddle: That sort of thing isn't done. In recent years ethics courses have proliferated on the campus and certainly there is much for military representatives to learn. Practitioners of one kind or another — talented and accomplished artists and theologians and businessmen et al — have something to teach us. No question. But this must be done within the prophylaxis, so to speak, of this last of the great guilds.
I should say, for the record, that I am myself a veteran of the ROTC. But it was the high-school variety, the Second War was raging and it was long ago and far away, in Wisconsin.
This has limited relevance — except for the impression I retained of a kind of learning that is tied suffocatingly to training manuals and which discourages any independent thinking.
We need to remind ourselves that a core principle of a great university is the fostering of critical thinking.
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