Op-Ed: Closing the Citizen-Solider Gulf

Opinion by and
April 6, 2011, 12:24 a.m.

ROTC’s absence from this campus has removed a critical mode of discourse between the military and the civilian population it serves. As the daughter of an Air Force officer, I grew up entirely behind the gates of U.S. military installations. The schools I attended were filled almost exclusively with fellow military dependents. College marked my first experience living off base and being surrounded primarily by civilians. I was struck that while I understood the nuances of civilian life, my civilian counterparts had virtually no notion of what life in the military entails. Worse, they seemed almost proud of their ignorance.

The gap between the military and civilian populations has been growing further apart in recent decades. Though we are currently prosecuting two wars, only 1 percent of Americans is directly affected. The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, recently warned of the danger of this increasing gulf between the military and the civilians they serve to protect. The implications of this gulf could prove to be detrimental not only to civil-military relations, but to the foreign policy decisions of the United States. For citizens and politicians to truly understand the cost of war, they must be intimately aware of the sacrifices we ask our military to make. By the same token, a military should be intimately tied to the society it serves to remain keenly aware of the values and freedoms they are asked to make sacrifices for. Our Founding Fathers feared the potential dangers of having a large standing army as a threat to liberty; instead, they placed emphasis on the formation of militias for the very reason that they were so closely knitted to their home communities.

Not only should the military be closely tied to the community it serves, but it is strongest when it is a reflection of that community. Thucydides once contended that “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.” His observation is no less relevant in his ancient Greek republic than our American one. The military should be a reflection of the society it serves, and this should apply to the academic community no less than any other part of the general public. Just as the concept of the citizen-soldier serves to sustain civic engagement and ensure political accountability, the idea of the warrior-scholar serves to provide enlightened military leadership and protect the core values of the population. ROTC enables future officers to learn in a hybrid military-civilian environment, where they can study military doctrine while engaging in the civilian academic world. ROTC has been a vital component of creating a more educated and more professional military, which ultimately benefits the society it serves.

A society should demand that its military leaders be the best and the brightest, but it must also allow them the opportunity to obtain such education. By denying ROTC’s right to exist at Stanford, opponents are turning a blind eye to the reality of global politics; they ignore the fact that the military will not cease to be a defining social force so long as violent conflict exists in the world. In actuality, opponents are promulgating a viewpoint completely antithetical to the values of a university education. Intolerance, xenophobia and isolationism have no place in academia, and yet these are the defining characteristics of those who seek to keep ROTC out of Stanford. The pervasive ignorance of this viewpoint does only harm to the state of civil-military relations and the prevalence of this viewpoint is detrimental for our society as a whole. Shouldn’t we ensure that our future military officers are as well educated as possible so that we may all benefit from enlightened military leadership in the future? As a society, we could ask for nothing more than to have educated warrior-scholars fighting to guarantee our rights. The wind of freedom does indeed blow here at Stanford, but let us never forget who secured this freedom.


Rebecca Young, M.A. ‘11

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