Harris talk opposes ROTC

April 7, 2011, 2:28 a.m.

Former student body president and antiwar activist David Harris ’67 spoke to a group of 20 Stanford community members Wednesday night about his opposition to ROTC.

Harris talk opposes ROTC
American journalist and author David Harris discussed his opposition to the return of ROTC to Stanford. Last night's event, held at Wilbur Hall, was sponsored by Stanford Say No to War. (JIN ZHU/The Stanford Daily)

The discussion, held at the Wilbur Meeting Room and sponsored by Stanford Says No To War, touched on a variety of topics that mainly focused on Harris’s personal experiences and general topics related to ROTC reinstatement. Transgender rights and the Campaign to Abstain were mentioned only once by an audience member during the hour-and-a-half talk.

“In terms of massive practical impact, it doesn’t have one,” Harris said of ROTC’s potential return to the Farm.

“But what Stanford does about it will be a tremendous statement,” he added.

Harris, who served as student body president from 1966-67, raised the issue of each individual’s collective accountability for the military’s actions.

“We will be responsible for the end product of all of these ROTC officers,” Harris said.

To illustrate the point, he touched on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” a famous scholarly work that examines the manifestation of evil in the Nazi regime. The book was published and made its way around Stanford in the mid-1960s. Harris said one of the book’s major questions—what fellow Germans did about atrocities committed by their government—was relevant to the United States both during Vietnam and today.

“ROTC is the place where we can address this,” he said.

Harris, who was imprisoned for 18 months for dodging the draft, led a number of antiwar campaigns during his time on campus. In 1966, he focused on selective service. In 1967, he rallied against the University’s cooperation, through research, with the Vietnam War effort.

However, he refused to take significant credit for ROTC’s 1968 departure, pointing instead to a faculty decision on the academic merits of the program’s curriculum that led to the program’s exodus.

The question of educational vitality is still present today and is among the larger issues that the current ad hoc committee on ROTC is considering.

“Stanford is supposedly a community of scholars in a search for truth,” he said. “You’re not going to learn how to think in ROTC.”

Harris was also dismissive of the logistical concerns of having Stanford cadets travel to other schools for training.

“The issues are a lot bigger than anyone’s convenience,” he said.

The greatest back-and-forth of the evening occurred when Joe Maguire ’13 challenged Harris on a number of points and posited that an antiwar and anti-ROTC focus would be more effectual if it centered on civilian officials rather than the armed forces.

“Policy needs to be addressed, certainly,” Harris said. “But my point is that we need less military.”

“What’s needed here is not better-trained officers; what’s needed here is fewer officers,” Harris added. “We can’t keep dealing with the rest of the world through our armies.”


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