Editorial: To end war and discrimination, bring back ROTC

Opinion by Editorial Board
April 8, 2011, 12:29 a.m.

Much has been said about the current advisory measure to gauge student support for ROTC’s return to the Stanford campus. In true Stanford fashion, many novel and thoughtful arguments in favor of supporting, abstaining, or rejecting ROTC have emerged on email lists and fliers. However, this Board wishes to address some widely believed misperceptions, and urges a “yes” vote on Measure A.

Opponents of Measure A have built their advocacy around the assertion that a vote in favor of ROTC’s return constitutes a disenfranchisement of minority rights. Voting on civil rights, the argument goes, is wrong; a tyranny of the majority should not be allowed to suppress the freedoms of the few.

The right to attend classes and participate in on-campus activities, regardless of one’s race, class, sexuality, or gender identity, is enshrined in Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy. Yet, ROTC’s return would not result in the abridgement of any of these rights on campus; any Stanford student, even those who are transgender, would be welcome to participate in ROTC classes and physical training.

Yes, ROTC opponents argue, but so what if transgender students can participate in classes or training? Transgender students still wouldn’t be allowed to commission as officers after graduation. Even if ROTC doesn’t technically violate Stanford’s discrimination policy because it only discriminates against students after they have graduated, the overriding concern is to send an important symbolic message to the military that Stanford will not tolerate its presence until it reverses its discrimination against transgender people elsewhere.

Yet, even if we ignore the fact that Stanford has no leverage — the military could fund two cadets at UC-Berkeley for the cost of sponsoring every ROTC cadet at Stanford, and has been quite happy to do so — any attempt to punish the military until it accedes to our demands will fail for the very simple reason that the military itself has no control over its hiring policies.

The military’s policy of discrimination against transgender citizens is written instead by Congress, which reexamines military policy in its annual defense authorizations and appropriations. Indeed, those who genuinely wish to change military policy should direct their attention towards those who speak for California on congressional military oversight committees: Dianne Feinstein, Jerry Lewis, Ken Calvert, Loretta Sanchez, John Garamendi, Duncan Hunter, Susan Davis and Buck McKeon.

But even if symbolic punishment of the military is misguided, isn’t voting to reject or abstain on the ROTC ballot measure the safest course of action? The answer is a clear no. In fact, voting “no” or “abstain” does a very real disservice to all parties, and not just for those in uniform.

While keeping ROTC off campus certainly creates significant headaches for Stanford cadets, forcing them to travel to other universities — an inconvenience that may also deter some ROTC cadets from accepting admission at Stanford — the real harms are borne by the rest of us. As the tenor of this debate has demonstrated, there is a widening chasm between civilians and the military, especially on the Farm.

This civilian-military divide carries very real consequences for the health of our democracy. As a nation, we are increasingly sending our poorest to fight our wars. In the absence of a draft, the wealthy may opt for military service, but the poor often have few other options. Some scholars have argued that this inequitable burden on the lower class has reduced the political costs to fighting wars, perhaps explaining why the United States has become somewhat of an exception to the political science theory that democratic countries are less likely to go to war. Consider that 180 out of 307 U.S. Army generals have children in the service, compared to only 10 out of 535 members of Congress. That’s fewer than the number of Stanford alumni (11) currently holding congressional office.

Out of sight, out of mind: by keeping the military off campus, we reinforce the very unsettling fact that those declaring America’s wars and those actually fighting them have rarely rubbed elbows.

By opposing ROTC’s return, queer-rights and anti-war advocates have made the implicit assumption that keeping the military out of Stanford will somehow lead to less discrimination or less war. Yet, why “abstain” and remove ourselves from the many contentious and difficult debates about a peace-loving nation’s use of organized violence, or who might serve in that cause? Stanford has already produced 18 senators, 33 representatives, many ambassadors and secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisors and one president.  By bringing ROTC on campus, we have to opportunity to promote such dialogue in an academic environment and shape the discourse of America’s next generation of military and civilian leaders.

Advocates for “no” or “abstain” votes on Measure A have legitimate concerns with the military and the idea of voting on civil rights. However, this Board finds that ROTC would not violate Stanford’s discrimination policy, and urges voters to consider the effects of keeping ROTC off campus. We have the chance either to insulate both ourselves and the military even further or to bring essential civic debate to our home turf, where we set the rules of discourse. Because we believe that the military will remain an imperfect institution the longer we try to ignore and marginalize its role in our society, this Board strongly urges a “yes” vote on Measure A.


Editor’s note: Cyrus Navabi ’11 and Tiq Chapa ’10 recused themselves from this Editorial.

The Editorial Board consists of a chair appointed by the editor in chief and six other members. At least four of the board’s members are previous/current Daily affiliates, and at least one is a member of the Stanford community who is new to The Daily. The final member can be either. The editor in chief is an ex-officio member (not included in the count of six), who may debate on and veto articles but cannot vote or otherwise contribute to the writing process. Voting members: Joyce Chen '25 (Editorial Board chair, Vol. 263), Senkai Hsia '24 (member of the Editorial Board), YuQing Jiang '25 (Opinions desk editor, Vol. 263), Nadia Jo '24 (member of the Editorial Board), Alondra Martinez '26 (Opinions columnist, Vol. 263), Anoushka Rao '24 (managing editor of Opinions, Vol. 263), Shan Reddy '23 (member of the Editorial Board). Ex-officio (non-voting) members: Sam Catania '24 (editor in chief, Vol. 262 and 263).

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