Veterans Day event probes civilian-military gap

Nov. 14, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

The Haas Center for Public Service and the Stanford Military Service Network co-hosted a Veterans Day barbeque at Kappa Alpha (KA) Friday. Members of United Students for Veterans’ Health (USVH) also volunteered at the event.

Professor of political science Larry Diamond ’73 M.A. ’78 Ph.D. ’80 spoke and said that separation between America’s civilian and military life can be “dangerous for a democracy.”

He said the day not only honors the sacrifice of service members but is also a reminder of the need to heal the wedge between these two spheres.

Veterans Day event probes civilian-military gap
The Haas Center for Public Service and Stanford Military Service Network co-hosted a Veterans Day barbeque Friday afternoon at Kappa Alpha. (WENDING LU/The Stanford Daily)

Around 56 people attended the barbeque, according to Tim Hsia, a law student and former U.S. Army Infantry Captain. He called this a “good number” and commented that the veterans’ clubs at Stanford’s law and business schools were holding similar events at the same time and that he hoped to consolidate their efforts next year.

Colonel Joseph Felter, a senior research fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), spoke at the barbeque.

“This is just a time of tremendous sacrifice,” Felter said. “I think no one here is oblivious to that, but I think our country unfortunately might be in ‘Planet Palo Alto’ sometimes, a little insulated from that incredible sacrifice that’s going on. There’s war going on, and people are in harm’s way.”

He called the Faculty Senate’s vote last April to invite ROTC back to campus a “great gesture” in helping to increase awareness about the military amongst members of the Stanford community. He also recognized the ROTC students who were in attendance, saying that service members “deserve” to be lead by those with a Stanford education.

“You are at Stanford,” Felter said. “Each of you has options that are probably more lucrative, certainly more comfortable and absolutely less dangerous. It’s comforting to know that our country will remain in good hands.”

Diamond, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, said that he came to Stanford as a freshman in 1969–a year after the University ended its ROTC program. He called this “an ugly period in Stanford’s history” and said that it created an “intense and sometimes thoughtless division.”

“I was opposed to the Vietnam War, but I was also opposed to the treatment that Vietnam veterans got when they returned,” Diamond said. “They didn’t make the decision to go to war in Vietnam. They didn’t make the decision to fight it as unwisely and incompetently as was done.”

He said the division between service members and civilians has begun to heal, given the military’s humanitarian work in the 1990s. He also noted that the gap cannot be fully bridged until students and faculty members take “the initiative to understand the military more.”

According to Hsia, one of the advantages of having ROTC and veteran students on-campus is the potential for members of the Stanford community to become more informed voters.

“People should think about our nation’s wars–the cost of them and whether or not they would want their sons and daughters to go to war,” Hsia said. “It’s very easy to want to go to war when the personal costs are not felt.”

Hsia said he was particularly touched when several of his professors acknowledged in class that it was Veterans Day. According to Hsia, the day was less about thanking service members and more about recognizing “a civic duty to know what’s happening.”

Dennis Te ’14 and Andrew Huo ’15–members of USVH, a student group that volunteers at the Menlo Park Veterans Affair Hospital–helped to set up the event. USVH also had a table at the entrance to KA where individuals could make cards that would be delivered to veterans.

Te said that while he has abstained on the issue of bringing ROTC back on campus–empathizing with the argument put forth by the LGBT community–he decided to volunteer at the event because he has seen friends go into the military. He added that some of his mentors in high school were also veterans.

“I figured they needed people, and I wanted to show my support,” Te said.

Huo said that he began volunteering with the USVH because he is considering medical school but added that the Three Books program this year, which debated war ethics, got him thinking about the armed forces in a new light.

“Stephen Carter [author of “The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama”] talked about, ‘What does it really mean to support your troops if you’re against war?’” Huo said. “It’s sort of a paradox. You really have to be morally aware of what’s going on to really support your troops and try to understand [President Barack] Obama’s justification of wars.”

“I guess this is the time to really think about what we are risking these lives for,” he said.

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