Independence Day, Stanford and the military

July 5, 2012, 11:07 a.m.

Yesterday marked the 236th year of this nation’s independence, a day celebrated, in true American style, by loud explosions and cheap beer. But another milestone went by this spring, less widely remarked but of great importance to this campus: it has been a little more than one year since the Faculty Senate voted to allow the return of ROTC, or Reserve Officer Training Corps, to Stanford for the first time since 1970.

One year later, we have made little progress toward recognizing and appreciating the students on this campus–all too few–who have chosen to serve their country by enlisting in the armed forces. We owe them better than that.

Independence Day, Stanford and the militaryZero. Seven. Zero. Four. The month and day we loudly celebrate this country’s freedom every year. But also, in that order: the number of buildings on this campus dedicated to military veterans or military personnel; the recent number of undergraduate campus veterans, out of a student body of some 6,600; the number of ROTC classes cadets can currently take at Stanford; and the number of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan one particularly eloquent veteran told me about, in harrowing detail.

Instead of recognizing the unique contribution members of the military make to our community, we have long exiled their programs and training from campus and fought a bitter battle to keep them out. Instead of giving them a community and dedicated space, we have picketed their 7 a.m. morning workouts with denunciations of imperialism.

There are very good reasons to oppose military action abroad. This is not the time for me to list them. But soldiers volunteer to protect and defend their country; they don’t get to decide when or where.

I don’t know everything about the growing disconnect between citizen and soldier. But in my spring quarter class on global justice two years ago, it was a military veteran who spoke most perceptively and most thoughtfully about the ethics of war and humanitarian intervention. And I do know that in my history class on the background of current global problems, it was an ROTC cadet who delivered a presentation on crucial military aspects of the U.S.-China diplomatic relationship that the rest of us knew nothing about.

I do know that this year, Sergeant Chris Clark wrote one of the best op-eds I have ever read, about his experience on a dirt road somewhere in Iraq. I do know that our Stanford military personnel are people I would be proud to see leading my country, in war or in peace. I do know that I cannot truly know the sacrifice it takes to leave one’s family and board a plane, never knowing if you’ll see them again.

So let’s argue about the ethics of humanitarian intervention. Let’s oppose American global imperialism. Let’s take as many steps as possible toward the world peace we all seek.

But let’s also remember, recognize and appreciate the men and women on this campus who continue to ensure that we can celebrate the Fourth of July–and the liberties and freedoms it represents to us all–next year, and the year after that, and after that. We owe our fellow students no less.

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