Op-Ed: SSNW’s arguments are illogical, poorly constructed

Jan. 16, 2013, 11:13 a.m.

On Monday, Georgetown ROTC cadet Dominick Healey wrote a letter to the editor challenging Stanford Says No to War’s opposition to ROTC at Stanford. Yesterday, Eric Craig Sapp, a member of Stanford Says No to War (SSNW), responded to Healey with a letter to the editor and seemed offended that Healey assumed that SSNW opposes ROTC because it “doesn’t like war.” In doing so, Sapp misses the point.

Healey criticizes SSNW because it uses weak pragmatic arguments, while ignoring what Healey assumes is a moral opposition to ROTC based in SSNW’s own views on war. Healey then asks SSNW to treat the topic with more intellectual honesty. Healey is an ROTC cadet; I, on the other hand, participated in many anti-war protests immediately following the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Nonetheless, I join Healey in asking SSNW and other opponents of ROTC to be more truthful. I will contend that Sapp’s unrealistic scenarios, lack of clear argumentation and opinions disguised as fact are sufficient to disregard SSNW’s positions as “absurd.” Furthermore, I will argue that, from a more honest and pragmatic anti-war perspective, one can support ROTC on campus.

The absurdity begins with Sapp’s claim that ROTC militarizes campus, making Stanford a military installation and a potential military target. Since Stanford does not host large-scale military weaponry, let’s narrowly define militarization as the mobilization of troops for war. Since military personnel make up about .7% of the adult population in California, ROTC would need nearly 100 cadets to make Stanford as militarized as the rest of the state. If concern about attack is the issue, it is unclear why even 100 ROTC members would present a realistic military target when there are dozens of large military bases and installations all along the West Coast – not to mention plenty of weapons reserves, fuel sources and interstate highways for the enemy to attack.

Next, Sapp engages in an argument about the role of the academy, suggesting that it is “conducive to the free pursuit of knowledge and ideas when it is to the greatest extent possible, a neutral space.” Sapp is right that by bringing ROTC back to campus the University would be providing material support to militarism. That said, Stanford provides material support to the propagation of many ideologies, some of which have justified violence, by hosting groups that represent several of the world’s major religions and organizations that take sides on numerous controversial political issues like abortion. It is entirely unclear what makes Stanford a neutral space on these issues, but qualifies it as “taking sides in an active armed conflict” by allowing ROTC a more visible presence.

Sapp comes closer to discussing his true concerns about the terrible consequences of war when he states that the military’s “primary purpose is to efficiently apply coercion, threats, destruction and death.” It’s too bad this statement is completely disingenuous. The mission of the Department of Defense is “to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” Since SSNW is concerned about militarization, the question it should be asking is if and how the US military can deter war and protect the security of our country – two aims that I assume we all agree are important.

Like SSNW members, I would prefer a world in which combat specialists, weapons, bombs and violence didn’t exist. Sadly, in the real world, real national leaders perpetrate violence and threaten basic human rights. World War II demonstrated that there are some governments that will not negotiate, do not adhere to treaties and do not share SSNW’s enlightenment values. In these cases, there must be some means of self-defense available. In less extreme cases, the mere existence of a physical defense may deter acts of war.

Given these realities, as pragmatic, moral members of society and serious objectors to war, we must ask, “What type of military leader is most likely to prefer deterrence and conduct defense with minimal destruction and maximal humanity?” For my part, I want military leaders who have explored the social sciences and humanities. I want military leaders who know and can learn foreign languages so they can communicate with the other side before making fatal mistakes. I want military leaders who have been trained to think through complex problems and have been tested on finding solutions so that combat can be avoided at all costs. I want military leaders whose viewpoints have been challenged and who respect the logic, validity and passion with which those viewpoints are held. Most importantly, I want military leaders who have friends from every country in the world and every state in this nation. I want military leaders who understand that, without regard to race or religion, all peoples on this earth are human, of equal worth and entitled to equal rights.

To the extent that college uniquely hones these skills, provides these opportunities and develops these values, integrated, international college campuses like Stanford may be ideal places for the training of military officers.

Yet, on the point of officer training, Sapp veers from his values again. He says officer training should happen after graduation at Officer Candidate Schools because these schools would be more effective by military standards. SSNW loses all credibility by defending a position using military standards because it has already suggested military standards are undesirable. If SSNW wants to weigh in on training, it should try coming up with its own standards.

In the future, I hope opponents of ROTC like SSNW will make clearer, more logical arguments about why ROTC is a threat to their own values of peace, justice and human rights. While these arguments might be more complicated, they would also be more compelling because they have to do with real concerns, not empty hyperbole. As a group ostensibly dedicated to peace and justice, SSNW’s current opposition to ROTC does little to clarify why this is a fight worth fighting.

Rachel Wright
Ph.D. Candidate, Sociology

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