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Columbia Spectator Staff

With results coming in on the student referenda on NROTC, it looks like the return of the military program has been dealt a blow, albeit by a narrower margin than many expected. This is as it should be—"don't ask, don't tell" is a foolish and discriminatory policy, and it would be nonsensical to reward any institution for such retrograde practices. break I also believe that the policy of excluding LGBT people from the military is likely a deeply unpopular one amongst certain segments of the military brass, especially in a period of heavy recruitment in which finding enough bodies to service America's imperial follies overseas is becoming increasingly difficult. It is the product of a federal law, and under an Obama administration more willing to consider these issues, its repeal may very well be imminent. I grant that this would be a victory in terms of providing equal opportunity and would have positive repercussions in terms of lessening discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. However, I firmly believe that the return of ROTC, even a reformed, all-inclusive version, onto campus would be a grave reversal of the gains made by organized student movements and a great step backwards for the struggle to construct a more just community on this campus. All the respectable voices of the liberal establishment here, from University President Lee Bollinger to Professor David Eisenbach, have expressed that they would bring ROTC back with open arms once DADT is reversed. Since I consider myself neither liberal nor respectable, I feel free to say what I think is obvious—winning the right for gay people to participate in an institution which invades sovereign nations, bombs cities with white phosphorus, and tortures detainees in secret prisons is not a progressive development. Broadening a social consensus behind an institution that has violently harmed the stability of the world is not positive. If the tragic tale of Lynndie England is not liberating for women, then why would the case be any different for any other groups in our society? I say this neither from a pacifist position nor from one of moral superiority. There are times when groups, including nations, need to exercise violence to protect their legitimate interests, and a military is the institution to be used for that purpose. However, we have to look not at an ideal type of what the military could be through the lens of mystifying abstractions such as an integrative "national service" but from an analysis of how it has been instrumentally used. From Vietnam to Iraq to dozens of secret coups and palace intrigues in Latin America and the Middle East, the U.S. military has never been defensive, or about promoting democracy. The "terrorists" it struggles against are only nourished by the permanent bases on Saudi soil, the punitive expeditions in Baghdad, the billions in aid to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the Egyptian one-party state. The skeletons aren't even in the closet—they are openly accessible to anyone who cares to read up on their history, but we seem to forget them when we declare that we want to give all the right to patriotic service. It is indubitably true that the soldier in the American military is exceptionally brave, and risking your life in the scorching deserts of Iraq is not an endeavor that should be taken lightly from the comforts of New York City streets. But were the Soviets in Afghanistan or the Russians in Chechnya not equally brave? What about the militants of Hamas or the Iraqi insurgency, who are virtually assured death for their resistance? Self-sacrifice and bravery are not the monopoly of institutions with a noble mission. Our nation's troops can be perfectly noble in an institution with despicable effects on the world, and the testimony of antiwar veterans of Vietnam and Iraq indicates this view is by no means limited to ignorant civilians. The "No on NROTC" movement has, however, mainly accepted the thesis that the problem with the U.S. military has not been its actions, its missions, or its uses, and has limited its critique to an inequality of access. While I commend the efforts of activists that recall the role of LGBT students in kicking the NROTC off campus in the aftermath of the strike in 1969, it is revisionist history to consider that as anything else but a denouncement of militarism and the Vietnam War. For once, the right-wing media is right—the students were not protesting a lack of access to the military, they had a broader systemic critique of the military itself. Forty years ago, students decided that having an active NROTC on campus implied that the University was explicitly supporting an unjust war in Vietnam. They declared that a school that is proud to produce the leaders and administrators of the empire is incompatible with one that fosters the development of critical knowledge. Instead of accepting the vapid establishment argument that military service constitutes a transcendent good, why don't we assert that one of the elements of a "global university" is the production of minds critical of an established power so covered in corpses? Let's not be a pale shadow of those that came before us. We foreclose the broader societal questioning that the ROTC issue implies by limiting ourselves to DADT. Only when the assumptions of American foreign policy are fundamentally altered should the military have a place on our campus. Andrew Lyubarsky is a Columbia College senior majoring in Hispanic studies. Cliché Guevara runs alternate Thursdays.

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