After a productive meeting of student leaders hoping to respond to the Haitian earthquake, the exit to Lerner Cinema was obstructed by a lone student handing out fliers. The meeting's attendees accepted these absentmindedly, thinking they were advertisements for some future fundraiser or Haiti-concerned club meeting. However, further observation revealed that far from supporting the attempts to save the Haitian people, the fliers had a different message: Stop the invasion of Haiti by the American military! In a not entirely surprising move, the members of the International Socialist Organization at Columbia were hoping to spread the word about how, despite the deceptive appearance of handing out food, water, medical assistance, and critical infrastructure, the American military was actually planning on invading Haiti in another suspicious imperialist plot. Though I recognized that this view was a marginal one on campus, I realized that its basis—a mistrust of our military—is not unfamiliar at Columbia. In discussions about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, condemnation of motives sometimes spills over to criticism of the military. As the most visible arm of American activity, the military is an easy target. After considering this attitude, I have come to hypothesize that there are two primary strains of anti-military bias on our campus. The first is the view of the military as an imperialist force. Usually couched in terms that are less blunt than those employed by the Columbia Socialists, this attitude considers the military to be actively engaged in advancing America's imperialist interests. "Never mind all the other reasons for going into Iraq—we're in it for the oil!" In this sense, the military appears to warrant disdain because it seeks the subjugation of the world's people and resources for America's benefit. The second strain of anti-military bias is focused more at home. From my discussions with Columbians, I have found that many students here view the military as an organization that takes advantage of unwitting young Americans and gets them to enlist without really knowing what they are doing or having a say in the matter. In many students' minds, the military imposes itself on the inner city and takes advantage of desperate poor people who have little choice but to take up a gun and uniform. Of course, these opinions are not completely baseless. In the past, the military has been the most visible part of American imperialist activity. There is a disproportionately large number of low-income individuals in the military. However, allowing these facts to poison one's view of the military results in some important consequences for our campus and community. With the perception of the military as an imperialist force comes an unproductive diversion of discussion. Admittedly, there needs to be passionate exploration into imperialism and its detrimental effects throughout history. However, that discussion strays into nonsense if there is a widely held belief that the U.S. military is somehow imperialistic in itself. In reality, the military is merely the means through which the political and cultural climate at home displays itself. Feel free to criticize our policies as imperialist, but don't confuse the policy-makers with the policy-enforcers. Clear and honest scholarly discussion can only come when we understand the root causes of situations that we find objectionable. The opinion that the military is some sort of predatory organization that unfairly tempts our youth into enlisting serves only to create a culture on campus that limits the diversity of opinion that we allegedly prize. Columbia's ban on ROTC, though primarily continued because of opposition to Don't Ask Don't Tell, is also supported by a resistance to military culture on campus. During last year's referendum, some students voiced concerns about the prospect of military recruiters on campus, which revealed this prejudice. Instead of just labeling the military as predatory, let's allow it a voice at Columbia so that we can engage it in discussion. Assuming that DADT is repealed, I think having ROTC on campus would open the door to having a new group of students at Columbia who could contribute a meaningful voice to campus. Instead of viewing people involved with the military as "victims" of the military's siren call, we would probably come to recognize that people who are involved with the military are not victims, but individuals with values and opinions that are unfortunately underrepresented here. Hopefully these observable detriments are enough to spur some change in how our University culture perceives the military. However, it would be even more meaningful if on top of simply correcting fallacious presuppositions, we could wholly change our view of the military. Instead of viewing the military as institution only, what would happen if we were to take time to consider the people who make it up? Those individuals who potentially sacrifice their lives for the continuation of the liberties and privileges that we enjoy in this country deserve not only to be tolerated—they deserve to be honored. Derek Turner is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in anthropology and political science. Opening Remarks runs alternate Thursdays.
Columbia Spectator Staff