I’m happy there’s some sort of controversy about ROTC on campus. It’s an tangible debate over ideas about which we usually argue in the abstract: the greater good, civic duty, and equality. I’m not going to argue about that last one—whether Princeton has an obligation to fight for the rights of homosexuals—because most students would agree we do. Those who don’t I can’t convince otherwise. But, even given that Princeton has this obligation, ROTC should stay on campus.
One pro-ROTC argument I’ve heard is that we should be encouraging Princetonians to join the military because an officer corps with a liberal arts background would accelerate the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I find this unconvincing; after all, if Princetonians going into the military could have a palpable effect on policy, wouldn’t our termination of the ROTC have the same? Moreover, this assumes that we’d only want undergrads in ROTC if they oppose DADT, which would create a mess of its own (Don’t ask, don’t tell if you support don’t ask, don’t tell?)
Another popular line of reasoning says that we should, if anything, encourage military service among Tigers. After all, the school’s motto is “In the Nation’s Service.” Well, first, that’s NOT our motto. It’s Woody Woo’s. Our motto is “Dei sub numine viget”: “Under God’s will she flourishes.” Tangential diatribe aside, what constitutes “encouragement”? The army is already paying around $30,000 to at least some of the ROTC students. Should ROTC students also be exempt from grade deflation? If all that goes into “encouraging” is not kicking ROTC off-campus, then the argument just becomes “Princeton is better with ROTC than without.” And it is. But that’s not what was being argued.
Any argument in favor of ROTC reduces to absurdity that simple statement: we’re a better place with ROTC than without. A column in the Prince described the opposite of this best: “The whole point of kicking ROTC off campus is to create an environment in which the national policy has the same impact on straight and gay alike.” Those are the alternatives, ignoring practical questions of federal funding. And the discussion ought to ignore those questions. Whatever happens with the Solomon Amendment, I would hope that the conscience of the University cannot be bought.
Of course, both points are problematic; if you kick off ROTC, what do you do about religious student groups whose religions are discriminatory? If you keep ROTC, how is this not implicitly supporting discrimination?
Neither side can be supported conclusively, but that’s hardly surprising. If it could be, we’re all clever enough that one of us would’ve managed to figure it out by now. Nevertheless, a more compelling case—albeit an objectionable one—can be made for keeping ROTC.
On a side-note, I use the term “keep” ROTC; however, this argument really has nothing to do with ROTC being on campus at the moment. If we didn’t have an ROTC program, it would be just as necessary that we establish one as it is that we keep the one we have.
But back to the argument. I don’t like comparing what happens if we keep ROTC to what happens if we remove it. It relies on too many conjectures, idealizations, and is in some sense insulting to both homosexuals and ROTC members, comparing which group is more worthy of the majority’s munificence.
Instead, I consider why people want to remove ROTC. It goes back to Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” But this does not call for ROTC’s dissolution, rather, it calls for us all to work to change the military’s policy. In some sense, it would be too easy to remove ROTC. We’d have done our civic duty, and we’d get back to Newman’s Day, theses, and getting a bar on campus. But if anything, we’re called to realize that, while our military has the policy it does, our nation is the less for it. This is true regardless of the presence of ROTC on campus.
Some will argue that all the above is true, but still, we should not allow a discriminatory group on campus. It might be a small step, an insignificant one, but it would be a step. To this I ask: a step towards what? For those of us who are citizens of the USA, we still live in a country where homosexuals cannot serve in the military. Removing ROTC does not impact this. Therefore, what step has been taken? If anything, we have further isolated Princeton from the world we are supposed to be called to serve. To suggest that removing ROTC from campus would make the world a better place is to suggest that we only care about the fate of Princetonians.
In this sense, the present situation cannot be compared to racism or sexism. In both of those, the campus could actively choose whether to be complicit or not. Moreover, our actions would have resonance; we hire the best professors and accept the best students. But for the ROTC, no such local course of action can have that sort of global impact. And since it is the global impact that should matter to us, the local action becomes insignificant.
In sum, we should feel a call to oppose to the military’s policy, not the ROTC on campus. For some, the two are inseparable. But such a view is flawed insofar as it elevates the importance of our having ROTC and diminishes the question of whether the military’s policy is acceptable. Accordingly, the military’s policy does not weigh into the question of whether we should have ROTC.