By Owen Henry
It’s more likely than you think.
I was first made aware that there was some level of interest in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) at Oberlin at a meeting with the Oberlin College Trustees during the fall semester. The idea was put forward by noted campus conservative Andrew Lipian, whose name you might know from certain diatribes published in the Review. In order to add credence to his request, he showed up in full military uniform and distributed pictures of dead soldiers and 9-11 first responders.
Needless to say, that went over like a ton of bricks.
Not that the Trustees would have been able to help Lipian anyway, as they informed him. The consensus seemed to be that the introduction of an ROTC program to Oberlin would be contingent upon its financial sustainability; the College’s endowment has already been shrinking, and effectively adding another department/campus organization that requires funding seemed unfeasible when the College was already looking for ways to cut costs.
But this didn’t kill the idea, which led to the Student Senate-sponsored forum last night in Wilder. The forum was held in response to a request on the part of the administration that some sense of student opinion be gathered before any decision was made either in support of or against bringing ROTC back to campus. The event was notably well-attended for a Senate forum, which perhaps speaks to strong feelings held by some students (including myself) about the military.
The discussion was much less one-sided than you might imagine. A number of Junior ROTC graduates (the high school version of the program) were in attendance, as well as students who are current members of other armed forces training programs (yes, they do exist on campus, wipe that shocked look off your face). In their opinion, military values, such as honor and respect, are one and the same with the values of the Oberlin institution, and students interested in serving their country have a right to participate in training programs while attending college. They noted that currently interested students are forced to go to great lengths in order to fulfill their commitment to military service. Additionally, they pointed to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as a good reason for this being a good time to bring the ROTC back to campus.
If anything, Oberlin’s usual anti-establishment opinions were under represented, as no one who attended appeared to adopt the role of an agitator – rather, there was a diversity of opinion and reasoning on a potential ROTC program. Some attendees voiced objections to any potential program on the basis of the military’s history of targeting minorities for recruitment, while others addressed the military’s poor record on sexual assault.
I myself seemed to be the sole peacenik in the room. I realize this does not make me an objective source of information as to the conversation, but this is a blog, so fuck objectivity. I have strong feelings on this, and I am damn well going to use every available platform to make them heard.
I am a Quaker, a registered and practicing member of the Goose Creek Friends Meeting in Lincoln, Virginia. For those of you who don’t know, Quakerism is a Protestant religion that believes strongly in non-violence. This belief comes from an almost Buddhist conception of the value of life, as we are of the opinion that the light of God is present within all souls, regardless of ethnicity or creed. Quakers also have a long history as conscientious objectors – there are stories of Quakers during the Revolutionary War who were brought before George Washington as deserters and traitors because they refused to fight who were then summarily pardoned and excused by Washington on the basis of their beliefs.
I myself am a conscientious objector. I believe that the taking of human life is not an act that can be performed lightly, and all too often in our military life is not given the respect it deserves. The resolution of conflict through force of arms is innately harmful to humanity, not just in that it robs others of life and property but in the damage it does to our soldiers. Every time I see a homeless veteran on the side of the street, or hear of the suicide of a soldier just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, I am reminded of the terrible cost we ask our soldiers to bear. The burden of taking life, and seeing the lives of your comrades lost, is too terrible for me to believe in military service.
Part of the argument for ROTC is that it provides scholarships that could help us deal with the rising costs of a college education, but along with those scholarships comes a commitment to a period of military service. We would, in essence, be creating a vehicle to shove Oberlin students into harm’s way.
For these reasons, and others, I call upon my fellow Obies to reject the implementation of an ROTC program at Oberlin College. This is a place where dialogue is the preferred method for conflict resolution – to ask us to solve problems through force of arms is abhorrent to our very nature. As persons of an accepting community that embraces foreign cultures and creeds, it is repulsive to prepare students to engage in conflict with other nations.
And finally, most of all, I cannot bear to think of sending my peers to face the horrors of war.
If a student wants to serve their country with honor and pride, I can no more stop them than they can stop me from believing in non-violence. But I refuse to support their decision, and moreover, I refuse to allow an institution I love to possibly send them to their deaths.