Letters to the Faculty Senate ROTC Committee

Editor’s Note: The Editorial Board had the opportunity to see many of the letters sent by students and alumni to the Faculty Senate’s ad hoc committee on ROTC. We’ve selected a few to publish to show the diversity of perspectives that have come to ROTC’s defense.

Luukas K. Ilves ‘09
Tallinn, Estonia

I have firsthand experience with the positive effects of military service. Upon graduating Stanford in 2009, I completed a year of compulsory military service in Estonia. While the Estonian system of national service and America’s all-volunteer force are not in all facets comparable, I believe I have some insight into the academic and civic worth of military duty.

I value my military service as a source of immense personal growth. I commanded an air defense missile platoon. Over the course of a year, I learned more about leadership and acting under pressure than during four years of group projects and student group leadership at Stanford. I learned to make complex decisions under extreme pressure. My knowledge of tactics and operational art would, in retrospect, have cast my history and political science studies in a new light. The soldiers under my command (men and women) came from a far broader range of socioeconomic backgrounds than I encountered at Stanford. I learned a degree of self-discipline and control that would have greatly benefitted my study habits. As an additional benefit, I went from good to great physical shape. In short, my military service gave me a preparation for life and leadership very different from, but complementary to, my Stanford education.
Should ROTC deserve academic recognition? Stanford gives academic credit for labs, art classes, physical education, internships and field work. If ROTC is anything like my training, I would find it difficult to believe ROTC would fail to “pass muster ‘as a compatible and worthwhile academic endeavor.’”

Estonians aspire to a civic ideal of the citizen soldier quite similar to America’s. We see military service as inextricably interlinked with our national independence and as part of the fundament of liberal democracy. First and foremost, military service contributes to the democratic half of the equation. The experience of military service creates a greater sense of ownership and a moral right to participate in public life. During their military service, the son of farmer and the President’s son serve on an equal basis. Our military is extremely popular: it is one of the most trusted public institutions, and compulsory military service commands near universal public support. Yet compulsory military service also contributes to society’s liberalism. First, civilian reservists provide a check on the potentially authoritarian and illiberal tendencies inherent to any military. Second, our military is staunchly non-partisan. While this fact alone does not render the institution completely a-political, it makes the military a redoubt form partisan politics. Finally, our officer corps is staunchly committed to Estonia’s constitution and liberal democratic values.

I hope that Estonia’s positive example illustrates some of the issues surrounding the military in a liberal society. Participation in military service by a country’s best and brightest can create a positive feedback loop whereby those students’ sense of civic duty is enhanced even as they exert a positive force over the military.

Grant Everett Starrett ‘09

There is a tradition in the United Kingdom that the partisan critics of the government be referred to as “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.” Stanford has demonstrated disloyal opposition in its decision to stubbornly protest policies determined by political masters of the US military. Stanford’s policy is a relic of a tumultuous and bygone era sustained by a flimsy excuse which will probably soon cease to exist. And if Stanford’s administrators have felt that their own position is so enlightened, why wouldn’t they encourage more students to serve and change the policy within the US military? If the virtues of the university position are so obvious, perhaps its alumni might have done far more from the inside than from pursuing careers widely outside this vital form of public service.

But it is not as if there are no Stanford students in ROTC. The policy tragically discriminates against men and women willing to serve our country, who need to go through an additional and unnecessary set of sacrifices imposed on them by the university. What’s worse is that some of these students need help with the skyrocketing price of college, which essentially puts Stanford in an awkward position of doing the most to ensure that it itself is not paid. Having gotten to know many of the folks who have gone through ROTC, I can tell you that they suffer through it gladly for the opportunity to serve this country – but they don’t deserve it.

Eric Krock ‘92

Military courses are every bit as legitimate an academic subject as the rest of the courses taught on campus at Stanford. Frankly, they are far more rigorous as an academic area of study and have a far longer academic history than many of the highly political and subjective courses for which students receive academic credit at Stanford today.

It is also a disgrace that Stanford University is imposing inconvenience on students who have volunteered to put their lives on the lines to defend the freedoms that make free inquiry at Stanford possible in the first place. This policy is solely based on thoughtless institutional inertia from a decision taken for political reasons in a bygone era. It’s time for Stanford University to put the freedom of its students to pursue a legitimate course of study without unnecessary inconvenience ahead of the desire of ex-hippie faculty members to continue making a statement against a war that long since ended or to make a take a reflexive stance against the U.S. military as a whole, a position whose stupidity has always been obvious but whose foolishness was highlighted again by the attacks of September 11th.

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