Domestic, Most Recent Column, Op-Ed, Opinion — April 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm

As the Crow Flies

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The Columbia University Senate voted on April 1, 2011 to lift the ROTC ban on campus. Columbia couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate date to pass this resolution. The 51 individuals who voted for this measure truly are April fools. Why? Because they allowed the program back on campus under the premise of “non-discrimination” after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), while ROTC was first banned from Columbia in 1969 for contributing to the repugnant foreign and discriminative domestic policies of the United States during the Vietnam War.

Tensions grew exponentially between the student body and the ROTC on Columbia’s campus between 1965 and 1968. In 1967, some members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) discovered that the university was working with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), which was a think tank for the Department of Defense. This was part of the reason for the 1968 protests on campus. In the same year as the IDA discovery, the university planned to construct a gym in Morningside Park that offended the Harlem community by providing a “back door” to the gym for Harlem residents. This was the second contributing factor to the anti-war and anti-establishment protests on Columbia’s campus in 1968—the correlation between the treatment of African Americans in Morningside Heights, the Jim Crow South, and the battlefields of Vietnam. The poor—predominantly African-Americans—received “separate but equal” treatment on all three fronts. The military presence on campus understandably became a prime target for the 1968 protests. Yet in less than half a century, the history of this epic struggle against imperialism and exploitation of the poor has been whitewashed by the university.

It is frightening that the alumni allowed this resolution to be rushed through the University Senate by special interest groups without demanding a proper, robust discussion on why ROTC was banned in the first place. Still, maybe it is unfair to blame the alumni for not putting the kibosh on this resolution. After all, SDS disapproved of the kangaroo—University Senate—court. Faculty and the university administration have a supermajority of seats. How democratic is that? Alumni have a minority voice and are severely underrepresented with only 2 seats out of 108. How could these two delegates be expected to mobilize the vast alumni population to participate in the ROTC discourse? In short, the alumni who drove ROTC off campus in 1969 stood no chance against an administration that wants another cash cow for the university.

However, perhaps the most disconcerting part of all of this is the rationalization of some members of the Military Veterans of Columbia University (Milvets), student senators and individuals who have a vested interest in ROTC. Some members of Milvets argue that it is rational to let ROTC back on campus because it will allow more lower-income students to pay for their education at Columbia. But if the problem is high tuition, then why not lobby for reduced rates? Even more troubling is the fact that, others, like Columbia School of General Studies student senator and National Guardsman Jose Robledo, support ROTC‘s return to campus but naïvely doubt that the new financial relationship between the military and the university will erode Columbia’s autonomy.

Make no mistake about it—the consequences of this reckless decision are going to be serious and far-reaching. Don’t expect the corporate media to acknowledge this, let alone analyze the issue in exhaustive detail. Mainstream media made sure to quote former SDS and Weather Underground member Brian Flanagan in the coverage of the story to ensure that any criticism of the resolution will be equated to vindictive prejudice against U.S. service members. You have to love American “journalism.”

Nevertheless, the discriminatory policies in the military—the ones that actually got ROTC banned from campus in 1969—persist in society today. It’s called the Poverty Draft. Except instead of the stick (the draft), the government uses the carrot (the GI Bill) to solicit the underprivileged for military service. Columbia University’s message to the poor: Sure, we can give you access to an Ivy League degree. You just have to go risk life and limb for the profits of international bankers, the energy industry and defense contractors

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  1. Weak on many counts. I only have time to address a couple of them. First, regarding racism, the last time I checked ~3 times as many white soldiers had died as blacks and hispanics combined. Minorities may be a little over-represented in the military, but they are WAY over-represented in the administrative departments, so the argument that they’re used as cannon fodder is very wrong. As a veteran you should know this just from experience.

    Second, I grew up poor, and thank GOD the military gave me the opportunity to see the world, to learn discipline, and to get an impressive, unusual marker on my resume to enhance my chances in college and in the workforce. When all the rich kids were talking about their favorite vacations in my language class, when their parents took them to Paris or Amsterdam, I would never have anything to relate and would have felt even more out of place if I hadn’t seen the world thanks to the military. Thanks to my discipline and resume I’ve gotten two ivy league schools and more than one high-paying job, none of which would have happened had I not been in the military. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

    Rather than bemoaning, we should be thankful for such opportunities. It’s just reality that not everyone can be born rich. Some people need to do something extra to move up, and the military is a great option for that. Some people are born with more than others and have to work harder and take more risks to succeed. So what?

  2. Also, the last time I checked the university took ~$300 million in federal funds. So there is neither a “new financial relationship” nor will using a couple spare classrooms even constitute a “financial relationship.” Are they still teaching Logic & Rhetoric?

  3. Jacob,
    You yourself have come to Columbia on the GI Bill. So you know full well the kind of opportunities it provides. I have a hard time feeling sorry for you. You like me and all the other milvets on campus CHOSE to serve. You were not forced Into it. To compare the GI Bill to the draft is a ridiculous assertion. Don’t decry a program you know full well has helped you and thousands of other veterans.

    Next, how exactly do you propose ROTC will erode Columbia’s autonomy. This is a common claim but it has never been backed up with fact. For that matter, how has it eroded Princeton’s autonomy, or Cornell’s, or MIT’s, or UPENN’s, or Berkley’s, or Michigan’s, or Duke’s?

    Finally, discrimination had nothing to do with Columbia effectively barring ROTC in 1968. Read the Mansfield report. It was course credit and faculty appointments that were the topics of discussion. Get you facts straight.

    • Thanks for seeing through this, There is no need to feel sorry for him. I raised him, I know, he expects a free ride.

  4. Of all the outrageous lines in this piece, the one that stands out as the most groundless is that the consequences of this decision will be “serious and far-reaching.” But the author is exempt from proving the point because the mainstream media, on whom we rely to provide evidence of such things, are in on the conspiracy. Is this really admissible under CPR editorial policy?

  5. Also, inquiring minds want to know how much the author, given his position on the poverty draft, is receiving under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. For those of you not in the know, the max for which he could be eligible is about $55,000 for 2010-2011 alone. Not that it necessarily disproves his point but it’s something he’d want to address up front, no?

  6. I recommend an article by Daily Kos’s Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, The Soldier in Me:

    At the conclusion of the 2006 piece, Zuniga takes an obligatory whack at the Bush admin, but his reflections as a veteran are on target.

  7. The assertion that there was not sufficient opportunity for discussion seems odd given that people at Stanford and Harvard have pointed to the discussion at Columbia and asked why they hadn’t had such a robust discussion:


    “Harvard trans and intersex rights activists said that, while they do not agree with the Columbia Senate’s decision, they appreciate Columbia’s approach, adding that a similar process at Harvard would have allowed them greater opportunity to voice their worry that the military violates Harvard’s non-discrimination policy.
    “I appreciate the Columbia process much more,” said Trans Task Force leader Jia Hui Lee ’12. “It gave a lot more space for discussion and it allowed people to raise their concerns about this issue.””


    “Stanford’s ad hoc committee could take a real lesson from Columbia’s ROTC task force. While Columbia’s task force only began considering the issue in December, it has since illustrated that it is taking the exploration process seriously. Yesterday, the committee hosted the first of three all-campus forums, and all three forums will be held within the next two and a half weeks. And though it should not be impressive, Columbia’s task force has set up an organized, helpful, open web headquarters where it provides history of Columbia’s relationship with the military and ROTC, gives task force updates, and posts relevant documents. Where is Stanford’s central website where individuals can go to learn about the Ad Hoc Committee, ROTC, and the investigation process? After some digging, one can find it, but once there, there is not much that impresses.”

  8. It’s easy for someone to perceive a process is good if they were not a part of it. Stanford and Harvard have no idea what the process was like at Columbia. And, even if CU’s process was “better than” whatever HU and SU had, it’s still not good enough.

    I agree with Jacob. Thanks for an insightful piece.

    The return of ROTC to Columbia’s campus is ironic and particularly sad given the prescient words of former university president, General Dwight Eisenhower. His amazing prediction of the perils of the military industrial complex and it’s insidious impact on and control over universities has come to fruition and is supported wholeheartedly by his current, shameful predecessor.

    Everyone, even university professors and administrators, are bought and sold.

    Soon we will be nothing more than a totalitarian military state… everything great about our nation gone… nothing left except violence, evil, the military. Then what?

    We don’t learn from our history… and, yes, we are doomed.

  9. Jakes point is that poor people should not have to fight wars to gain entry to Ivy league education. Especially illegal wars involving the mass slaughter of innocents. 2-3 million Vietnamese killed including using chemical warfare. Up to a million Iraqis killed in an illegal war. Thousands of Afgan collateral damage. Unarguable facts. Many people ask: why should poor Americans have to sell their soul and turn into murderers to gain access to good universities.

    The military used to be an honorable profession. A long time ago. Now as Jake says – it is the corporations muscle to create massive profits for arms and oil companies. Each missile fired creates profit for Lockheed etc. And Halliburton profits from the rebuild. It’s genius.

    • You’re as stupid as Jacob, and that’s saying something.

    • Anon: While my 5 years of service was in the 90’s, deployed to post-war Yugoslavia and not in the 2000’s to Iraq or Afghanistan, and hence I didn’t have to “murder untold innocents” to achieve my ivy league education, your argument is based on a misunderstanding of class and mobility. The army got me out of my small town white trash environment and to two ivy league universities in the end with the discipline and experience I garnered. Some people just have to try harder and do harder stuff that sucks more to get to certain places in life. That’s just life dealing out its cards in its usual unequal manner.

      But so what? For some people the military is a great option for travel, experience, and mobility. The “shouldn’t have to” argument doesn’t really say anything of substance, it just sounds like saying life shouldn’t be unfair and people shouldn’t be born in different positions. But they are. And that’s not anyone’s fault, there’s no blame to be apportioned for it. If you do care about social mobility, you should be thankful for every avenue that exists, and glad when one more opens up or is expanded. Some people have to work while they’re in school too [which I gratefully didn’t] or take on a *%$*^load of debt [which I did]. That’s just life. And on one hand it sucks, but on another hand it teaches you things and makes you harder than people who don’t have to go through that.

      And just factually speaking, most of those innocent Iraqi and Afghani deaths you’re talking about are from sectarian violence, in which the only murderers to be found are other Iraqis and Afghanis. American service members do not murder in cold blood. No more than American civilians anyways. Real murderers are a small set of psychos that are found in any society and situation, not at all indicative of military SOP. That is not how the military does business.

    • Just how do you think poor people should get into Ivy league schools? Let’s hear what you think, I think this may be interesting.

  10. Good point and well made CC. Let me guess that you like the fact that so much tax payers money goes into sustaining immoral and illegal wars and more than one thousand overseas military bases whilst the economy tanks?

  11. So we are agreed that access to university education should come from similar methods to the GI bill but not involve massacring innocent foreigners? How about if you serve in Peace Corps for same length of time as military you derive same benefits?

    Takes a tough SOB to serve in the Peace Corps in hostile environments.

  12. This article pretty much states that some people go into the military not to serve their country, but to serve themselves. I thank the men and women who serve, regardless of the reason. But it sounds as the author here must be a “SELF” server? I think he feels he was FORCED to serve, because he wanted an Ivy league degree. No one forced anyone to serve in this war, evryone involved is there by a choice they made. If you don’t want to possibly have to fight, do not join the military, it comes with the territory.

  13. after searching your name on the web, i came with no military references whatsoever to your name mr.shiflett. Might i say i am led to the conclusion, for such patriotic vitriol, you sure are a chickenhawk. My grandpa warned me about folks like you. Seems like another tough talking, ted nugent, armchair quarterback, too afraid to ever enlist. Pathetically writhing in your envy of the accomplishments of your son. Very sad.

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