We have received a variety of correspondence recently related to Oberlin's stance on ROTC, some of it urging the college to reconsider its position in light of the repeal of DADT. I've given this a lot of thought in recent weeks, and still don't really have a clear opinion. There are compelling arguments on both sides, which we hope to explore in depth in a future issue of the magazine.
In the meantime, some personal reflections.
When I was a student here -- and throughout the decade that followed -- I was adamantly against the idea of an ROTC presence on Oberlin's campus. DADT was a major factor, but not the only one. I'd been indoctrinated (by a variety of sources, not just Oberlin friends) to see the military as primarily a war machine, a concept that didn't resonate well with the peace-loving pacifist Oberlin kid I'd always been.
A big part of me still feels that ROTC doesn't belong on this campus. Even with the repeal of DADT (a definite step in the right direction), the military's policies continue to discriminate against subsets of the LGBT community, and equality is an all-or-nothing deal as far as I'm concerned. And stories like this one (penned by fellow alum and Oscar-winner Mark Boal '95) don't help with the image of violence-for-the-sake-of-violence.
But 9/11 made things less easy to compartmentalize, for me and for many of my Oberlin friends as well. For the most part I think we clung to our idealism, but the cracks were now there.
The years in which my opinions entered significant grey territory were the years in which I worked at MIT, which has several branches of ROTC on campus. I had the privilege of getting to know several ROTC kids and was pleasantly surprised by their motivations and passions. These were not people who were driven by a goal of heading into combat. These were people who were excited about engineering, science, and policy -- and able to explain eloquently and in great detail how those things were far more important to the future of national security than waging war in the name of peacekeeping. These were people who wanted to be leaders, people who absolutely understood the relationship between power and responsibility.
To paraphrase their pro-ROTC argument: what is the cost of not having Oberlin-minded people in the upper levels of military decision-making?
At some level, we must accept that the solution to policies such as DADT must be pursued from the inside. Sure we could boycott ROTC until those problems have been resolved, but that would really be letting someone else fight the good fight. And that's not the Oberlin I know.
I guess that last paragraph makes it sound like I'm advocating for us to bring ROTC to campus. Let me clarify: I'm not advocating for either side of the argument. But I do think it's a discussion worth having, and one that is far less black and white than I once believed.