The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Military, War and ROTC

So I know this may generate a stir. Especially from fellow critic collegues.

But this is the nature of debate.

I have grown up with a certain admiration at the military and particulary its elite units. I once wanted to be part of it. But what I saw as its innate attraction was the power that it exerted. The ability to command through force, an incredible force, an over-zealous, dominating force. I thought it was extremely attractive, I still do. Granted, my exclusion derives for another reason. I do not hate the military because of its policies against homosexuals; I find this exclusion to be unnecessary and in a way it makes the military laughable and ancient, but it does not make me believe it should not exist.

Whatever attraction I have toward the military, it sings to the darkest edge of my nature. I like most people have the ability to shut away compassion, to mechanize my soul and to perform acts of rage, "defense" and violence. When I think of the military, I think of violence. And yes, if I were part of it I think I could do well for my part. Integral to any military institution in this day and age is the use of force - even if such force leads to death. Which means military prowess is a tacit approval of murder (even if you wish to call it "justifiable murder"). The rise of standing military units in the 17th Century has brought the world an increasing rate of war and violence; a military industrial complex that scares me dearly. The fact that in jingoist dialogue we develop an other, that we reduce people to subhuman status, that we call others evil for the sake of being more "comfortable" with killing them is abhorrent. It serves nothing but to perpetuate binaries and in a way war. Why have a military if you do not expect to use it?

The military lives in a certain moral vacuum: we choose to pretend that it is a justifiable act to kill so long as it is in the name of protection. As a commentator recently stated: even if you believed in just-war theory, the qualifications for there to ever be a just-war are so high that notwithstanding the most extreme case any war serves no purpose but to destroy, to denigrate our institutions and our moral understanding.

I am against war because inside me I know what kind of power war attracts. It attracts in me everything I would go at great lengths to supress. For the sanity and safety of the world: we will not be truly safe until military existence is void. Perhaps this is a dream, but who said we should not strive for it? Our goal should be to Demobilize ourselves militarily, exert more support economically and develop our world as a unit that may disagree, but respects each other sufficiently to never even consider excessive force. I'd rather see us work to this. Because so long as we live in a vacuum (worrying solely about protection, which at times could be used as a euphemism, as we've seen, for pre-emption) where we have refused to call war immoral.

Why should we have no ROTC? Because we should not support war. This is not a political move, not a liberal or conservative determination, but it harks back to the one thing that matters - our conscience. Like releasing ourselves from the grips of oil, it will be tough; people will be afraid, and think "how could you even say such a thing, people will kill Americans and we will not be able to respond!?" This is a normal fear, but it is the fear that comes with any great changes. It will be trying, and we will be pushed to the brink to maintain our faith in demilitarization. But consider the fallout: no standing army, less opportunity for great wars, less opportunity for murder, greater concentration on unity, compassion and free market development. Of course any change of such magnitude must come gradually, but with constant assurance that it will create a better more moral world. If someone defies the global decree - we can villify him, destroy him in the public sphere(in images, words and in the realm of economics the traitors will not be allowed to stand) and we can do so without war. Lest I remind you that moral superiority, as Jesus/Buddha and others spoke, is found in believing ardently in goodness (what we believe is right, just and moral) and not responding even in the most severe of circumstances.

But with what conscience can anyone tacitly support the institution of war and its ancilliary body: the military. Only in a moral vacuum can we even remotely call war "ok," or "moral enough."

I believe I say this as a good citizen of my country, but I believe I say this mostly as a citizen of my world.

Consciously,
Keith

16 Comments:

  • At 11:38 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    Keith, you have a good conscience. And your optimism is something that this world needs more of. I wish we did live in a world in which military and police forces were unnecessary. Perhaps, with people like you working towards this end we will sooner rather than later. Before we can dismantle our military, we have to create a world in which the violent, murderous, and fundamentalists are marginalized to near non-existence. This requires the spread and distribution of wealth, as you imply, and the continued introduction of "connectivity." These are all laudable goals, and ones that I am happy to know that there are people like you working towards.

     
  • At 11:49 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

     
  • At 12:13 AM, Blogger Brian said…

    I want to echo Sean to a degree in saying that, in the global structure we exist in, and have existed in for centuries, economic and military force are so intertwined that it is very hard to be a country that is a) wealthy and b) able to push for standards (anything from child labor laws to war crimes trials), to be lacking a powerful military. The decision to use such a force for offensive purposes is in many cases a choice--American presidents, be they Carter or Bush, have had strong militaries on their sides, always there as a defensive structure. The choice to use the military offensively is one of ideology and necessity that is rather up in the air. Here I will agree that you have valid points, IF you are focusing on offensive uses of military power. But I cannot agree with your erroneous interpretation of military power on the whole.

    Further, I wholly disagree with your interpretation of ROTC as supporting war. What leads to greater military support for war, allowing Ivy League grads to matriculate as officers, or consciously enabling the military to become further conservative in ideology, when the advocacy of offensive uses of the military on a large scale have recently been the province of American conservatives?

    Just a few initial thoughts.

     
  • At 9:26 AM, Blogger Eric said…

    Folks interested in learning the positions of Advocates for Columbia ROTC, should go to Compendium: the Case for ROTC at Columbia on the ACR website.

    I understand that it's a matter of perspective. Keith's sort of view of the military arrives from a point of rarefied contemplation, delineated in the antiseptic environs of the cloistered self. It is a jewel.

    Soldiering is of a very different nature. It is essentially human, earthy and grounded in timeless truths. Thereupon does soldiering build its great spirituality. The military, beyond soldiering, is the place of synergy, civilization's equivalent of where mantle meets crust, sea meets land, where land meets sky, where sea meets sky - where mind meets flesh and man meets mortality.

    I appreciate Keith's perspective. Those of us who have soldiered, who have toiled in the essence, have done so - in part - to protect and preserve the jewels of our civilization.

    As a closing thought, read this excerpt from my biography statement on the MilVets website:

    "[Military service] truly is selfless service – a lot of love and pride goes into soldiering. It doesn’t matter why someone joins or where he came from, or how much he enjoys (or suffers) his duties. It doesn’t matter who’s making the tough decisions in the White House. Soldiers are part of a heritage that is older, deeper and more essential than the republic for which they sacrifice. Soldiers are of the people. They are the primal embodiment of the social contract we make with each other to be a civilization."

    It is a matter of perspective, and it helps to understand when you've actually been on the other side.

    Eric

     
  • At 1:20 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    You say: "With what conscience can anyone tacitly support the institution of war and its ancilliary body: the military."
    Answer: With the conscience of knowing that the military (YOUR military) stands ready to protect and/or secure you from harm. Whether that harm is a North Korean bomb, a Hurricane Katrina, or a biological weapon released by al Qaida.

    Also, your implication that the military's sole purpose is for "justifiable murder" or as you would rather contend "murder" is disingenuous at best. Yes lethal force is often necessary, particularly when insurgents are attacking you from all sides with mortar rounds and grenades. If you were there I reckon you would prefer to have the protection of a squad automatic weapon as well, rather than risk getting shot in the head. But before you get all high and mighty, take a good look at the rules of engagement. The ROEs that every soldier is REQUIRED to memorize.
    -You have the right to defend yourself against attacks
    -Hostile fire may be returned effectively and promptly to stop a hostile act
    -When attacked by unarmed hostile elements use minimum force necessary under the circumstances and proportional to the threat
    -You may not seize the property of others to accomplish your mission
    -Detention of civilians is authorized for security reasons and self defense

    This is not to say that attacks weren't made. Heck countless military targets were destroyed in the attack against Baghdad. But the primary use the military has been put to is the threat of force in order to secure the region. The war lasted a matter of days. The occupation far longer. 90% of their time and effort has been security and rebuilding operations. In these civil-affairs operations, a fire fight is the last thing that we want. Nevertheless, none of it can happen without the security backbone and the super-mobility capabilities that the U.S. military provides.
    Who was it that saved lives during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. FEMA? The Police? The CDC? No, it was the United States Army.

    Take care to do some research before you pigeonhole such an important component of our government and society.

     
  • At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Laura said…

    To echo some of the other comments, I am also encouraged by your optimism. What dissapoints me is your lack of familiarity with the military, and how it functions. Sean touched on some of these points, but I'll go into one aspect of your argument that is profoundly inaccurate. You talk about the construction of "the other," and yes, certainly it is easier to kill someone from an aircraft tens of thousands of feet above ground - its like a video game. Do you know anyone who has EVER had to do that though? My guess is no. I, however, have. LOTS of them. And I know they wrestle with it every day. Furthermore, as anyone who has served in Iraq will tell you, it is very difficult to construct that "other" there, especially if you are working with Iraqis - culturally, very little seperates those Iraqis working with the Coalition and those fighting against it. What makes it very easy to work for the "moral vacuum" you call the military is the fact that, each day, your life and the lives of peaceful Iraqis are threatened.
    Really Keith. Until you know people in the military who aren't Sean (and yes, he is depraved, barely human even :)), don't make assumptions about their values or commitment to peace. In fact, I'd say the people who are most committed to a peaceful resolution in Iraq are the people I know who have actually been there.
    And, most importantly, preventing talented people from voluntarily entering the military isn't going to keep us safe or make us better people. The military doesn't decide when to go to war, or decide whether soldiers can be gay, or decide whether there will be a draft. That's all up to Congress and the White House.

     
  • At 2:43 PM, Blogger David said…

    I would think that, given where and how the U.S. military is actually operating in the world today, it is people who believe that it is a defensive force and one which builds a "great spirituality" who are in fact operating from "a point of rarefied contemplation, delineated in the antiseptic environs of the cloistered self."

    Yes, I say this as a non-member of the military, speaking to some who have been; but it seems to me that personal experience does not necessarily preclude anyone from taking their ideas from a cloistered seclusion. We are all capable of self-delusion. For contrast, you could ask Iraqis, 70% of whom want a timeline for withdrawal within 2 years (vs Bush who has said an exit is a problem for "future presidents"), and 47% of whom actually support attacks on U.S. troops.
    http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/home_page/165.php?nid=&id=&pnt=165&lb=hmpg1

    David

     
  • At 5:12 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    Commenting on Kalkin
    Anyone with a decent familiarity with the military knows that most militaries maintain components that are both inherently offensive and defensive in nature. A working armed force must have both capabilities, and must be proficient in both: they go hand in hand.
    Indeed, one of the primary defenses we gain is the sheer projection that our military has throughout the world. Thanks to such organizational units as the XVI Corps, Marine Recon, and Special Forces Groups our military can go anywhere and react to anything within a matter of not weeks, not days, but mere hours. It allows us a great deal of flexibility in terms of our responsiveness to a variety of threats.
    There are plenty of arguments against the Iraq war. But this is one conflict. Let us not let this overshadow the necessity of maintaining a military.
    Who here for example would deny the necessity for the post 9-11 response in Afghanistan (which you may be interested to know is still quite active despite the sheer lack of interest by world media). What about the NATO respons in taking down Milosevic, of which the U.S. military was an integral part? Who would have preferred that he stay in power?
    And again, lets of even start with the non-military nation-building activities of the U.S. military. Hurrican Katrina, the great Tsunami disaster last year? From where did the VAST majority of medical support, humanitarian aid, logistical support, etc come? The U.S. military.

    It is simply rediculous to believe that the U.S. military does not serve an important defensive role or support role to the United States.

     
  • At 6:44 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    I'd like to point out, for everyone's sake, that this parade of military defenders is getting a bit out of hand and off-topic. You are all defending the men and women of the military as good people who question their roles everyday. Fine. But Keith is questioning, at a more philosophical level, the entire role of the military. Stop attacking him for lack of knowledge about the military, which as I see it is relatively unrelated to several of his points, and address his arguments directly.

     
  • At 6:48 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    I do address it directly. He sees no role for the military. My point has been that the military plays an essential and necessary role.

     
  • At 8:35 AM, Blogger Eric said…

    Brian, I trust my reading comprehension skills. The response was appropriate. In terms of his ignorance, Keith is fortunate. Given that he is the incoming ABC President, he presides over the leading student-veterans group in the nation, which includes veterans with 1st hand experience serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other military deployments (eg, Balkans, Korea). I hope he takes advantage of the extraordinary opportunity of MilVets in academia to open his mind and discuss his views with the informed members of his own constituency. I also hope Keith's stated views about the military don't translate into prejudical practice with the same members of his constituency.

    Eric

     
  • At 10:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Keith is an idiot. Do not preface your comments with blather about his "being idealist" or "noble" and for God's sake, do not wish for more people like him. He is a utopian dreamer and this is the same ideology which created more dictatorships and, well, war, than democratic nations ever have. Any man who holds such strong beliefs but would not die for them is laughable. The entire point of his rant is not that war is bad, but we, the United States in the here and now, should abandon programs like ROTC because "he really, really, really doesn't like war." This is a complete and utter rebuff of logic. Tell the liberated concentration camp survivor that America fought an immoral war, tell those in the rape and torture camps of Iraq, the killing fields of Cambodia and Korea, the Soviet Gulags.

     
  • At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Keith, it's so easy for you to have these views because you're mother wasn't ganged raped by half of the Janjaweed militia. Perhaps, you should consider people who aren't lucky to have a military as strong as ours. If you believe strongly enough in your views, go live with a group of people who don't have a military to defend them (Dafur). Maybe after you've seen a whole family broken up and enslaved, you will wonder if there's a way to stop it. Maybe, you'll realize the value of a soceity being able to defend itself.

    With your logic, we wouldn't need any police either.

     
  • At 11:44 AM, Blogger Brian said…

    Thanks anonymous for raising the bar with the "if you haven't been there, don't talk" approach. It is, for sure, a valid argument, but one could also ask (playing devil's advocate) if the military-industrial complex of today, and the military fetishes of past centuries contribute to violent conflicts today. That is, violence on a large scale begets violence on a larger or more vicious scale. Why were we in Afghanistan? Because we supported them against the Soviets? Why were we in Iraq? Because we propped them up against Iran?

    These ARE valid arguments, just as there are many valid arguments (though always with valid arguments in opposition) against a capitalist system which embraces disparity in wealth if not managed. Even assuming a military is essential, there is still a wide range of options for size, structure, purpose, etc. that does raise questions.

     
  • At 2:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Brian, fine. But the (initial) argument here is, whether we should "support war?" If you do support war, fine. But, you cannot make a blanket statement that we should not "suport war" unless you are also willing to say that accept the consequence of if that particular statement were implemented.

    No military: Countless peaceful societies have been made the bitch of another country because they didn't not have a military. For example, read "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond.

    No "standing army." We have a large standing army because thousands of inexperienced soldiers died in WWII and Vietan (whether right or wrong) because they were inexperienced. FACT: A well-trained military requires a large, PROFESSIONAL/standing army. Case in point: the African contigent in Chad cannot EFFECTIVELY protect the Dafur refugees from the Sudanesse militia.

    Does the risk of owning a gun increase the chance you will use it wrongfully? Yes. But are you prepared to deal with the consequences of not owning one? If you are, fine, but only if that means you are also saying that you are willing to accept the consequences of having no-military or a weak military. And, I don't think you can CREDIBLY make either of the 2 choices from being within the security of America.

    We don't live in a perfect world, but this is the world in which we live. I think anyone in the US who makes the "weaker/no military" statement is in denial of our imperfect world because of their position within a sheltered enviornment (US).

    Whether you like or not, we as humans are prone to violence. Violence is in our genes. Whether one soceity choses to lay down its arms or not is irrelevant. That soceity will become the slave of another soceity. That is a historical fact, and it will be so until the end of time. The real question is whether or not you are willing to take the risk of using violence wrongfully to decrease the risk that your mother/sister will ganged raped in front of you/your dad and sold off into slavery. If you're not, fine; just as long as you are fully informed of what you are saying.

     
  • At 2:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Brian, fine. But the (initial) argument here is, whether we should "support war?" If you do support war, fine. But, you cannot make a blanket statement that we should not "suport war" unless you are also willing to say that you accept the consequences of that particular statement if it were implemented.

    No military: Countless peaceful societies have been made the bitch of another country because they didn't not have a military. For example, read "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond.

    No "standing army." We have a large standing army because thousands of inexperienced soldiers died in WWII and Vietan (whether right or wrong) because they were inexperienced. FACT: A well-trained military requires a large, PROFESSIONAL/standing army. Case in point: the African contigent in Chad cannot EFFECTIVELY protect the Dafur refugees from the Sudanesse militia.

    Does the risk of owning a gun increase the chance you will use it wrongfully? Yes. But are you prepared to deal with the consequences of not owning one? If you are, fine, but only if that means you are also saying that you are willing to accept the consequences of having no-military or a weak military. And, I don't think you can CREDIBLY make either of the 2 choices from being within the security of America.

    We don't live in a perfect world, but this is the world in which we live. I think anyone in the US who makes the "weaker/no military" statement is in denial of our imperfect world because of their position within a sheltered enviornment (US).

    Whether you like or not, we as humans are prone to violence. Violence is in our genes. Whether one soceity choses to lay down its arms or not is irrelevant. That soceity will become the slave of another soceity. That is a historical fact, and it will be so until the end of time. The real question is whether or not you are willing to take the risk of using violence wrongfully to decrease the risk that your mother/sister will be ganged raped in front of you/your dad and sold off into slavery. If you're not willing to take that risk, fine; just as long as you are fully informed of what you are saying.

     

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