Saturday, January 29, 2011

A letter from Rich Rockwell on ROTC and standing up, part 2

My friend Rich Rockwell sent me a powerful note on the last post which offers a direct and deep appreciation of what is good about ROTC from within. His father (he is a Vietnamese orphan, flown out of Vietnam in 1975, and thus, has run into anti-Asian racism even though he grew up in a Chicano family in La Junta) and a good friend of his both benefited from ROTC. More middle class people do not have a sense of how intense racism and class prejudice, even toward working class jews, still is in America. His writing conveys a visceral sense of what "crazy days" - life for ordinary people in America - often are. Rich also traces some of the virtues of the surprising integration of and intermarriage within the military, though underlining the considerable role of racists in it. Just to underscore the alternative to ROTC: America would do far better to be like Europe in funding students through graduate school, not plunging peope into endless debt slavery, or forcing people to join the military to become educated. It would take but a cancellation of 50 military bases (out of the 1,180 current ones, more or less), or a few days of Afghanistan and Iraq occupation expenses, or sacrificing some cruise missiles instead of hitting civilians in "Shock and Awe" aggressions to achieve this important, common good. If one wants to understand how little democratic American politics is, how much it is but an oligarchy with parliamentary forms, how difficult even this seemingly straightforward step would be, here is a startling example. It would take Americans rising up as in Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen to make so simple an act of decency an American practice.

Imagine that college and graduate education were paid for because our country values the education of all of its citizens. Then individuals might choose to become officers on a genuinely voluntary basis. That practice would make it somewhat more of a citizen army. Of course, such a military would not be so useful, heavily privatized, for wars of aggression, the price of joining the military not for poor people, as it often is now as Rich rightly says, eventually standing up against the hierarchy for decency. For instance, many soldiers and officers - those "treasures" or heroes of American life in Rich's words - did stand up against Cheney's torture. In this instance, the civilians were fascists and the cliché about civilian domination of the military as universally a good thing, mandated by the Constitution, was plainly harmful. Military people stood for honor, Bush for criminality and dishonor. Sadly, the decent people could not defend democracy and the rule of law. The war complex dominates and the military element within it succeeds only in moves to the Right (Keep a bad, unending, counterproductive war going with no idea of a way out: General Petraeus, at your service!) Still, in this case, military people – knowing that American torture would make our soldiers who were captured more likely candidates to be tortured and that the dignity and integrity of being soldiers was being trashed by Mr. “Dark Side” Cheney, or simply, as a private did in protesting Abu Ghraib, that this was abhorrent - fought the good fight. Here is Rich’s letter:

“Hi Alan,

Good post today [see here]. One of my good friends, Luis Dorantes, was in navy ROTC at Boulder. He was from a family whose parents had never gone to college. We roomed together in our fraternity house and were the only
minorities, too. His ticket out of South Chicago was through ROTC. My dad enlisted for Korea in the army first, but went to OCS [Officer Candidate School] before Vietnam to better his chances of surviving. He taught ROTC courses at Ft Mcpherson and reported daily to Colin Powell in the 80s. My dad grew up in project housing in Erie, Pa and had no father around; he was accepted to Princeton, Yale, Cornell, MIT, and Brown but decided to go to Rochester because he was poor. His best friend was jewish and came back to Rochester after a year at Princeton telling my dad that being jewish and poor didn’t make for a fun experience in NJ. Later, my dad was able to do graduate work in Eugene [University of Oregon], UCLA, and Northwestern with help from the military. While there are some wackos who sign up, either enlisting, or through ROTC, the peoplelike my dad and Luis are treasures to us and to this country and their critical thinking and judgment are needed in times of crisis. The ability to use reason and do the right thing even if it means defying orders or a demotion or whatever is needed today - especially in the military. I spent many weekends traveling from La Junta to Fort Carson to buy groceries at the PX (pre-Costco). The military is very diverse with asians, blacks, hispanics all intermarried; most just need to pay bills, want health insurance, a car, etc. But there are more and more nutjob white racists joining, too. I remember my dad having to peel me off a commander in 97 after he made a remark about asians, fortunately, because my dad is a ret. colonel, I avoided being charged with assault. To this day I don't know why I didn’t get into trouble for that…Crazy days, Alan! Rich

In the same spirit as Anne Norton’s argument in the last post, Steven Zunes has written an article for the San Jose Mercury News on the military barring any ROTC student looking at a Wikileak at the University of San Francisco. He rightly points out that these efforts are an abridgment of academic freedom and, of course, foolish. They parallel the episode at Columbia and the Korbel School in December of international studies recruitment officers warning students against looking at Wikileaks. See Should international studies schools intimidate would-be diplomats? here. Who told the US government that they can force on students and professors what can be taught, what can be learned? Isn’t the US complaining about such tyrannical practices when Barack and Hiliary protest the Mubarak censure of the internet? But who again is the US, the torturer nation (even Obama allows no proceedings against the torturer-officials of the Bush administration), the one which arms Mubarak to the teeth to shoot down ordinary Egyptians, protesting for democracy, in the streets, to criticize anyone? Turn the coin, Barack, and it is of you I speak.

It is also dumb (just like Obama's well-chosen although insufficient word about American aggression in Iraq). The United States can have diplomats who are less informed than the people asking them questions, who work at becoming pretentious idiots since that is what the government requires (I thought the US at least sometimes sought to give the appearance of being different from authoritarian or “totalitarian” regimes; not in this case…).

As Zunes says, this attempt at foolish censorship – the material is already in the public domain, available by googing Wikileaks, inter alia - is a terrible policy, one that harms the integrity of ROTC (not that directly ROTC education has much), and attempts to cripple the broader participation of would-be officers in the intellectual life available to students in relevant courses on campus (If Barack Obama could listen to Reverend Wright - and this was probably a very good and broadening thing for Obama, educationally and morally - perhaps possible future candidates for the State Department as well as officers could have some serious knowledge of what it is they will be asked to do. and engage, in an academic context, in debate about it. Recall the idea of academic freedom and the distinction between universities, and what is officially allowed,under Mubarak in pretend universities (of course, students and faculty in Egyptian universities are to the fore in seeing the US-armed tyrant for what he is). Perhaps seeing and discussing Wikileaks might even make for a less bizarrely counterproductive and less criminal foreign policy/military (see the criminality of the US role in Spain, its corruption of the independence of the judicial system to protect the American murderers of Jose Couso, a Spanish journalist, in the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad in 2003, and extraordinary renditions through Madrid airport for torture, here, here and here).

Zunes’ criticism of the government is well taken. It is more likely that people on campus – students, professors and workers – can create, against this tyrannical policy, actual education, depending on courses the future officers choose, than that we can again bar ROTC altogether. Now in a democratic outburst against the rich and decadent like that of Tunisia, Egypt or Yemen, we could demand government and university fellowships so that poor students could attend universities, middle class students not take on overwhelming debt (Harvard has tremendously diversified in recent years; other universities might...).

But despite Obama’s mention again in the State of the Union of the importance of education, the corporate/militarist/banker elite world much rather have complete contol of the economy, the downplaying of any decent, common good-serving government programs (they even try to steal social security, a decent and in fact paid for by ordinary citizens out of our paychecks, government program which provides that older people not have to eat dog food and is fully funded for 27 more years – nearly 7 Presidential terms – and 80% funded after that; the government, for example, could raise the cap on social security, get the rich folks to contribute and achieve full funding for year 28 and beyond quite easily ...), particularly concerning education or health care. Some think of Attila the Hun and other pillagers of old, but the depradations of Goldman Sachs or AIG or GE or Comcast are competitors. These are the presiders over American darkness, the increasingly rapid and desperate decline of the United States…

It would be better for a mass uprising here on the campuses and among younger students to demand that money – removed from the military perhaps by canceling, say, 800 of the 1180 American bases abroad and actually withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan and Iraq (not keeping 50,000 occupiers for a century, McCain’s promise in the campaign, but very likely what Barack has in mind also - h/t John Berlow, Alan Cafruny)* - go to common good-sustaining purposes.

Now the blatant government censorship Zunes reports shows why ROTC courses, under military management, are often just propaganda, and should not be available, on any campus, for academic credit. In addition, we need to revive a broad anti-war movement in the streets against the occupation of Afghanistan and for shifting the resources into government employment (rebuilding America’s roads, putting in high speed rail, what Obama rightly recommended, but with far more intensity), funding of paid for study of all qualified students in the United States, and universal health care provided by the government. We could also use military funds to balance the budget, and tax some of the extraordinary income of Goldman Sachs executives et al (part of what the Republicans insist on in these tax cuts for the super-rich) would make possible common good-sustained transfomation and growth, demilitarizing, dealing with global warming at least to some extent, and not running (huge) deficits. That this is not yet a mainstream alternative and will not be short of popular revolt, is a sign of the dessicating stranglehold of the war complex on American life, on the corporate media, on both political parties. But as Tunisia and Egypt show, even very longstanding and awful things can change rapidly - thirty years of tyranny may disappear - in the unexpected cataclysm of mass protest.

When has the New York Times pointed out the significance of the 60% opposition of Americans to having troops in Afghanistan?** It is much too easy to blame the victims for the bipartisan predation and wars of the elite, much too easy to fail to see or to talk down the real possibilities, even in America, of democracy from below.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011, San Jose Mercury News
ROTC Policy on Wikileaks Threatens Academic Freedom
by Stephen Zunes

In my more than 15 years teaching at the University of San Francisco, I have found ROTC cadets to be among my favorite students, most of them being unusually bright, motivated, disciplined and a pleasure to work with. Indeed, I have felt honored to teach them.

It was with great consternation, therefore, to learn that, according to a memo sent to ROTC programs at the University of San Francisco and other colleges and universities last month, they have effectively been prohibited from completing any assignments that professors may make involving any material released through WikiLeaks.

According to a Dec. 8 memo from Col. Charles M. Evans, commanding officer of the 8th Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command, "using the classified information found on WikiLeaks for research papers, presentations, etc. is prohibited." A follow-up memo from the cadet commander at the University of San Francisco advised against even talking about it, precluding ROTC students from taking part in classroom discussions regarding WikiLeaks material.

The rationale appears to be that downloading, reading, referencing or discussing WikiLeaks material could jeopardize receiving a security clearance. This has little rational basis, however, since much of the material was apparently made available by a U.S. Army private who had access to it and -- for better or worse -- this material is now widely available publicly.

It strains credulity as to what harm would be caused by cadets viewing material easily accessible to everyone else, including America's enemies.

Whatever the reason, this puts both professors and students in a dilemma.

Those of us teaching courses in such fields as constitutional law, U.S. foreign policy, Middle Eastern politics and media studies are considering using WikiLeaks material in the coming semester. This means that if any of us were to give such an assignment, ROTC students would be forced to choose between not completing it or putting their careers in jeopardy.

I could make special accommodations for ROTC cadets. I could offer an alternative reading assignment. I could not reduce participation grades if the students did not take part in a discussion.

I could excuse them from viewing a documentary that might include film clips, images or other proscribed contents. I could write up special quizzes or exams.

However, in doing so, I would effectively be allowing the military to control part of my curriculum. This raises sensitive issues regarding academic freedom. If the military can effectively tell its cadets to refuse to complete assignments by civilian professors, it sets a very dangerous precedent.
Indeed, if they can prohibit ROTC cadets from reading material from WikiLeaks, what would stop them from prohibiting students from, for example, reading material critical of U.S. military actions in Iraq or Vietnam?

The University of San Francisco administration appears to be taking this threat against academic freedom seriously and has asked for clarifications from ROTC commanders and others in the federal government. Thus far, however, nothing has been forthcoming.

There are plenty of thoughtful and diverse opinions at the University of San Francisco and elsewhere regarding the legality, ethics and wisdom of releasing classified material via WikiLeaks. Since the material is now in the public domain, however, the U.S. military has no right to dictate how it might be used in the classroom. Indeed, this kind of interference has no place in a democracy.

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

*I listened to Ed Schulz on MSNBC last night covering the rebellions in Egypt (international policy is not Ed's strong point). He interviewed a Democratic think tank "expert" on the Middle East, a fellow named Clemons, who said, with a straight face (he may simply be ignorant, a victim of reading the New York Times uncritically and elite ideology) that the US has only 55,000 troops remaining in Iraq. As I have underlined on this blog, this fails to count the majority of US forces, the 72,000 private mercenaries from Blackwater/Xe, CACI, Dyncorps, etc. These names and numbers are not household words because the New York Times and Democratic "experts" and Ed Schulz, some, at least Ed, with goodwill, pretend they do not exist. This is as bad for America as the arming of Mubarak - every tank, every bullet ripping into a demonstrator - by the United States of America. It is sad to say that the McCain/Obama target of 50,000, guarding the vast embassy in the green zone and most of the 19 American bases is a long way up from here...

**The Times – at the time, a nearly fanatical pro-government, pro-war “paper" and NPR dishonestly covered the rally of over half a million people on January 15, 2003 in Washington, one that filled the mall. The great Martin Luther King "I have a dream" rally for civil rights in 1963 filled two–thirds of the mall. I and my wife, and many others from around the country realized at that vast gathering – wow, we are not a minority that rightly opposes the war and is trying to reach out to the majority; in fact, the vast majority oppose it. Only paid talking heads and “experts” and professional politicians were for the invasion. CNN had 391 pro-war commentators in the run up to the war and 3 anti-war commentators. They still couldn't sell the aggression. I and a thousand other intellectuals (and other citizens) had comparatively enormous credentials to discuss the war – and did at large anti-war rallies - but the corporate media shut deliberation and debate out. The New York Times reporter left 2 hours before the rally started, and filed a story reporting that organizers were disappointed – she didn’t talk to any - because only 10,000 people showed up. She was not fired. This is the New York Times

National "Public" Radio (National Pentagon Radio, as we then called it at my house) similarly reported 10,000. Given letters of outrage from all over the east coast, on the following Wednesday morning - three days later - the Times printed a correction that 100,000 people had attended…

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