I know, the combination of these two acronyms and Alinsky will end up making me a target for right-wing nutjobs. I should add ACORN for the fun of it, but I don’t even think that organization exists anymore…
With the seemingly impending end of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ (which, incidentally, was conceived of in large measure by Charlie Moskos, in the Sociology department at Northwestern University. Who says sociologists aren’t listened to? Makes you oh, so proud…), it probably means the end of the ROTC bans on many elite college campuses. ROTC is the Reserve Officers Training Corps, a main avenue for non-military academy students to become commissioned officers in the US armed forces. While ROTC was banned from many campuses in the late 1960s as part of anti-Vietnam War protests, it has since then become a main vehicle for protesting the discrimination against non-heterosexual men and women in the armed forces. For Columbia’s history on this, you can browse here, there, and the ever-readable James Fallows’ thoughts scattered here.
My sense of the debate is that, at the end of the day, the stated reasons for keeping ROTC out of colleges is and will continue to be a moving target. This is because there is a means and ends going on, where the end is to keep colleges from being militarized, and the means is whatever happens the most egregiously unethical thing the military is doing at the time. That was the Vietnam War, then it was the discrimination against men and women based on their sexual orientation. I think Saul Alinsky’s point is relevant here: that one’s interest in particular means is inversely proportionate to one’s interest in particular ends. That is, the more you care about keeping ROTC out of college campuses, the less you care about how to accomplish that. The less you care about the end itself, the more the means matters.
This is actually not incompatible with deep, true commitments to ending discrimination against gay and bi men and women. Nor is it the case that people didn’t really care about stopping the war in Vietnam. But it should surprise no one when opposition to ROTC becomes tied to civilian deaths in Afghanistan or opposition to NSA spying or unlawful internment of Americans by our own government. And those who oppose each of those things will then suddenly become interested in ROTC. It suggests where inter-organizational coalitions will likely form, as the arguments used to justify an end result attempts to pick up as many supporters as possible.
For what it’s worth, I am myself torn. I staunchly oppose the militarization of college, on the grounds that the point of college is to become better at being human, not to become prepared to kill people. But I also oppose (in a less visceral way) the estrangement of the military from the ranks of economic and cultural ‘elites,’ myself included. Only a handful of people in my extended family or circle of friends are involved in the military defense of our interests and nation. And I think if more CEOs and politicians and half-term ex-governors of rural states actually had a personal stake in the military, we/they would be less glib about it. I am currently benefiting from a kind of Not In My Backyard opposition to ROTC at Columbia/Barnard, but it certainly looks like that is going to be challenged quite soon.