UT needs to reconsider its support of university ROTC program

Patrick Lee

The United States military is a deeply jingoistic, heteronormative and bloated institution. It serves as the vanguard of a merciless American hegemony that imposes its will upon the world, often through senseless, calculated violence. It’s a massive climate change accelerationist. It is a transphobic, hypermasculine entity that reinforces rape culture and gendered norms. It bombs unsuspecting civilians, routinely commits war crimes and destabilizes entire societies. It is the biggest single waste of social resources — nearly $6 trillion was burned on action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan since 2001.

If the military represents the enforcement arm of the American imperial project, then militarism is the quiet, ubiquitous presence that animates it. Militarism is the ideological consensus that unites both American political parties and siphons an unfathomable amount of resources for a permanent, Orwellian war effort. Ingrained militarism naturalizes troop worship, the glorification of empire, a fragile and ossified masculinity, and the militarization of social life in schools, prisons and police departments.

Militarism is sustained by social arrangements that subtly accommodate it within everyday institutions, such as universities. As such, when UT proudly boasts its Reserve Officers Training Corps program, it is pernicious because UT is training soldiers to kill for an empire that upholds the financial interests of the ruling class and its normalized entanglement with military recruitment represents the subtle process by which militarism reproduces itself. 

The ROTC program, created by the National Defense Act of 1916, constituted 38.5% of the newly commissioned U.S. Army in 2012. A crucial pipeline from the classroom to the war room, the ROTC program functions as the largest commissioning source in the American military. Those who complete the program are promised “leadership skills” and required to serve eight years in the military. 

UT Army ROTC Cadet Tyler Pak believes the ROTC is a good, legitimate institution because it produces leaders fit for the 21st century. He believes the essence of a leader is one who is “adaptable, versatile and can make decisions in gray situations.” 

In this sense, ROTC offers unique opportunities to inculcate leadership. 

“In lab, we’ll replicate a combat scenario, and then they have to develop a plan on how they’re gonna defeat an opponent,” Pak said. “You make a decision when you’re under pressure, and you stick with it and execute it.” 

An unstated premise undergirding ROTC is the idea that universities should perpetually pump out leadership-tested, battle-ready soldiers for war. The Solomon Amendment, a federal law that permits the Secretary of Defense to unilaterally deny federal funding to universities if they prohibit ROTC recruitment on campus, affirms this sentiment. 

The reality that public universities can be deprived of all federal funding by refusing to accommodate soldier production is a constant reminder that universities are not apolitical institutions, and they are not above the tapestry of militarism that infects the public sphere. 

Students join the ROTC for a diverse number of reasons. Some are allured by financial scholarships while others chase prestige. Regardless, the ROTC can be understood as a Faustian bargain: In exchange for tuition or housing (but not both) and leadership skills, pledge allegiance to the U.S. empire. 

The obscenity here lies in the forced choice. One should not have to join the military to access higher learning. No one person, particularly the poor and vulnerable, should feel compelled into the possibility of being shipped off to die or risk irreparable damage to one’s mental health simply to learn. UT administration should withhold support from UT ROTC, much like Harvard and Yale did before they caved to national pressures

UT can bypass the Solomon Amendment. By technically allowing ROTC on campus but withholding active support for its functions, UT can maintain federal funding while doing its part in defanging military violence. They can locate the recruitment office in isolated buildings, withhold student information (emails and otherwise), not post advertisements, not set aside interview rooms and so on. 

We can relegate ROTC as an entity in but not of the University and ever so slightly curtail the imperial violence of the U.S. empire. 

Lee is a sociology senior from Houston.