January 19, 2014

GUEST COLUMN | Cornell ROTC Does Its Part to Make U.S. Domination Seem Normal

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By Caleb Rossiter ’73 Ph.D. ’83

I often experience epiphanies in Barton Hall.  It usually happens in the middle of the annual old guys’ Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile, when it becomes painfully clear that I haven’t trained hard enough for the pace we are running. But I recently had a more political epiphany in Barton while training for this year’s race. I was brought up short as I jogged by a poster outside the ROTC office that reads “Global Reach Starts with Community Outreach.”

Truer words were never written, if you properly translate Global Reach as American Military Primacy and Community Outreach as “Heart-tugging Propaganda.”

The ROTC slogan really means “unless we portray our armed forces as warm-hearted heroes, Americans may not support their expensive, amoral domination of other countries.”  This is precisely why the armed services spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on videos, commercials, movies, football and basketball games, parades and NASCAR teams.  These ads bombard us with the positive words “honor,” “freedom,” “democracy” and “security.”  Their goal is to obscure the fact that the rulers our troops sustain in return for military bases and mineral contracts often dishonor our heritage by denying freedom and democracy to their people, leading to the very attacks on us as the “far enemy,” like 9/11, that make us less secure.

Is that an uncomfortable assertion?  Well, how else would you describe our support today for Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq and Chad, and during the Cold War our support for governments in El Salvador, Sudan, South Vietnam, Somalia and Liberia and rebels in Angola, Cambodia, Guatemala and Nicaragua?

The ROTC poster shows pictures of the color guard at a Cornell football game, uniformed marchers in an Ithaca parade and students attending classes in their camouflage uniforms, cunningly blending into the foliage of the Arts quad so they can take out unsuspecting academic malefactors.

Without this steady flow of community outreach making the global role of our armed forces in maintaining cooperative governments in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia look normal — even heroic — the average American would be more likely to say: “Why, again, do we have to pay for millions of troops, tens of thousands of spies, thousands of aircraft and ships, hundreds of foreign bases, and dozens of allied dictators and human rights abusers?”

Barton Hall is actually a fitting place to consider these issues.  It was constructed as a military drill hall during World War I, when former Princeton president Woodrow Wilson decided to “manufacture consent” for this remarkably senseless war, through government propaganda. It was the era when it became common to salute the flag and play the national anthem at sporting events.  It was also when dissidents to a foreign war were first ostracized by the compliant media, raided by local and national police and jailed for draft-dodging and public protest.

As part of the Vietnam anti-war movement, Cornell students disrupted ROTC exercises and ceremonies in Barton for their symbolic and actual role in projecting violence in Indochina. And when almost the entire student body occupied Barton in 1969 to protest disciplinary action against members of the Afro-American Society who had openly carried unloaded weapons on campus in a protest, the claim that there was “no place for guns on a campus” was laughed down when a speaker simply asked the audience to turn and look at the training artillery arrayed around them.

Those of us promoting a pro-democracy U.S. foreign policy should take our lead from the Cornell ROTC strategy, and engage in our own kind of community outreach, identifying and challenging —  policing, you might say — as I have in this article the military propaganda we encounter in daily life.  Our poster might read: Global Peace Starts with Community Police.  See something?  Do something.  As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the time is always right to do the right thing.

Caleb Rossiter ’73 Ph.D. ’83 is an alumnus from the College of Human Ecology. Feedback may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.