Veterans Day panel discusses Georgetown’s civil-military divide

Thomas RicksModerator Thomas Ricks

For Veterans Day this year, a panel featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning military journalist Thomas Ricks, security studies students, a member of Georgetown’s ROTC, and student-veterans discussed the divide on campus between members of the military and the civilians they fight on behalf of.

The student-veterans—Colby Howard (SFS ’11), who served as a Marine for eight years, and William Quinn (SFS ’10), who acted as an interrogator in Korea and Iraq for five years—talked about the frustration of having to constantly explain their experiences in the military.

Quinn said his classmates often ask him how many people he tortured or waterboarded, and don’t believe him when he says none.  Howard said he’s frequently asked how many people he has killed.

“There’s a time and a place for that,” Howard said. “But it’s not when you’re introducing yourself to your philosophy class.”

Quinn and Howard said the stereotype they encounter most frequently at Georgetown is that members of the military aren’t intelligent.  Quinn said the underlying assumption is that “the military is too blue collar for Georgetown.”

Many panelists and audience members said that the general civil-military gap that is prevalent throughout the country is exacerbated at Georgetown due to socioeconomic divisions.

When the topic of having an on-campus ROTC program was raised, one audience member said he thought it was especially important to have ROTC at Georgetown because “[students] are all rich” and “most people join the military because they’re not rich.”

When Ricks asked the panelists what they thought Georgetown could do to improve the student experience for members of the military, there were quite a few suggestions.

Panelist Tim Swenson (COL ’10), a member of Georgetown’s ROTC program, said a big problem is that military science classes only count as .5 credits—not the usual three—forcing ROTC students to take heavy course loads.  Another panelist, Galen Weber (SFS ’13), who has done reporting on the benefits Georgetown gives to student-veterans for the Voice, said he was shocked by the University’s lack of a veterans’ affairs office and limited scholarship benefits.

Elizabeth Stanley, a professor of security studies at Georgetown, said there continues to be a bias in academia against teaching military history and theory.  Instead, international relations programs largely focus on foreign policy theory.  Stanley said this problem largely stems from the fact that many of the people in charge of hiring decisions at universities have “leftover Vietnam issues.”

Ricks frequently polled the audience to gauge their opinions on the topics being debated.  Everyone in the audience supported having the ROTC program on campus, and an overwhelming majority thought military science classes should count for a full three credits.  About thirty to forty percent said they would support a draft.

6 Comments on “Veterans Day panel discusses Georgetown’s civil-military divide

  1. “About thirty to forty percent said they would support a draft.” That is shocking! Really? That is a huge number. I’m very curious to hear the rationale from those who support draft reinstatement.

  2. Point of clarification on the draft question. It was a poll taken to see if people supported the proposed “national service” draft, whereby people could choose to either enter active duty military or pursue another public service-related field for a period of time, not the archaic Vietnam draft.

  3. The student-veterans—Colby Howard (SFS ‘11), who served as a Marine for eight years, and William Quinn (SFS ‘10), who acted as an interrogator in Korea and Iraq for five years—talked about the frustration of having to constantly explain their experiences in the military.

    ^ are these years right?

  4. As a Marine veteran and graduate of Georgetown’s Security Studies masters degree program, I’m not terribly surprised that military veterans speak of a challenging academic environment on campus. The prevailing spirit among the undergraduates I’ve met generalizes military servicemembers as “lesser intellects”, from working-class backgrounds for whom the military represents an path to escape their origins. The idea that a highly capable high school graduate might volunteer to place his body “between his lov’d home and war’s desolation”, or that a graduate of an elite college might wish to lead her fellow countrymen into battle, does not appear to cross the minds of most (not all, but most) young Hoyas.

    The spirit of Aeschylus, of William F. Styron, of William Manchester, of Henry Moseley, of any number of gifted young men and women who choose to serve their country in uniform before seeking personal achievement, does not appear in abundance at Georgetown University.

    And yes, Anonymous, those years are correct. One can go to college after completing honorable military service to one’s country.

  5. Matt, I was shocked by those numbers too, but you have to figure the numbers are skewed if you’re polling an audience that is interested enough in military issues to attend the panel.

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