The Chamberlain Project has partnered with Swarthmore College to provide Retiring Officer Teaching Fellowships to retiring military officers with terminal degrees or PhDs. These retired military officers would work as visiting assistant professors in their field of study. While students and faculty have argued against The Chamberlain Project partnership on the grounds that the project goes around normal channels of the Swarthmore hiring process and that we do not know enough about it, that is not what I aim to discuss here. Instead, I am going to discuss why I’m opposed to this partnership on the grounds that ROTFs reward participation in US imperialism —the policy and practice of trying to expand a country’s political and economic influence over other countries, which can be done through military force or through other forms of power.
First, we have to address the big question of whether or not we should judge veterans for their participation in US imperialism. While I think refusing to serve in the military on moral grounds is the correct decision, we should generally withhold judgment from non-officers who have decided to serve on a short-term basis, especially if they made the decision under economic duress or ignorance about the U.S Military. While I still think that it is morally and ethically wrong to participate, I understand people sometimes don’t have all the information or are forced to make decisions in distressed circumstances. In the United States, the military, along with police departments and prisons, serve as major jobs programs. In other words, these organizations employ large numbers of people and provide them with decent wages and benefits. As noted by a collective of Middle Eastern and North African students in a letter in Voices, the military recruits heavily from marginalized communities and young people who have few other options.
The Chamberlain Project, however, involves rewarding retiring officers with terminal degrees part-time teaching positions. Because they are required to have retired in the past 24 months to be eligible to become a Chamberlain Fellow, they must have returned to military service after completing most — if not all — of their terminal degrees. Given the privilege of education at the Ph.D. level, it would be hard for them to claim economic duress or ignorance as a factor in their decision-making. In other words, the reasons that we might have to withhold our judgment for those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces do not apply to this case.
But, aren’t they just cogs in the U.S. imperialist war machine? Their actions constitute just a small part of the US military’s efforts. Why judge them here? The reason that we have a duty to judge those who enter the Chamberlain Project’s ROTF program is precisely that they followed orders when they had the ability not to. As famously seen in the Nuremberg Trials, though following orders as a defense can lessen the punishment for a crime committed, it cannot absolve the perpetrator. Surely, there would have been another officer in the US military who would have followed orders without their participation, but that does not mean that we should reward their decision to be an officer with an exclusive part-time teaching position at Swarthmore College. Multiple Chamberlain Fellows were involved in the Gulf War and the Iraq War, the latter of which has led to the deaths of over 182,000 Iraqi civilians. Neither war was defensive in character. The Iraq War is notorious for being unrelated to 9/11, with the toppling of Saddam Hussein having little to do with Al-Qaeda.
Because Chamberlain Fellows were not under economic duress or ignorance to rejoin the military after completing most or all of their terminal degrees, we can rightly judge them based on this decision. Because they have terminal degrees, we can assume that they would be able, at least post-degree, to get a job that was not associated with the military. Chamberlain Fellows, as retiring military officers, are self-selected for those who do not disagree fundamentally with the actions of the US military. In other words, executing the duties and responsibilities of the job required not having a major moral or ethical disagreement with the orders at hand. Thus, the Chamberlain Project’s ROTF partnership with Swarthmore College provides an additional avenue to employment for people with ideological commitments to the US military. While Swarthmore may still hire retiring military officers with PhDs as professors, we should not necessarily privilege those with ideological commitments to the military and its values at large over those who do not.
Ultimately, I think that we should not reward retiring military officers who freely chose to participate in US imperialism with a part-time teaching position at Swarthmore College. We must consider the ideological constraints of potential Chamberlain Fellows and reject giving them preferential treatment in the Swarthmore faculty hiring process.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the views of The Phoenix Editorial Board.