These are letters supporting JROTC, and my responses. They range from claiming that my views are "misguided," to accusing me of being a "far-left professional America hater."
I have also received many supportive responses.
November 14, 2008
To the Editor:
While the School Board is not required to listen to the voters who narrowly passed Proposition V regarding JROTC, I would like to offer a reason why they should.
The opposition to JROTC lies in two areas -- getting military recruitment out of the schools and not supporting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I would argue that removing JROTC only removes the recruitment of those who would be targeted to be leaders in the military, and that it actually further entrenches "DADT."
San Francisco is an oasis of progressive tolerance in a desert of hatred. Our area provides a culture where children grow up unaware that they are "supposed" to fear and loathe the LGBT community. The passage of Prop (h)8 and the other 17 states with similar constitutional amendments makes it clear that the values here are under fire.
JROTC, while not a true recruiting opportunity for the military, does give young people who are inclined to follow careers in the armed forces a pathway to leadership. ROTC scholarships, which lead to entering the active duty military as an officer, are often a direct result of success in the JROTC program. Students who are truly desirous of joining the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines are denied this path if the JROTC program is removed from the schools.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will never go away as long as large swaths of the senior command in the military still feel that "gay soldier" = "dangerous pervert". Why, then, wouldn't you want to cultivate a presence from our area in that command chain? If the future generals and admirals aren't coming from San Francisco, then they are coming from places like Oklahoma, where Sally Kern (the "gay agenda is worse than terrorism" lady) is being seriously considered for Governor.
The dissolution of JROTC is a striking display of our displeasure at the discrimination of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", but it eventually serves nothing more than to encourage the continuation of that policy for what could be an entire generation.
My response, published in Beyond Chron on November 17, 2008:
To the Editor:
The local pro-JROTC forces loudly deny that it is a military recruitment program. But that doesn't stop JROTC-supporter Paul Franson from writing in his November 14 letter to Beyond Chron that we should retain the Pentagon program so that "future generals and admirals" will come from San Francisco. As they say, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
And why should San Francisco send its youth off to join the Pentagon? To defeat "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," of course. Supposedly enlightened San Francisco JROTC cadets can get "ROTC scholarships, which lead to entering the active duty military as an officer." True enough, Mr. Franson, unless that cadet is openly LGBT, in which case both ROTC scholarships and military careers are not options.
Mr. Franson, and others like him, should study how the Pentagon was forced to end racial segregation. It wasn't ended by enlightened military leaders. Racial segregation in the military ended in 1948 after A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and one of the great black leaders of US history, launched a campaign of black resistance to the draft, threatening mass civil disobedience. Randolph and his allies went eyeball-to-eyeball with President Harry Truman. Truman blinked, and issued an Executive Order banning racial discrimination in the armed forces. That, I think, is a much better model for how to end LGBT discrimination in the military.
More than half of the federal budget today goes to the Pentagon and its illegal and immoral wars. Militarism and its consequences are a plague upon our nation. Enough is enough. Let's spend our money on educating our youth, not on putting them on a military track.
October 29, 2008
To the Editor,
Marc Norton ("JROTC: The Untold Story") recounts some reprehensible acts such as hazing by JROTC students dating back to 1994 to argue that the program deserves to be disbanded.
However, the principals and PTAs at all seven high schools with JROTC laud the program. They wouldn't be such enthusiastic supporters if the instances cited by Norton were the norm. Indeed, they are isolated incidents.
Those of us working in the trenches as volunteers in San Francisco public schools see first-hand everyday how JROTC benefits our schools. The cadets do a lot of grunt work on campus—cleaning up after events, helping with fundraisers, doing volunteer work in the community. The kids like the camaraderie, the marching, the community service. The program is very popular among working-class people, both students and parents.
And yes, the program is partially funded by the Pentagon. I hate this war and the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy too, but the military is clearly hands-off in San Francisco. No recruiting is done on campus (it is prevented by law.)
A very small portion of cadets actually join the services. In short, you cannot compare JROTC here in San Francisco with the programs in the South and Midwest.
I say let the kids and their parents choose. I'm voting Yes on V.
My response, published in Beyond Chron on October 30, 2008:
Morgan Sparks says that "reprehensible acts" associated with JROTC -- threatening opponents of the program and the lives of school board members, forcing students into the supposedly "volunteer" program, beating cadets for "ritual punishment," fingering teachers for having anti-war posters in their rooms, and lying about recruitment statistics -- are all "isolated incidents."
Sure, and so were My Lai and Abu Ghraib.
I have been a PTA president, chair of San Franciscans Unified (a teacher-parent alliance), worked for San Francisco Volunteers for six years, and put two kids through San Francisco public schools. I have some idea about what it's like in the trenches. And I know that we do not need the Pentagon and the military to teach leadership and discipline to our youth.
The military is hardly "hands-off" in our schools. They are in our face.
Getting JROTC out of our schools is about saving the lives of our youth, keeping them from coming home in body bags, and denying the warmakers in Washington the cannon fodder for their illegal and immoral wars.
"FAR-LEFT PROFESSIONAL AMERICA HATERS..."
The following letter was published in Beyond Chron on December 13, 2007. A similar letter, without the personal references, was published in the Examiner on December 14.
In response to Marc Norton’s latest anti-military diatribe “School Board Cowers Behind Phone JROTC Task Force” I find it hypocritical that far-left professional America haters like Mr. Norton who love to call themselves pro-choice on other issues don’t apply that concept to a voluntary JROTC program.
It would be one thing if the JROTC program was mandatory but its not. The JROTC program is a voluntary program for those students who wish to participate. But so-called pro-choice lefties like Mr. Norton apparently have a double standard when it comes to what choices people should be allowed to make.
I also would like to ask Mr. Norton if after the next big earthquake he would like the military to help with relief efforts in San Francisco after the disaster. Since it was the U.S. military that was the only arm of government that competently provided relief and rescue after Hurricane Katrina and did the same with the recent typhoon disaster in Bangladesh I wonder if Mr. Norton’s anti-military animosity would extend to opposing post-earthquake relief efforts. If not, then his hypocrisy runs deeper then I thought.
Mr. E. F. Sullivan
My response, published in Beyond Chron on December 17, 2007:
E. F. Sullivan asks me, in his December 13 letter, "if after the next big earthquake he would like the military to help with relief efforts."
Yes, Mr. Sullivan, I want the war-makers in Washington to bring home the tens of thousands of National Guard troops who have been sent abroad to fight the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. I would like our young men and women in the military to be available to serve the real needs of the American people right here at home, instead of being used as pawns in a rich man's war for domination abroad.
But our military today is not a relief operation. It is the armed wing of the masters of imperial war who send them all over the globe, to fight and to die, not in order to bring succor to the poor and the hungry and the oppressed, but in order to protect the wealth and power of the few. Our military today is not the Revolutionary Army of George Washington. It is instead the Red Coats of King George III.
Yes, Mr. Sullivan, JROTC is "voluntary." But it is a sad, sad commentary on our schools, and our country, that putting our children at the service of the masters of imperial war is a "choice" we will even contemplate.
Mr. Sullivan calls me a "far-left professional America hater."
I will plead guilty to being "far left" -- far to the left of those who have replaced the old divine right of kings with the more-modern divine right of capital and the democracy of fear.
As to my profession, I make my living as a bellman. I wish Beyond Chron would pay me for my occasional journalistic endeavors, but they don't.
As to being an "America hater" I can do no better than to quote Langston Hughes, who famously said in Let America Be America Again:
"O, let America be America again -
"The land that never has been yet -
"And yet must be -
"the land where every man is free...
"I say it plain,
"America never was America to me,
"And yet I swear this oath -
"America will be!"
"YOUR VIEWS ON JROTC ARE MISGUIDED..."
I received the following email on December 13.
It has been slightly edited to maintain the writer's anonymity:
Dear Mr. Norton,
I respectfully think your views on JROTC are misguided.
I'm soundly against the war and military intervention. But as a graduate of local public schools and a former PTA officer, I have seen first-hand how these programs really help our kids. They do a lot of volunteer work (cleanup, setup for arts and sports events etc) that just wouldn't get done without them.
Also, the former head of the Galileo JROTC is openly gay, and there has never been any discrimination in this regard at the school when I was there. That bullying incident involving Chin was truly unfortunate, but it is not the norm, I can assure you.
The SF public schools are the last working class institution in this city, and JROTC has been there for 75 years as one of the only organizations lending a hand.
Thank you for your comments. Although we disagree, I really do appreciate the opportunity for thoughtful dialogue.
I too am a former PTA officer, having served as President and Treasurer of the Alvarado Elementary School PTA many years ago, at a time when the school was shunned by many of its Noe Valley neighbors because of the Black and Latino students who were bussed in. I have two sons who went to Alvarado, James Lick Middle School (another Noe Valley school shunned by its neighbors), and then Lowell.
I am glad that you are against the war and military intervention. What I do not understand is how, given that, you would want our schools to offer a program that was designed by the Pentagon in order to entice our children into the military, where they will be used as pawns in the deadly game of war.
You say that you have seen how JROTC has helped some kids. I am glad to hear that. But surely we can find some other kind of program that provides our children with the opportunity for service, discipline and leadership development -- but without the military component. San Francisco is overflowing with community service programs, in every neighborhood of this city. What is missing is any real effort by the school district to reach out to them and bring them into our schools.
You say that the former head of the Galileo JROTC is openly gay. I will take your word for this. Again, that is a good thing. But the only reason this individual can be OPENLY gay is that he is a RETIRED military officer. If he was still in the service, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the military would certainly end his career in a hurry. I can only assume that he came out AFTER he retired. Unfortunately, this means that the pool of candidates for JROTC instructors can only include LGBT individuals if they have remained in the closet. That is discrimination, no matter how you cut it.
You say that the "bullying incident involving Chin was unfortunate." I must say that I think a death threat against a public official is more than unfortunate. I think it is revealing that neither the school district nor any other law enforcement officials have taken any action in this regard, at least not to my knowledge. I am quite sure that if I issued a death threat against a public official, I would be in the hands of law enforcement officials long before the sun went down.
Furthermore, Chin was not just some random JROTC cadet, but one of the star leaders of the pro-JROTC forces, although they seem to be keeping him under wraps for the time being. There have also been numerous other examples of threats by JROTC cadets and JROTC supporters. I agree that this is not the "norm," but I believe that it is inevitable as long as we are dealing with a program promulgated by the Pentagon, the biggest organizer of violence on this planet.
I agree that SF public schools are one of the last working class institutions in this city. That is why I am so intent on removing them from the clutches of the military.
Again, thank you for your comments.