Students confront the military culture status quo at Macalester

Bergen Schmidt, Features Editor

Wills Hawley ’22 and Andrew Pauly ’22, are the only two members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Macalester. Scott Lim ’20 is enrolled in Officer Candidate School (OSC) and will enlist in the Marines after graduating from Macalester. These three represent the small population of U.S. military students across campus.

Pauly sees the divide between the U.S. military and Macalester illustrated through a lack of military culture.

“There is no military culture at Macalester,” Pauly wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “It is simply not a facet of life here for the vast majority of students. And for those students for whom it is a facet of life, it is almost entirely off-campus.”

“The most significant consequence for this in my personal life has been the development of a slight division in my sense of self, feeling sometimes like I’m leading two lives,” he continued.

This division partly stems from Macalester’s lack of structure to help Pauly and Hawley with their specific challenges.

“There [are] a lot of issues dealing between Macalester administration and the U.S. Army — because that’s where our tuition payment is coming from,” Pauly said. “And they’re both enormous bureaucracies that don’t work very efficiently.”

“So, being caught in the middle of that can be exhausting, especially since Macalester doesn’t have any infrastructure built to deal with that sort of thing.”

While Hawley and Pauly recognize the division between the administration and the U.S. Army, there is also a disconnect among students. Pauly explains how there can be an assumption that young adults in the military exist everywhere  but the Macalester bubble.

“Last year I was in a class and it was the first time I had to wear my uniform in this particular class,” Pauly said. “The professor walked in, startled for a second, and then said ‘I think it is really a good thing to have this exposure on campus, to have this presence on campus, to have people wearing [uniforms] on campus.’ It isn’t something that your community should be taken aback by.”

Hawley agreed with Pauly.

“To see someone walk around in a uniform, it’s kind of alien,” Hawley said. “Because it’s unfamiliar to a lot of people and there’s not a whole lot of people at this school with affiliation to the military in general, people get kind of taken aback and [at] first people are hesitant.”

Avik Herur-Raman ’20, a student not involved formally with the U.S. military, views the disconnect between students and the military as a part of U.S. imperialism.

“You also have a strange separation from the U.S. military as an institution, but that just reflects the general U.S. military recruiting strategy and its role in society today,” Herur-Raman said. “The U.S. military recruits heavily in incredibly poor and downtrodden areas of the United States, and they target students who are going into insane levels of debt, usually at shitty for-profit colleges.”

For Hawley, this separation manifests as an initial “weirdness” from students, but after that passes there is a mutual understanding.

“I feel like once you get to know people, and once you get to explain it to them, they are a lot more understanding and they see that it’s not scary,” Hawley said.

“Neither [Hawley] nor I have ever gotten any explicit negative attention,” Pauly stated. “I’ve gotten questions, a lot of weird looks and a lot of double-takes. I definitely expected there to be more — for it to be weirder coming here than it actually has been.”

Herur-Raman noted that the reaction from students could be the result of a feeling of unsettledness towards the U.S. military.

“This unsettled reaction to military ROTC students again comes from the fact that there’s some vague, liberal social justice understanding that the military does some bad things,” Herur-Raman explained. “But then how does that reconcile with the fact that every day there’s a lot of students openly talking about and upholding the very notion of global U.S. militaristic supremacy.”

Pauly was surprised by the lack of attention he and Hawley received on campus in comparison to the attention their fellow cadets receive at the University of Minnesota.

“Here at Macalester, you would kind of assume that you would get more attention than somewhere like the U of M where there is a well-established program, but it’s not the case,” Pauly said. “There are people at the U of M that have gotten drinks thrown on them and people get the finger all of the time.”

For Isaac Hoehn ’20, there is a distinction between individuals in the military and the U.S. military as an institution.

“We’re not against the individuals in the military — we’re against the U.S. military as an institution and I think there’s a very conscious effort by the propagandists, who are in favor of this militarism, to make this opposition to the military, in opposition to war, a personalized attack on veterans,” Hoehn said.

Lim recognized this disconnect as well — in that there is no military culture at Macalester because there is no formal association with the college. Some of Lim’s friends may disagree with his choice to join the military, but acknowledge his personal reasons for doing so.

“I don’t want to take anything for granted. I feel like the military is a good path to learn about yourself and become a better person,” Lim said.

The lack of military culture at Macalester also shows up across campus within the social issues students are most vocal about, and in classes across areas of study. Hoehn connects the issue of militarism into issues such as environmentalism.

“There’s a lot of issues that people at Macalester care about — like the environment,” Hoehn said. “And this issue of militarism really affects all that in one way or another… With the environment, the U.S. military is polluting as much as a large number of industrialized countries combined.”

Herur-Raman noted how militarism intersects with courses and assignments — specifically in the social sciences where discussions are most prominent.

“[The social sciences,] that’s where you will see debates about invading, and the merits of absolutely destroying entire societies, pacification — all sorts of very heinous talk,” Herur-Raman explained. “That, of course, never means anything more than this is a nice topic for writing a paper on, this is interesting, this is a world event.”

Pauly believes that his involvement with the ROTC has improved his understanding of the culture of the U.S. military and allows him to have a better-informed view than the average Macalester student.

“Too often in fields such as international politics, history, and classics (my area) are the experiences of the constituents of contemporary militaries overlooked,” Pauly wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “In many ways, too, having this experience helps me to relate personally to those whom I study in my classes, in a way that someone who has no military experience may lack.”

Pauly can’t understand why students would respond negatively in the first place to cadets on campus. It insinuates that they would rather officers not attend college, which would negatively affect the country and its safety.

He sees great benefit in Macalester students recognizing that the military doesn’t only exist outside of Macalester.

“The military exists… and we aren’t isolated from it,” Pauly said. “We live in the United States. I think it’s good to not only hear about the military and see headlines and learn about it secondhand, it is good to have real, actual real-life exposure to it.”

[email protected]