SLATE Pickets in Protest of Mandatory ROTC on Campus  
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The Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of California 

 

ROTC is an Army program that serves to  recruit young men and women into it's officer corps.  When I entered U.C. Berkeley in the Fall of 1958, ROTC classes for were mandatory for UCB men in their freshman and sophomore years. 

 

In 1918 the State of California had granted The Regents of the University the sole authority to decide whether ROTC would be optional at U.C. 

 

Student opposition  to mandatory ROTC

 

Polls and referendums of the student body during the decades of the forties, fifties  showed that a clear majority of students were opposed to mandatory ROTC but the Regents consistently responded by reaffirming their commitment to the requirement.  

A student Committee for Voluntary ROTC. was formed in December 1956.  The administration refused its supporters permission to pass out leaflets on campus, citing "litter," and the lack of approval of by the Executive Committee (Ex Com) of the Associated Students of the University of California (A.S.U.C.)  The Voluntary ROTC Committee took the issue to the Ex Com, which turned down the request.  The lack of support for voluntary ROTC by the"official" student organization was a major factor leading to the 1958 formation of SLATE, the independent, left-wing student "political party."

 

In reaction to the administration's ban of on-campus distribution of its leaflets, the Voluntary ROTC committee passed out leaflets off-campus on December 10, 1956.  The leaflets asked students to participate in a referendum on ROTC.  The anti-compulsory referendum passed by a 70% vote. 

 

The Regents pass the buck to the faculty, "for study"

 

The administration, carrying out the wishes of the Regents, responded to the referendum by referring it to the faculty Committee on Educational Policy.  After spending more than a year considering the issue, The  Committee condemned compulsory ROTC. as "wasteful and inequitable." 

 

At the same time, the U.S. Defense Department published the highly influential 1959 report on ROTC by Princeton University (Lyons and Masland), which concluded that the compulsory program was costing more than it was worth and that a voluntary program more than met the needs of national defense and would produce more qualified officers with a higher morale. 

The Fred Moore protest

 

While the Regents referred, and the academics studied and published, student resistance mounted and captured the public's attention.  On Monday, October 19, 1959, entering Freshman Fred Moore began a two-day, two-night fast on the steps of Sproul Hall after the administration rejected his petition for an exemption from ROTC as a conscientious objector.   Moore's fast, and his father (an Air Force Colonel)'s support garnered national news coverage and an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle opposing compulsory ROTC.  Four days after Moore sat down on the steps of the Administration Building,  U.C. President Clark Kerr appointed a faculty committee to study a possible change in the ROTC program.   Five days after that, Governor "Pat" Brown came out against compulsory ROTC.

The anti-ROTC demonstration and the Jim Creighton grading case

 

As a response to the Regents' "head-in-the sand" ignoring of growing student and faculty anti-compulsory ROTC sentiment, SLATE decided to picket in front of the ROTC drill field on the day before the December, 1960 meeting of the Regents.  Several students in uniform were among those who protested.  As a consequence, Jim Creighton, chairman of the SLATE committee on R.O.T.C., received a final "F" grade in ROTC that semester, down-graded from a "B" due to 100 demerits given for picketing in uniform.  The faculty's  Academic Senate took up Creighton's petition to have his "B" grade reinstated, but the motion to do so was defeated 143-80.  Clearly the faculty could be relied upon to "talk the talk" while declining to "walk the walk."

The end to mandatory ROTC at UC  

 

By the summer of 1961, all the nation's armed forces had come to agreement that the nation"s universities could independently choose between voluntary and compulsory ROTC.  In reaction, ROTC became voluntary at Michigan State, Ohio State and Washington State, but not at U.C.  The ASUC. Ex Com had by this time come around to supporting voluntary ROTC, and in 1961 and 1962 voted to request that the Regents adopt such a program.  In 1961, UC President Clark Kerr recommended abolishing lower division ROTC in favor of a voluntary upper division program. 

 

In 1962 the Regents finally surrendered and voted to end compulsory ROTC, beginning with the 1962 fall semester.  Ignoring the impact of five years of student activism, Kerr's recommendations and Academic Senate support,  the Regents passed the buck again, this time to the U.S. Defense Department.  In their decision, the Regents contended that the Defense Department had advised them that "compulsory ROTC was not needed to meet quality standards nor to produce numbers of officers required."  Clark Kerr was more honest than the Regents, and stated that the their action was taken "responsive to student petitions."  In the fall of 1962, the head of the Military Science Program at UC Berkeley stated that (now voluntary) ROTC enrollment had declined by 90%. 

On December 15, 1960 SLATE organized a picket line next to the Military Science classrooms and across from the ROTC marching field

I took two years of R.O.T.C. training as a freshman and sophmore.  I learned to tear down, assemble, oil and shoot an M-1 rifle, hands on tasks that I kind of enjoyed.

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ROTC (referred to as "Military Science" by the administration) was boring and it was irritating to have to care for and occasionally wear a proper military uniform.  However, it was treated as an elective and was an easy "A" grade each of the four semesters I took it and earned me 8 units of the 120 required for a Bachelor's Degree.

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We learned a little military history and had to write a paper on a famous battle. 

Mine was on Napoleon's victory at Marengo, a defeat for the Austrian forces on June 14, 1800, which secured Napoleon’s military and civilian authority in Paris.

 

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The 1962 abolition of mandatory ROTC training came too late for me and my class of 1963 This victory was the first credible accomplishment of SLATE and help establish it's effectiveness in organizing student activism.

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My ROTC career was soon followed by registering for the draft and rejection by the Army.

 

For some reason I managed to finish four and a half semesters at Cal and earn an undergraduate degree without registering for the draft at 18, as I was expected to do.  As if I had actually registered and received a student deferment, the Berkeley Draft Board conveniently let me slide until I graduated in 1963, after which I received a letter from the board officially informing me that I needed to register.   In any case, I registered right away, and was drafted later that year by the Army. 

 

I dutifully showed up at the Army's s Oakland Induction Center, my bags packed for a trip to boot camp.  I fully expected to be inducted that day.  I was quickly presented with the Army's loyalty oath, which I refused to sign.   Signing the oath would have required me to disclose (or deny) membership in any organization(s) on the US Attorney General's list of "subversive organizations."  I told the Army induction officer that signing the oath would be in violation of my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.  I also presented a doctor's letter describing the wounds to my left hand I had suffered earlier in 1963 in a freak accident at home,  The Army sent me home to heal and receive physical therapy.

 

In 1964 I received a second draft notice and again showed up at the Oakland Induction Center.  This time the loyalty oath was not raised as an issue, but because a recent doctor's report showed little improvement in my hand, I was given a new draft classification which made me ineligible to serve for physical reasons.  I was actually disappointed that I hadn't been inducted, because I believed that I would have been to Germany, where I would have worked at a teaching job or a desk job.  "Ocktoberfest" was not to be for me.  Oh well......