Apr 8, 2009

Harvard & The Marines

Harvard And The Marines

Why not give our officers the best education?
Wall Street Journal
April 8, 2009

By Joseph Kristol and Daniel West

'ROTC must go because we oppose the policies of the United States and we oppose the military that perpetrates them. The lines are clearly drawn; the time to take sides is now."

It was the spring of 1969, and the leaders of the Harvard chapter of Students for a Democratic Society were (with the above statement issued to the student newspaper) agitating to cleanse their campus of "imperialist exploitation." To opponents of the Vietnam War, members of the military -- even students in the Reserve Officers Training Corps -- embodied the policies they despised.

Forty years ago tomorrow, April 9, 1969, this sentiment culminated in a mob of students storming University Hall. Eager to be at the forefront of radical activism, they turned to violent protest. Arsonists torched a Marine Corps classroom, and the administration buckled. ROTC was purged from campus, symbolically repudiating the Vietnam War.

Today, America congratulates itself for having overcome the knee-jerk radicalism of that era. "Support the troops, oppose the war" is the modern battle cry of the antiwar movement. Americans seem to recognize that those in uniform shouldn't be blamed for policies set by elected officials.

But not at Harvard, where ROTC remains officially unwelcome.

The students of 1969 have become the faculty of 2009, and today students who wish to participate in ROTC are forced to train at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We are pawns in a political chess game. The issue is no longer Vietnam, but President Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bars gays from openly serving in the military. Because of that policy, the university classifies ROTC as a discriminatory organization and has severed all remnants of support.

So Harvard today happily pays for future bankers to take accounting courses at MIT, but refuses to pay for aspiring military officers who take ROTC courses. Since 1994, anonymous donors have generously picked up the tab, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for Harvard's ROTC students.

Sadly, the number of Harvard students who choose military service has dwindled. Harvard, where ROTC was founded in 1916 and which once boasted over 1,000 participants, is now home to only 29 cadets and midshipmen, spread over four years and four branches of service. Recruitment opportunities are deliberately limited, and the student handbook cautions students against joining ROTC, remarking that the program is "inconsistent with Harvard's values." And cadets begin every semester seeking to avoid the professors known to exhibit hostility toward students who wear their uniform to class.

Rather than embracing the mutually beneficial relationship Harvard might share with the military, the faculty prefers to stand in the way of progress, abdicating its responsibility to contribute to one of our nation's most important institutions.. The same Harvard that once produced 10 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and warrior-scholars such as Teddy Roosevelt and John F.. Kennedy, now turns its back on its proud, patriotic history.

But there are reasons to be hopeful that the 40-year exile of ROTC may be drawing to a close. Today, the faculty is out of touch with a student body that is generally supportive of ROTC. The support that both Barack Obama and John McCain expressed during the 2008 presidential campaign for the return of ROTC to elite college campuses showed Harvard's stance to be far from mainstream.

We are also fortunate that Harvard's new president, Drew Faust, has privately praised and met with cadets and midshipmen, and publicly stated her hope that the day ROTC returns to campus is not far off. Though she remains bound by Harvard's discrimination policy, she spoke at last year's commissioning ceremony and expressed her desire to see our numbers grow.

This is encouraging, but it falls short of the appropriate policy: support for the military and those who serve in it, regardless of federal policies. ROTC should be fully and unequivocally welcomed back to Harvard. Accomplishing this would take leadership and courage from President Faust. Perhaps she will be inspired to show this leadership as she joins Gen. David Petraeus in recognizing the ROTC graduates at our commissioning ceremony in June.

Messrs. Kristol and West, seniors at Harvard University, will be commissioned second lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps in June.

1 comment:

Harry Lewis said...

Congratulations to both proud fathers and to their sons. I would take the Harvard non-discrimination argument more seriously were it consistently applied. I wrote a piece for the Globe last year contrasting the inflexible non-support of ROTC to an exceptional accommodation granted at the request of some Muslim women: A Separate and Unequal Exercise. My own view is that ROTC is simply sui generis; the national interest, and the interest of our students in serving, should trump our ordinary Faculty policies.-- Harry Lewis, Professor of Computer Science at Harvard and formerly Dean of Harvard College