James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Rotc

  • ROTC and Columbia: the Jack Wheeler Legacy

    How-to plans for another university that might reinstate ROTC

    As I've mentioned here and elsewhere, the late Jack Wheeler's big cause over the past year or two had been the return of ROTC programs to on-campus operation at Harvard and other elite schools from which they'd been removed during the Vietnam years. The repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy removed the last stated obstacle to their resumption.

    Last week Michael Segal offered a step-by-step plan for getting ROTC going again at Harvard. Now Eric Chen presents a comparable blueprint for Columbia. Part of the reason a blueprint is necessary: resinstatement would involve significant complications and headaches on the military's side, not just for the universities, so it shouldn't be done in a slapdash way. Worth reading, along with Wheeler's own impassioned statement on the subject last spring. And worth acting on.

  • Quick Catchup Items: TSA, ROTC, Filibuster

    Catching up with reader mail, much of which points to hopeful signs

    ... to get these out of the inbox, and then offline:

    1) Many people have sent in mentions of this story from Sacramento, about an airline pilot who posted a YouTube video of what he considered "security theater" aspects at an airport. (Thorough inspection of air crews; no inspection whatsoever of baggage handlers, maintenance people, and other ground crew.) A few days later federal agents and sheriff's deputies arrived at his house, and he is apparently under investigation and in trouble for disclosing "sensitive" security info.

    A few weeks ago, the TSA actually apologized for the episode in which a young mother was detained in a glass security cube, and missed her plane, because she didn't want to send a container of breast milk through the X-ray machine. We'll see what the TSA administrator John Pistole says about this one.

    2) Last month I quoted a software engineer, William Vambenepe, on why he wouldn't go through the advanced TSA scanning machines: not that he was prudish ("I'm French") but because his professional experience made him doubt that new radiation-producing machines with new software could be faultlessly safe. He writes today with this update:

    >>My fears seem validated by this report that no-one is inspecting the machines and ensuring that they don't deliver 100x the normal radiation level. Choice quote: "While the TSA claims that entities like the FDA, the US Army and Johns  Hopkins all regularly inspect their machines, none of these groups  agrees, and they all disavow any role in regularly maintaining and  testing the TSA's equipment".<<

    3) Last week I said that the repeal of the military's DADT policy should pave the way for the return of ROTC programs to Harvard and some other elite universities. Michael Segal, of "Advocates for ROTC," writes a proposal, here, of how specifically this might take place.

    4) A heartening end-of-year trend is new attention to abuses of the filibuster -- as the Atlantic's Josh Green points out here, and Ezra Klein here. When we wonder about dysfunction of the US government, it's worth realizing how much one person, Senator Mitch McConnell, has done to prevent the government from filling vacant judgeships and posts, considering economic and international legislation, and so on. If the historic extremes of this year -- in which McConnell oversaw the staging of 91 filibusters, or nearly four times as many as in the 1800s as a whole -- finally motivate Senators to reconsideration of the rules, there will have been some payoff.

    Now, for real, signing off.

  • DADT and ROTC

    The Senate's historic vote should allow ROTC programs to return to elite universities

    Congratulations to all whose negotiation and persuasion over the years led to yesterday's vote repealing the Don't Ask Don't Tell rule for the military.

    Among the consequences: this removes the last stated objection to the return of ROTC programs to on-campus operations at Harvard and some other elite universities. I've discussed the background extensively, starting here and here. ROTC left these campuses four decades ago because of bitter disagreements over the Vietnam war. That's long in the past; since the early 1990s, the main argument against ROTC's return has been the military's exclusion of openly gay members.

    That policy has now been officially overturned. It is time for Harvard, which took an early lead in removing ROTC programs in the Vietnam era, to set an example in bringing them back.

    Update: I see that even as I was writing this, our new politics writer Garance Franke-Ruta published an item saying that such a move was underway.

  • DADT Implications: Return of ROTC, Broadening the 'Sliver'

    DADT is going away sooner or later. When it does, it may have some surprising additional effects.

    In the short run, we don't know what will happen in the wake of yesterday's ruling striking down "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In the long run, as previously argued here, it is (to me) absolutely obvious and inevitable that gays and lesbians will be fully integrated into military service -- and that their exclusion, along with laws against same-sex marriage, will be viewed by future Americans with the same puzzled distance with which we consider anti-miscegenation laws today. I suspect that Americans now in their 20s can't really believe that until the mid-1960s, laws against "mixed race" marriages were still on the books. (For more: Loving v. Virginia.) I am sure that is how it will be with sexual-orientation issues; it's just a question of whether that's 20 years from now, or sooner, or later.

    Given short-term uncertainty about DADT, but longer-term inevitability (according to me) of its change, two implications:

    HarvROTC.jpg1) ROTC bans. The original reason for ROTC's removal from a number of elite universities, notably and symbolically Harvard, was to protest government policy during the Vietnam war. You can look it up (or check a past skein of posts here). In recent years the stated reason for continuing the exclusion -- after all, Vietnam is at least three wars in the past -- has been the DADT policy and related anti-gay strictures in the military. Colleges have said that these violate their rules of providing equal access for all students.

    DADT is going away, whether that has already happened by court ruling or will happen soon via Pentagon advisory-panel recommendation and Congressional assent. It's time for the ROTC ban to go away as well. It would be better for the military -- because of the "narrow sliver" problem -- and better for the universities too. Again, many arguments to that effect here. Harvard, next step is yours.*

    2) Broadening the "narrow sliver." After an earlier post on SecDef Gates's warning that too many Americans viewed the country's too-long wars in purely abstract terms, quite a number of readers wrote in to say that DADT intensified the problem. Here is a sample from Ned Hodgman, of Understanding Government, who explained on their site why repealing the ban could be an important step in building connections beyond the "sliver."

    >>If "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is finally thrown out, the U.S. armed forces will -- in an instant -- finally become fully inclusive** of all Americans. This change may seem tangential to Secretary Gates's concerns about the distance between most Americans and their military, but I think it could induce a marked change in the way Americans look at the armed forces, even if they never choose to serve.

    If the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are openly tolerant and ready to accept all Americans -- all Americans, regardless of gender, race, creed, or sexual orientation -- who are ready to fight for our country, we'll move a step closer together as a nation.<<

    Again, we don't know whether the big DADT change has already happened, or is coming soon. Either way, it's significant and positive news, with effects that reach beyond the people directly affected.
    ___
    * At Harvard as at some other universities, students may enroll in ROTC and receive its scholarships; there is also a ROTC commissioning ceremony as part of the annual graduation observances. But students have to go off campus for classes and training. Details in the previously linked posts.

    ** UPDATE As several readers have pointed out, this sentence should really say that the military is becoming "more fully inclusive," rather than absolutely inclusive of all. The military excludes lots of categories of people from service -- for educational, physical, and other reasons. Among them, related to the DADT removal, is an ongoing exclusion of transgender recruits. So, more inclusive -- which is a step.

  • SECDEF: Wars 'Remain An Abstraction' for Most Americans

    Robert Gates says that the gulf between citizens and soldiers is growing too large

    I've mentioned several times (for instance, here) impressive speeches by the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, about weapons, strategy, and national interest. I'm not blanket endorsing everything he's done in office; I am saying that, compared with other Cabinet officials in recent memory, he's done a better and more sustained job of laying out a way to think about major national issues.

    He delivered another important speech last week, at Duke, about the continuing separation between the "narrow sliver of our population" that serves in the military and the rest of America. Eg. 

    We should not ignore the broader, long-term consequences of waging these protracted military campaigns employing - and re-employing - such a small portion of our society in the effort.... [W]hatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] remain an abstraction.  A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.  Even after 9/11, in the absence of a draft, for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do.  In fact, with each passing decade fewer and fewer Americans know someone with military experience in their family or social circle.

    He closed by "speaking about another narrow sliver of our population, those attending and graduating from our nation's most selective and academically demanding universities," and urging them to consider national service. ROTC might be coming back to their campuses, he said, but that "will not do much good without the willingness of our nation's most gifted students to step forward.  Men and women such as you." Worth reading. Full text here. And, Michael Nelson of Rhodes College has a good essay on larger citizen/soldier relations here. Of course this will lead us back soon to previous discussions of the forces holding American society together or pushing it apart.

  • ROTC on Memorial Day

    Two veterans on the past and present effects of military service.

    Many more comments have come in about ROTC and the elite universities, which I'll get to shortly. Here are two for Memorial Day.

    From a reader who asks not to be named:

    I served in the USN for four years, 1968-72, much of that time spent in WesPac, along the Vietnamese coast and rivers. I was personally and closely involved in an operation where the CO received a Silver Star, and after all these years I cannot really remember exactly what was going on, since it was not all that different than what went on most of the time. It was loud, that I remember. I always remember this when John Kerry's service is called into question.

    In 1968 I turned 18 two months before I reported for boot camp. I was a blue collared son (Irish Catholic, Philadelphia) of a WWII vet who was the son of a WWI vet. The eldest son of eight children, college was not an option. Though my relationship with my father was always quite contentious, he had passed along to me the responsibility of patriotic duty, despite the growing public opposition to the war especially among so many of my peers, most of whom were going off to college. After finishing boot camp I formally submitted a request to be allowed to transfer to the USMC, since the Marines were a component of the USN. Request denied. All of my subsequent requests were also denied due to the high level of my test scores.

    Things happened the way they happened, and off I went to Vietnam, and somewhere along the way - late 69, early 70 I began to see things differently. I returned to CONUS in April 1970 weeks before the killings at Kent State and Jackson State, which exacerbated a moral crisis that had already been set in motion by incidents in Vietnam. This eventually led me to consider becoming a conscientious objector, a nearly impossible status to get while serving in the military. When I finally had to officially declare my intentions I was immediately pegged for transfer - after a thorough 'after dark' beating - to a small ship that was, at the time, off the coast of VN. I was given two weeks leave. I returned home, then travelled north to MA with a Catholic Brother whose 'mother house' was in Quebec- a job, a place to stay.

    I cannot even begin to tell you how painful that decision was - to leave the country or stay and fight what would be a losing battle. I eventually decided to stay and caught the ship in Japan a month later. I did not apply for CO status and 15 months later found myself in a combat situation where I was the only person with the kind of experience that was needed to complete a mission. Again, I found myself caught in the vise of a dilemma that many of us had to face: say no and be thrown into the brig or do the job. I chose the latter and it thoroughly changed my life. It was Vietnam where the only thing that mattered was the number of KIAs [Killed In Action], and there were KIAs, though they happened to be innocent farmers. But that didn't matter since they were quantifiable indigenes, which meant you could spin them into being anything you needed for them to be. That decision is with me everyday. This is what Richard Blumenthal has no idea about: the mistakes some of us made, the personal failures we live with, these things we know about ourselves that we wish we didn't. To say - to even insinuate - that he was there is wholly parasitic.

    In 1974 I finally made my way to college, a border state school famously known for its basketball program. On a beautiful early fall evening in 1974 while walking across campus I came to the main square and found it taken over by marching ROTC members who were clearly disrupting the flow through a public space. I began a campaign to remove the ROTC from the square, a one-man battle which took me into several offices: the dean of students, an officer in the reserves; the ROTC commander, an Air Force major; and the president of the university. I finally won a battle, and the ROTC was removed. Shortly after, I was approached by a woman, an 'older' student like me, who claimed to also be a 'radical' veteran, speaking for some other 'radicals' who wanted to know if I'd be interested in burning down the ROTC building. (This had been tried a few years before during student protests.) This was clearly a set-up, which I immediately blew off.

    Why am I telling you this? I'm not really sure, other than it has all been resurrected - once again - over the past two weeks. Some things don't go away, especially the personal truths we quietly live with. No one who served ever forgets that they served. And those who claim they did when they didn't know another kind of unsettling and very personal truth that speaks to character. Or, perhaps, the lack of it.

    After the jump a statement from John P. Wheeler III, whom I have mentioned many times -- a friend, a member of the West Point class of 1966, long ago a leader of the effort to build the Vietnam Memorial, now a leader of the effort to return ROTC to elite schools and someone who feels that ROTC's continued exclusion is a daily expression of disrespect for soldiers and military service.

    More »

  • Cutting Through the BS: Ambinder, Kinsley

    The internet shows the value of fast-cycle fact correction; and a correction of my own to make

    Not that either of them needs a tout from me, but I wanted to mention two posts today by Atlantic colleagues that, in different ways, illustrate the real-time self-corrective potential of the modern news system.

    One is by Marc Ambinder, and its point is best summarized by our home-page headline: "There's No Scandal Here." It refers of course to the "scandal" of the White House trying to convince Rep. Joe Sestak that he should not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary this year. (Of course Sestak did, and he won.) Ambinder disposes of the alleged lucrative-job offer to Sestak as, simply, "false." The job in question was Secretary of the Navy, and the Obama Administration had already offered it to somebody else a month before Specter switched parties. (Ie, while Sestak could not even have been thinking of challenging him in the primary, since Specter was still a Republican.)

    And if the "accusation" is that the Administration sent Bill Clinton to see if Sestak could be talked out of running, including with an unpaid position on a Presidential advisory board, so what?  That is how political parties operate, trying to minimize internal struggles and deploy electoral talent for the best overall results. The U.S. has nothing like the nationwide re-shuffling of manpower that often happens in Britain, where the parties match parliamentary candidates with constituencies anyplace in the country where the prospects seem best. But every American president, regardless of party, has tried to encourage strong candidates, discourage weak ones, and generally boost his side's chances. I would feel exactly the same way if John McCain were now president and the story involved his efforts to sort out the Marco Rubio / Charlie Crist struggle in Florida. A curse of standard political coverage is the "critics say" pose of faux objectivity: "Critics say that Obama committed a crime, but the Administration denies the charge." Ambinder, to his credit, explains why the main charge is "false" and why a larger effort to keep Sestak out of the race, whether or not it was politically wise, was perfectly normal and legitimate.

    The other item is by Michael Kinsley, who applies a "cut the BS" perspective to a political analysis two days ago on the front page of the NY Times and more generally to the Richard Blumenthal "when I was in Vietnam" episode. As always, he needs no help in making his case, one trenchant part of which is:

    It's often noted that North Vietnam defeated the United States in the short run but the US won in the longer run. Look at Vietnam today. Meanwhile, another reversal seems to have happened to the argument in America about the Vietnam war. The war ended when it lost the support of most Americans. Today, ambitious politicians imagine that they fought there. If they're going to make up anything, they should be making up stories about how active they were in the anti-war movement.

    This last line is a segue to a fairly significant correction-of-the-record I have to make. In several previous posts about ROTC and the Ivy League, I noted that the original argument about pushing ROTC programs off-campus was to protest the Vietnam war. For the past few decades, the ongoing objection to ROTC's return has involved the military's refusal to accept openly gay service members, but that's a different matter. In these recent items, I have said that the Vietnam-era argument "made sense at the time," at least to me. It turns out that even at that time I was talking about the danger of an enforced separation between the military and the elite schools. Witness this "on the other hand" dissenting editorial from the Harvard Crimson just before the faculty's vote on expelling ROTC in 1968, provided by my friend Jack Wheeler.

    I suppose I could feel better about consistency-of-view over the decades, but in fact I feel worse about the distortion of memory. My only explanation is that the rapidly increasing anti-Vietnam and anti-ROTC fervor of the following two years had made me sympathetic to the anti-ROTC argument by the end of my time in college, so that's the memory that stuck with me. In any case, it's long past time for the elite universities to begin repairing this breach.

  • More on ROTC and the Ivy League

    Why the military might not rush right back to Harvard or Yale

    I won't pursue this indefinitely, but many interesting additions have come in on the question of whether Harvard, Yale, etc should/will/must bring back on-campus ROTC programs, now that the main stated objection to the programs is going away. Background here, here, and here; I'll collect all ROTC-related items here.

    As a reminder, the programs were originally pushed off-campus in the 1960s in protest of the Vietnam war; through the last two decades, they've been kept out of some elite schools in protest of the military's refusal to accept openly gay service members. Students at those schools can accept ROTC scholarships, but they go off-campus for training -- for instance, to MIT for Harvard students, and to Berkeley (!) for Stanford.

    First, from a member of West Point's class of 1972, who says that ROTC's problem is broader than the ban at several campuses and has its own "class war" aspects: 

    ROTC seems to be disappearing from private universities even where the program survived the Viet Nam era. Around 15 years ago I worked for the North Carolina Army National Guard (NCARNG) in the recruiting office and acted as the coordinator between the NCARNG and the ROTC programs in the state. Davidson College and Duke University both had thriving ROTC programs at that time.

    Around this time the Army restructured the ROTC scholarship program to the point where the ROTC scholarship would not cover the costs of attending a private university the way it had before. I saw the ROTC programs at Duke and Davidson shrink from being ROTC battalions to being satellites (the battalions moved to UNC-Chapel Hill and Charlotte, respectively). My contacts at UNC (where I work) and Charlotte (where one of my kids goes and who wants to enroll in ROTC this fall) tell me that this situation still exists. Good people who had the desire to be officers and the academic credentials to go to schools like Duke and Davidson took their ROTC scholarships to state schools where the money went farther. ROTC has been priced out of the market in at least some non-public schools.

    Quite frankly, I would accuse the Ivy League schools of contributing to the existing class rift in the country that resulted from the Viet Nam era draft. I would challenge these elite schools to meet the armed forces half way: if the Defense Department does away with DADT, the elite schools need to provide ample scholarship aid to ROTC scholarship cadets to make it feasible to have ROTC back on these campuses...

    Now, from a product of Berkeley's ROTC program, who argues that for dollars-and-cents reasons the military will not be rushing to reconstitute programs at Harvard etc even if they are officially welcomed back in:

    As a UC Berkeley ROTC graduate and current Naval officer, I feel obliged to point out that there's a fair bit of myth and misinformation surrounding the absence of ROTC units from "elite" campuses. While it's certainly true that many campus administrators and student groups have objected to the presence of ROTC units because of DADT, the services' manning and budgetary demands are what is actually behind the absence of the program at elite universities.

    An ROTC program requires an O-6 (Colonel/Captain) to lead the command, and O-5 (Lieutenant Colonel/Commander) to serve as executive officer, and several additional officers and senior enlisted personnel to fill advisory and administrative positions. If a campus's student body is relatively small, an ROTC program will probably not be able to attract a sufficient number of students to justify the expense of maintaining such a staff.

    Therefore, ROTC programs are generally found at either campuses with large undergraduate classes, or at schools in close proximity to other universities. For example, the UC Berkeley-hosted Navy ROTC program hosts students from Stanford, UC Davis, and the California Maritime Academy. The MIT-hosted program is made available to students at Harvard and Tufts.

    While it's certainly true Stanford and Harvard may choose to lift the ban on ROTC if DADT is repealed, the Navy will almost certainly not invest the resources to begin new programs at either school. Similarly, unless another large university is founded in New Haven, it is doubtful ROTC will come to Yale.

    Navy ROTC programs: https://www.nrotc.navy.mil/colleges_nrotc_unitsXP3.aspx
    Army ROTC programs: http://branchorientation.com/rotc/find_schools.jsp
    Air Force ROTC programs: http://www.afrotc.com/college-life/college-locator/

    Finally, after the jump, a Columbia graduate argues that torpor and hidebound-ness on the military's side has made the situation worse.

    More »

  • Correction: No ROTC at Stanford

    Where Berkeley is more "conservative" than Stanford.

    Earlier today I quoted a reader who said that Army ROTC had returned to Stanford. It turns out that that is not exactly so. Like Harvard, Stanford has an "off-campus" program. Students may be members of ROTC, but they go elsewhere for training. Reader Michael Segal writes:

    The statement made by a member of Advocates for Harvard ROTC that "Stanford University already has Army ROTC" is not true  We summarize the situation at: http://www.advocatesforrotc.org/national/

    Stanford: (Off-campus Navy, Army and Air Force ROTC, no university-sponsored ROTC Web page)

    The confusion may be with UC Berkeley, which has both Army and Navy ROTC, or the writer may have heard of the committee at Stanford examining inviting ROTC to return.  Also, it is not clear whether this week's effort to repeal DADT will succeed, and what the effect will be if it does succeed.  I outlined some of the nuances at http://www.securenation.org/a-centrist-approach-to-reform-of-%E2%80%9Cdon%E2%80%99t-ask-don%E2%80%99t-tell%E2%80%9D/, with some updates for this week's events.
     
    Michael Segal '76 MD PhD
     
    • 21 May 2010 Boston Globe article "Harvard's ROTC grads to get full treatment in Yard commissioning".  Note:  Speaking at Harvard ROTC Commissioning on 26 May will be Michael G. Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, depicted in the film Charlie Wilson's War, former US Senator Paul Kirk '60 and Harvard President Drew Faust. 

    Noted for the record. Another reader writes to say:

    As someone who went the ROTC route (thanks to a full scholarship!) and has now served almost 21 years in the Air Force I have to completely agree with the National Defense author: "increasing estrangement of the professionalized military from the rest of society was dangerous for democracy in the long run"

    I think this was well captured by the attached picture you've probably seen, which made the rounds a few years ago.
    atthemall.png

    After the jump, another Stanford student on the situation there.
    ____

    More »

  • Three About DADT, ROTC, and the Ivies

    What was really behind the Ivy League ROTC ban?

    In response to this item, late last night, arguing that the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" could and should mean the end of ROTC's exclusion from a number of elite university campus, these responses:

    Reader Konstantin Doren challenges the basic premise of my argument:

    I just (about a month ago) found my heavily underlined and dog eared copy of "National Defense" on my bookshelf. I thought I had lost it. The writer of that book, of all people, should know how inextricably intertwined, or closely knit, our military already is to our society and economy. At least the ivy ROTC bans keep one group of students at arm's length from the claws of the military recruiters.

    The only reason the people who fought for the ROTC ban during the Vietnam era would not have urged or imaged that the policy still be in place today is because they did not believe they could be so successful. They thought then it was a bad idea for Americans to be killing Vietnamese and, in their heart of hearts, know it is a bad idea for Americans to be killing Muslims today.

    As it happens, I am familiar with what the author of National Defense said then and would say now on the subject. When that book came out, nearly 30 years ago, he argued that the increasing estrangement of the professionalized military from the rest of society was dangerous for democracy in the long run. There's a longer argument back and forth on this question, but for now my point is: if we are going to be a world military power, it is (in my view) better in the long run if the military includes and reflects as many strands of society as possible.

    Reader Steven Corneliussen challenges my assertion that the Vietnam-era push to get ROTC off elite campuses was mainly about Vietnam, rather than mainly being about the military:

    As someone who wore an ROTC uniform during Vietnam at Duke [in the Vietnam era], I'm not so sure that late-60s opponents of ROTC envisioned only a temporary banishment. Then and now, I thought that whatever was to be made of Vietnam, respect for military service needed to be conserved for the long term -- and I also believed that many around me explicitly, in fact energetically, disagreed. My perception was that many wanted ROTC not just gone, but gone forever.

    That is consistent with the argument made by John Wheeler (mentioned yesterday) over the years, that the ban on ROTC was in effect a stigmatizing, "blame the soldier" policy. He, like Corneliussen, is in a better position to judge those effects than I am. Speaking for myself, I viewed this as always having been about Vietnam.

    Another reader writes to add:

    There has been an organized effort to bring ROTC back to Harvard for decades (I'm a member of the group) and Stanford University already has Army ROTC.

    Yes, these efforts have a long history. But the point of raising the matter now is that, with the pending elimination of DADT, the main stated objection to ROTC's full return has been removed. If the programs don't come back now, then there really is something else at work.

  • DADT and Ivy League ROTC

    Might the end of the anti-gay policy bring ROTC back to elite campuses?

    The impending deal to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars openly gay people from military service will be good for the military, good for the country, and good for national security. The national security argument includes the damage the military has needlessly done itself by dismissing Arabic-language interpreters and translators because of their sexual orientation.

    It should also have another effect, in ending the prolonged absence of ROTC programs from a number of the nation's elite universities. (ROTC = Reserve Officer Training Corps, a way of bringing civilian-educated officers into the military.) The case I know best is Harvard's, where ROTC programs were forced off campus in the late 1960s as part of the general effort to register opposition to Vietnam war policies. That made sense at the time, at least to me. But what was initially intended as a focused objection to a specific war extended into a general separation between an important military intake system and some of the most elite universities. This separation is, in my view, bad for the military, bad for the universities, and bad for the country. Almost no one urging the anti-ROTC change of those days would have argued or imagined that 35 years after U.S. troops left Vietnam the ban should still be in place. As the original Vietnam-related rationale has faded into distant memory, the prohibition on ROTC has been sustained as an objection to the military's exclusion of openly gay service members.

    John P. Wheeler III is a member of West Point's class of 1966, which was the subject of Rick Atkinson's wonderful book The Long Grey Line. (Wheeler and I have been friends for many years.) He has just organized a public campaign by Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford alumni to bring ROTC back to those campuses, in anticipation of the removal of this last stated objection to their presence and as a recognition of what he sees as the "blame the soldier" implications of ROTC's continued exclusion. The text of the public letter they sent today to the universities' governing boards is after the jump. I don't agree with every part of their statement or rationale, but I fully support the conclusion. A volunteer military, despite its advantages in efficiency, naturally becomes separate over time from much of the society it defends -- especially people in elite positions. Any measure that more closely knits the military to its society is a plus, and ROTC has historically been an important part of forming that bond. It's time to bring it back. Letter follows.

    More »

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