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: Universities

  • 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.

    Reader Eric writes:

    Since 2002, I have been an advocate as an undergraduate and alumnus in the movement to restore ROTC at Columbia University. (For more about Columbia ROTC advocacy, please see http://www.advocatesforrotc.org/columbia/index.html.)

    I have much to say about ROTC advocacy at my alma mater and other elite universities. For example, I am currently working on a paper intended to show the COIN era [counter-insurgency] officer envisioned by the Secretary of Defense's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review requires the kind of students and formative academic grounding available at Columbia.

    However, for now, I wish to respond to this statement: "If the programs don't come back now, then there really is something else at work."

    One important obstacle to ROTC return is rarely scrutinized: the policy and position of ROTC officials regarding the grant of new ROTC programs to Columbia and similar universities. My impression has been that the various ROTCs' evaluative metrics, and perhaps the biases of some ROTC officials, severely undervalue Columbia and similar universities as candidates for new programs.

    That does not imply the military's leaders are against ROTC in the Ivy League. Indeed, Admiral Mullen endorsed ROTC at Columbia during our World Leaders Forum in April. However, in the same event, Mullen cautioned that ROTC's "accessions cap" is a barrier to ROTC return. In effect, ROTC bureaucracy stands in the way of the best interests of our university, military, and nation. To my knowledge, though, ROTC's bureaucracy has remained unchallenged on this issue. Worse, the policy and position of ROTC officials allow university officials who are reluctant to challenge the status quo to deflect their responsibility for the absence of ROTC on campus. (I further discussed this issue at http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2010/04/letter-to-my-fellow-advocates-for.html)

    This is a more tangled issue, which more interesting implications for America's educational, military, and social institutions, than it seems at first glance.

    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.

    After the jump, another Stanford student on the situation there.
    I am a student at Stanford and I would like to clear up a reader comment you quoted in "Three about DADT, ROTC, and the Ivies." We currently do not have any ROTC groups on campus - although there is increasing debate whether or not to allow them back on campus. There are Stanford students participating in ROTC programs, but they have to commute to other schools in the area (such as San Jose State or UC Berkeley - both at least 30 minutes away). Here is a May 5th article from the Stanford Daily about a recent Faculty Senate discussion (with presentations by former Sec. of Defense William Perry and Prof. David Kennedy)  and an article about a a recent student panel on the subject.

    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.


    We graduates and students of your universities ask you to lift your ban on ROTC quickly and finally.

    We join the majority of your university community in this request. America's great universities have a strong tradition of service in times of peril. The ban says that service to country is not a priority.

    What started in 1968 as an antiwar and antimilitary protest is now seen as a means to end a stigma on gays in the military. "Blaming the soldier" is a harmful way of opposing policy, and you imply that most gays in the military want to see fellow military stigmatized by the ROTC ban. The issue is in any event for Congress to decide, and leaders are studying how to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

    America's great universities have a strong tradition of service to the nation in time of peril.

    In the 21st Century our country needs the full strength you have traditionally provided.

    Paul W. Bucha Stanford Business School '67

    Brian M. Bolduc Harvard College '10

    General John D.W. Corley USAF Ret Kennedy School NISP '02 GOEP '99

    Adam M. Pechter Yale College '93

    Richard Scott Pechter Yale College '67 Harvard Business School '69

    Hoshi N. Printer Stanford Business School '72

    Richard E. Radez Harvard Business School '69

    Thomas C. Shull Harvard Business School '81

    John P. Wheeler III Harvard Business School '69 Yale Law School '75

    The Honorable R. James Woolsey Stanford University '63 Yale Law School. '68

    The Honorable Michael W. Wynne Harvard Business School PMD 42

    More »


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