Riffing off Sorn's beautiful post, we started talking about how the military is viewed in different quarters of the country. There was some discussion about how in working class communities of all races (I'll never forget you my white people) the service is seen powerful corrective institution for wayward young men.
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.*
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.
The state of Alabama, with a population of less than 5 million, has 10 Army ROTC host programs. The Los Angeles metro area, population over 12 million, has four host ROTC programs. And the Chicago metro area, population 9 million, has 3. It makes sense to focus on places where space is ample and inexpensive, where candidates are most inclined sign up and pursue a career in uniform. But there is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend.
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