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.
LETTER TO PRESIDENT AND BOARD, COLUMBIA, HARVARD, STANFORD, YALE
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