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Now that Congress has lifted its “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) prohibition on open homosexuals serving in the military, elite colleges will once again embrace the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), right?
It would be that simple if the campus opposition to ROTC was as simple as Congress’s policy on gays in the military serving as the sticking point. Alas, academics objected to military courses and campus drill from the World War I-era inception of ROTC. The ostensible reason for the campus war on ROTC has shifted over time. But the underlying reason—an undercurrent of hostility toward the military in academia—is constant. That is why nobody should be surprised if some of the campuses blocking student access to ROTC continue their policy of exclusion.
“I look forward to pursuing discussions with military officials and others to achieve Harvard’s full and formal recognition of ROTC,” explained Harvard President Drew Faust after the repeal of DADT. Similarly, Yale President Richard Levin expressed hope for “a new chapter in the long history of Yale’s support of the U.S. Armed Services.” Even before DADT’s repeal, the dean of students at Columbia asked the university community “to consider whether the right question may no longer be ‘How could we ever formally recognize ROTC on our campus,’ but, instead, ‘How can we not welcome them back?’”
But ROTC wasn’t kicked off Harvard, Yale, and Columbia because of the military’s exclusion of open homosexuals. The Vietnam War served as the pretext for ROTC’s campus banishment. When the Vietnam War ended, ROTC tellingly did not return. Another disqualifying rationale, gays in the military, eventually took its place. Now that the ban on open homosexuals serving in the military has been lifted, it’s no guarantee that academia’s ban on ROTC will be lifted, too.
Who knows if the military’s ageism, handicapism, or sizeism will provide new justifications for ROTC prohibitionists, or if the Department of Defense, weary of past hostility, will even attempt a return to unfriendly campuses?
Some opponents of ROTC are honest enough to admit that the repeal of DADT doesn’t change their minds. Colman McCarthy, a monomaniac on the need for “peace studies” programs, took to the pages of the Washington Post to call for ROTC’s permanent separation from academic life. “It should not be forgotten that schools have legitimate and moral reasons for keeping the military at bay, regardless of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” McCarthy wrote last Thursday. “They can stand with those who for reasons of conscience reject military solutions to conflicts.” Lest anyone accuse McCarthy of anti-military bias, he assures: “I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s.”
The important point conveyed by McCarthy’s column is that animus toward the military is more deeply rooted than the seventeen-year-old DADT policy. Opposition to ROTC is as old as ROTC itself. Early objections focused on the compulsory nature of the program, the lack of rigor of for-credit classes, and the intrusion of the federal government in curricular matters. Between world wars, the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Committee against Militarism in Education (CME), including such Left luminaries as socialist leader Norman Thomas, churchman John Nevin Sayre, and Nation editor Oswald Garrison Villard, led the fight against ROTC.
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