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CME’s victories included several land-grant colleges in the upper Midwest, including the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota, making ROTC elective. “The committee helped to focus latent resistance of teachers and students to military training programs,” Charles Chatfield explained in For Peace and Justice, noting that faculties at Cornell, Ohio State, and the University of Washington voted against compulsory military drill.
The battle between ROTC and its CME detractors culminated in Hamilton v. Regents of the University of California. The 1934 Supreme Court case plays as a role reversal of more recent skirmishes over ROTC. Therein, two freshmen sons of ministers sued to opt out of ROTC, while schools—fifteen land-grant colleges joined an amicus curiae brief supporting the University of California—defended the imposition of ROTC courses. “Plainly there is no ground for the contention that the regents’ order, requiring able-bodied male students under the age of twenty-four as a condition of their enrollment to take the prescribed instruction in military science and tactics, transgresses any constitutional right asserted by these appellants,” the High Court held. Unanimously, the jurists sided with the militarist schools against the pacifist students.
The separation of ROTC from such land-grant colleges became problematic because of the written expectation of military instruction present within their charters. Ultimately, just twenty schools, including three land-grant institutions, made ROTC an elective or jettisoned it entirely by the CME’s 1940 demise. Yet, the group planted seeds for later opponents of military education at civilian colleges.
After the CME’s disappearance, their stated reasons for opposing ROTC largely disappeared, too. By the arrival of the Vietnam War, few schools required ROTC and others denied it college credit. New rationales appeared in the place of moot ones. Strangely, the less justifiable the arguments against the program, the more headway critics made.
Whereas ROTC opponents could credibly charge coercion in the 1930s, they employed coercion in the 1960s. With the issue of mandatory ROTC negated by its increasingly voluntary nature, opponents protested the program’s mere existence. In doing so, leftists made a mockery of their professed principles. For instance, Mario Savio, hero of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, was arrested in 1966 trying to muzzle the speech of military recruiters. Though Berkeley had abolished its ROTC requirement in 1962, activists wished to forbid their classmates from enrolling in ROTC at Berkeley—a mirror image of Berkeley’s previous requirement that all male students take ROTC.
ROTC became a proxy battle over the Vietnam War. Radicals bombed or burned dozens of ROTC buildings during the spring semester of the 1969-1970 school year. The craze was not confined to hotbeds of radicalism. ROTC outposts at such hardly countercultural institutions as the University of Idaho, DePauw University, the University of Virginia, SUNY-Buffalo, and the University of Kentucky experienced attacks.
By the 1990s, the issues underlying the ROTC ban had changed but the overriding issue continued to wreak havoc on the professed principles of academics. Yale, for instance, accepted millions in research grants from the Department of Defense for its faculty as it prohibited its students accepting ROTC scholarships from meeting in its classrooms or drilling on its grounds. Harvard rejected ROTC while procuring millions from the bin Laden family fortune.
The protest rang hollow for another reason. Student cadets hadn’t drafted the DADT policy; Congress had. Yet, the legislative body’s money was as welcome as the cadets were unwelcome. Why impede just the scholarships tied to the military? Why not go after all student aid deriving from the same Congress that had devised DADT? If that thought had ever occurred to Ivy League administrators, they never vocalized it publically.
DADT provided academics a convenient mask for their odious tic against a noble calling. Rather than snobs against servicemen, they cast themselves as defenders of the liberties of homosexuals. But a sizable contingent of professors has always forged an adversarial relationship with the military. The response of elite schools to DADT’s repeal will show whether their stance has been made in good faith or a ruse to obscure less palatable reasons for ostracizing aspiring servicemen and women.
The upshot of repealing DADT may be that ROTC cadets find life easier at some elite schools. But it’s worth remembering what did and did not happen during December’s lame-duck congressional session. Congress changed its longstanding policy on gays in the military. It did not change academia’s longstanding hostility toward the armed forces. There are limits to even Congress’s power.
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