Welcome Back ROTC

Harvard lifts its four-decade-long ban on the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Harvard announced on Friday that it will lift its four-decade-long ban on the Reserve Officers Training Corps. It’s about time.

The prohibition formally ceases when the military implements Congress’s repeal of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy later this year. Although Harvard’s agreement now extends only to the Department of the Navy, the school intends to reach out to other branches of the military as well. Harvard’s recognition won’t likely change the burden of cadets traveling two subway stops to MIT to participate in training and education since there are too few cadets at Harvard to justify a separate unit. Recognition will grant such perks as office space, funding, and access to Harvard vehicles. During periods of ROTC’s exile, Harvard prevented cadets from meeting in unused classroom space and holding commissioning ceremonies in Harvard Yard. The attitude on the Cambridge, Massachusetts campus has become more tolerant toward martial pursuits since 9/11.

“Our renewed relationship affirms the vital role that the members of our Armed Forces play in serving the nation and securing our freedoms, while also affirming inclusion and opportunity as powerful American ideals,” Harvard President Drew Faust proclaimed. “It broadens the pathways for students to participate in an honorable and admirable calling and in so doing advances our commitment to both learning and service.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, a Harvard Law graduate who also spoke at the ceremony announcing ROTC’s return, concurred: “It does not serve our country well if any part of society does not share in the honor of its defense.”

Not everyone, particularly at Harvard, finds military service so honorable. Outside Friday’s historic ceremony, dozens of protestors chanted “No ROTC without trans equality” and held signs reading “R.I.P. non-discrimination policy.” Just as the exclusion of open homosexuals from military service acted as the justification for the ban on ROTC long after the original Vietnam rationale had become history, the military’s exclusion of transsexuals, some had hoped, would become the new issue blocking ROTC on campus. Harvard’s non-discrimination policy, like those at several other top schools, forbids discrimination based on gender identity.

The failure for this argument to resonate—perhaps for the obvious reason that there are few transsexuals and fewer still interested in military careers—at Harvard likely bodes well for ROTC’s reestablishment at other elite campuses. Just as colleges played follow the leader to Harvard when it first moved against ROTC in 1969, schools will likely imitate America’s most esteemed school’s move to restore ROTC in 2011. Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and Brown are among elite institutions of higher learning considering an about-face on ROTC in light of Congress’s about-face on the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Harvard beating these other schools to the punch stemmed from the pressure of alumni, Massachusetts junior Senator Scott Brown, and even President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to welcome back the military now that the military welcomes open homosexuals. Perhaps the most direct catalyst came when Yale President Richard C. Levin contacted Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about resurrecting ROTC on the New Haven campus. Who wants to come in second to an ancient rival?

The Ivy League institution’s longstanding policy of accepting military grants and contracts for faculty as it shunned students who received military scholarships highlighted the university’s peculiar take on what constituted dirty money. While Harvard treated ROTC cadets accepting scholarship money from the military as pariahs, it welcomed millions from the bin Laden family fortune to fund the study of Islam. “It’s clear the Saudi bin Laden money is being put to good use here,” University spokesman Alex S. Huppé explained in 1998. The Boston Globe editorialized Sunday against the Monitor Group, a Cambridge outfit that raked in millions for its Harvard professor founders by advising Muammar Qaddafi’s murderous Libyan regime and providing it with additional Harvard scholars as consultants.

Never has John Harvard’s good name been whored out to so many bad people.  So ROTC’s return to Harvard is more public relations victory for America’s oldest university than it is conquest of enemy territory for the American military.

The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines prospered without Harvard’s support. Harvard, too, fared well without a campus military presence. But in making outcasts of aspiring servicemen, Harvard made itself an outcast in much of the nation that surrounds. Reversing forty years of self-righteous stupidity will do much to repair a damaged reputation.

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.