Bring ROTC Back to Harvard? Who Needs 'Em

I’d like to share some thoughts sent to me by my friend, Chad Garland, President of the Illini Veterans Student Organization.

Chad writes:

A few weeks ago, Sandra Korn wrote a piece in the Harvard Crimson critical of Harvard President Drew G. Faust’s declaration that the university would “fully and formally” recognize the Reserve Officers Training Corps on campus if and when the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed. Korn argued that Harvard should not “blindly” support ROTC and suggested that reinstating the program could set a “national precedent of blind support for the U.S. military.” In the wake of the DADT repeal, Harvard has announced that it will allow ROTC back on campus. However, I don’t think ROTC should blindly return to Harvard.

I greatly respect the rights of those who want an overpriced education at an insular and arrogant institution; however, I’ve begun to doubt that the Ivies are generally producing individuals fit to be military leaders.

It’s true that Harvard was once a proud supporter of our nation’s military. Carl R. Cannon at PoliticsDaily outlines in more explicit terms what Korn refers to simply as a “long and illustrious history of producing successful military leaders.” Cannon mentions the traces of this history etched on the walls in Harvard’s Memorial Hall and Memorial Church on Harvard Square, and notes that Harvard had the oldest ROTC program in the country before administrators abolished it in 1969. So why shouldn’t ROTC be happy to return to such an institution?

First of all, Harvard abolished its ROTC program to appease anti-war protesters from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) after the group staged a sit-in demanding as much. You might be familiar with SDS as the organization whose national leadership formed an underground faction called the Weathermen, which promoted violent overthrow of the U.S. Government and which set off bombs at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, the State Department, and many other government buildings and sites. So, the fact that Harvard has maintained a policy that began out of appeasement for a terrorist organization’s front group is a matter of some concern for me. We want courageous men and women in the service, not a bunch of Puseys who’ll be intimidated by cut phone lines or human chains, but it doesn’t look like Harvard’s culture supports this kind of courage.

The University continued its ban on ROTC for over 40 years, only in recent years it claimed to do so out of principled opposition to DADT, which Korn considers a violation of Harvard’s anti-discrimination “laws”. That a Harvard student apparently can’t tell the difference between a private institution’s policies and our actual laws is perhaps troubling. Korn may be unaware that the military policy against homosexuals was established by a law congress passed during Bill Clinton’s first term as President. Perhaps she’s also unaware that Harvard’s policies are not above the law, since according to the Harvard student handbook: “Careful note should be taken that the University is not, and cannot be considered as, a protector or sanctuary from the existing laws of the city, state, or federal government.”

If Korn thinks Harvard’s policies have the force of law, it may be no surprise that she’s confused about who sets military policies and laws. Harvard’s anti-ROTC arguments and actions don’t seem to offer any more clarity. The University penalizes ROTC for discrimination because it has enforced a valid law, yet Harvard does not seem to routinely turn away visits from members of Congress who passed the law or President Clinton who signed the law and whose administration issued the policy that gave “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” its name. Harvard doesn’t even turn away high-ranking DoD officials like Admiral Mike Mullen when they come to visit. Harvard doesn’t refuse federal grants in protest – funding which constitutes approximately 15% of its yearly budget (about $400 million) – even though the school has the largest endowment in the nation. In other words, Harvard punishes those least able to change the law that it deems discriminatory while offering a platform to those who helped formulate it in the first place, all without really putting anything on the line for its principled opposition.

Our military officers are expected to lead by example, and the U.S. Military requires the highest standards of integrity, leadership, and honor. It cannot afford to entrust its officer formation to an institution with a habit of such blatant political opportunism and misleading rhetoric. Unlike military leaders who must put their lives on the line for their principles, however, in opposing DADT the way it has, Harvard has offered nothing more than hollow words.

What’s worse than the empty rhetoric is that students like Korn and others who oppose the military have failed to evaluate the situation using critical thinking skills and sound reasoning. Instead of examining the school’s rhetoric, these credulous students simply pile on a list of offenses to charge the military with. Korn reiterates the claims of discrimination, adding her own charges, seemingly convinced that the military operates independent of the Legislative or Executive Branches. But isn’t this what Harvard’s statements and actions have implied?

Some commentators have argued that Harvard’s recent position was only a fig leaf covering an otherwise naked institutional bias against the military held over from the Vietnam era. Another Crimson writer argued that opposition to DADT is but one of many excuses the University has given for opposing ROTC over the past forty years, suggesting a cultural opposition to the military. Korn’s piece lends credence to these claims and demonstrates the deep-seated, ignorant animus toward the military when she suggests DADT was only one among several issues.

President Faust added in a speech that she hopes “the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ would smooth over lingering opposition to the military’s presence on campus.” Unfortunately, she incorrectly presumes that DADT is the only viable objection to the U.S. armed forces.

We must be expected to guess at what those viable objections are, since Korn doesn’t actually present one. What she does offer is a laundry list of allegations.

…the U.S. Department of Defense has faced allegations of abuse ranging from torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to training Latin American soldiers in anti-humanitarian tactics and principles at the School of the Americas. The Iraq War alone has seen torture at Abu Ghraib, the Haditha massacre, and the horrifying shootings by Blackwater military contractors in Baghdad, as well as approximately 100,000 civilian deaths. Wikileaks recently exposed that within the last decade, the U.S. armed forces have engaged in countless non-humanitarian and debatably illegal practices in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has provided military aid in support of Israel’s aggressive actions against Palestinian civilians. These are not actions that Harvard University should condone, let alone support.

I suppose we are meant to take it on faith or the word of a Harvard Freshman that these “allegations” are true and that the “debatably illegal practices” are not-so-debatably illegal after all. It disgusts me that Korn would invoke the 100,000-civilian death toll in a list clearly intended to catalog military misdeeds. The suggestion that these deaths are the intended results of actions for which the U.S. military is solely to blame is utterly wrong and reprehensible. She apparently fails to consider that if the military were truly “anti-humanitarian” as she suggests, incidences like those at Abu Ghraib and Haditha would not be the aberrations they appear to be and the civilian death toll would be much greater. She also fails to consider that, had we done nothing, more than 100,000 Iraqis likely would have died under Saddam Hussein’s rule. Perhaps Korn is unaware that, according to Human Rights Watch, in just one operation alone, Hussein ordered the killing of 100,000 Kurdish men and boys.

Don’t get me wrong, it saddens me that 100,000 civilians have been killed during our tenure in Iraq, as I’m sure it saddens most men and women who have served or are serving our nation. I don’t want to minimize that number, but we know that war is not a pleasant and desirable thing, and I think most of us know the pains the U.S. Military goes to in preventing needless deaths – even to the extreme point of risking U.S. troops simply to avoid unacceptable civilian casualties. Students like Korn have little concept of what war is really like, but they have no compunction about standing back and passing judgment on the men and women who face the horrors and ambiguities of combat every day. Korn probably doesn’t realize that our enemies disguise themselves as non-combatants and use civilians as shields. She probably doesn’t understand that they take families hostage in their own homes, then fire mortars from those homes onto U.S. forces and flee, leaving the family to suffer the U.S. counterstrike. She probably doesn’t realize that since this practice was discovered, the U.S. has changed its response -because our military does uphold basic humanitarian principles, even in the face of these cowardly and deadly attacks.

And let’s put humanitarianism and pacifism in perspective. We can’t forget that 11 years of “humanitarian” actions like sanctions and UN resolutions (not to mention the scandalous Oil-for-Food Programme) resulted in a loss according to some estimates of a half million Iraqi children’s lives. On balance, contrary to Korn’s claims, the military seems to do a better job of humanitarian work than the UN’s pacifiers.

But, Korn clearly sees no requirement that her list of multifarious allegations offer a balanced picture of our efforts to fight a just war – any bloodshed appears to be a crime in her book. She also fails to explain why the military should bear the blame for the “horrifying shootings” Blackwater civilians committed while conducting security for the U.S. Department of State, or why U.S. support of Israel should be held against military recruiting and officer training programs, let alone that support should be anathema to Harvard elites. Obviously, as far as Korn and her Harvard compatriots are concerned, all foreign policy is dictated by the U.S. military and the mere implication of impropriety is sufficient to prove crimes against humanity.

And yet, Korn tells us she has “the utmost respect for the women and men who serve our country every day”. It is because of this respect, apparently, that she can say, “As long as the armed forces continue to act in a manner inconsistent with basic humanitarian principles, ROTC does not belong on Harvard’s campus.”

Recall that Harvard’s dedication to humanitarian principles has inspired such graduates as Amy Bishop (suspect in the February 2010 University of Alabama shooting), Jeffrey Skilling (President of Enron Corporation), and Ted Kaczynksi (the Unabomber). By contrast, when the military and Harvard have collaborated, men like General Leonard Wood (Commanding Officer of the Rough Riders and Medal of Honor Recipient), Colonel Theodore Roosevelt (Rough Riders’ Executive Officer, Medal of Honor Recipient, U.S. President, and Nobel Peace Prize Recipient), and 2nd Lieutenant Sherrod Skinner (posthumous Medal of Honor Recipient–literally threw himself on a grenade). The latter reflect great credit upon the military and Harvard University; a ROTC program at Harvard may yet produce more exemplars of humanitarian virtue, but I am suspicious that the school’s prevailing values have changed such that self-sacrifice and gallantry are no longer culturally relevant.

For example, you can’t convince Korn that Harvard grads have an opportunity to improve the military — she’ll tell you, “it is…offensive and unfair to expect people to join and thereby support an institution that fundamentally contradicts their principles.” In other words: we don’t want to be a part of the solution. But, isn’t this supposed to be the generation that elected the one man (a Harvard man) who could change Washington? More to the point, do we really want military officers who are offended by the opportunity to improve the military?

As with most of the arrogant pseudo-academic opposition to the military or to military policies that I’ve read, Korn’s piece is so rife with fallacies that I was tempted to dedicate a few pages to refuting each of her points. I realize how pointless that is, but, like tonguing a cut on the roof of your mouth, it’s hard not to do. Korn’s commentary is a cheap regurgitation of anti-military sentiment and elitist rhetoric, though she may not know it. After all, Korn is only a freshman at Harvard, and no matter what else she may think of herself, she is still only learning to parrot the gospel of intellectual fascism.

Truth is, I agree with Korn’s main point – ROTC should keep away from Harvard – but not because ROTC poorly reflects the school’s values, in fact, I think it’s the other way around. I think that if a ROTC return to Harvard results in the recruitment of students who would not have joined the program when it was unwelcome, then we are dishonoring the legacy of Harvard’s Charles DePriest, Steven Peck, and Theodore Block, who, in the spirit of true military leadership, found a way to circumvent the Harvard ban by enrolling in ROTC classes at MIT. If students at Harvard are willing to join ROTC only when it’s acceptable, easy, or popular, then they are perhaps not the caliber of students we should expect from a school with such a strong military legacy.

I propose that enduring the hardship of cross-registering for ROTC classes at MIT offers great merit for instilling motivated cadets with notions self-sacrifice and endurance – notions that seem rare among classmates like Korn, and notions that will serve them in their future as military leaders. Of course, if a ROTC return means that students like Korn die a little bit inside or, in double-twist of irony, fall in love with a strapping young Marine Option (male or female), I wouldn’t be at all disappointed.

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