walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Feed
Features
Reviews
Podcast
Harvard Warms to ROTC

The New York Times carries good tidings from Cambridge:

Harvard announced on Wednesday that it would open a campus office for the Army R.O.T.C. later this year, a move the Army believes will lead to greater participation in the program by Harvard undergraduates…

Under its agreement with the Army, Harvard will provide office space for the local R.O.T.C. commander to conduct classes and counseling sessions with cadets. It will also make classrooms and athletic facilities available for training. And it will assume financial responsibility for administrative costs associated with the program. Those costs were covered by a Harvard alumni group since the R.O.T.C. left the campus.

Since the expulsion of ROTC from Harvard’s campus during the height of the Vietnam War, students hoping to serve their country after graduation have had to make the arduous trek to MIT for their training. This state of affairs continued after Vietnam, with Harvard publicly conditioning the return of ROTC on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” keeping the organization off-campus and unrecognized by the university.

More recently, however, Harvard’s last two presidents, Lawrence Summers and Drew Faust (herself a distinguished Civil War historian), have slowly worked toward rapprochement with ROTC. And when DADT was repealed in December 2010, Faust followed through on her pledge to invite the military to return, beginning with Navy ROTC. Concurring with her decision, The Harvard Crimson Editorial Board wrote a ringing endorsement for ROTC’s reinstatement:

Just as DADT represented an outdated prejudice directed toward gay American citizens, the absence of ROTC now stands as a relic of an outdated bias against the American armed forces…

We welcome the perspective of the military to Harvard’s marketplace of ideas, and believe that there can be no better context for an ROTC education than within Harvard’s curriculum and values. It is here that the complexities of moral philosophy, modern politics, and military instruction can be put into dialogue in the grand humanistic tradition of America’s greatest university. Students and teachers of all disciplines and political persuasions challenge and edify each other, and we are confident that the fruits of their considered conversations will redound to the benefit of our nation.

Via Meadia could not agree more. America’s great universities and our military need one another. The universities were wrong to drive ROTC off campus in a fit of juvenile and ill-considered rage 40 years ago. They were wrong to shift the grounds of their boycott to DADT. The estrangement has hurt elite universities and those who study there much more than it has hurt the military — though both sides have suffered.

Vain and empty posturing by narcissistic intellectuals is not the most attractive feature of American campus life today.  Thank goodness Harvard is turning down the volume just a little bit.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • An

    DADT was passed by a democratic president with a democratic controlled house and senate. Of course, Republicans voted for it too in higher percentages. But I feel DADT was used as a scapegoat by the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, et al as a cover for just being anti-military.

  • Anthony

    “Just as DADT represented an outdated prejudice directed toward gay American citizens, the absence of ROTC now stands as a relic of an outdated bias against the American armed forces…” Fair enough, most importantly rapproachment has occurred.

  • http://kieselguhrkid.blogspot.com Kieselguhr Kid

    Hold up, now — I’m a Harvard grad, and I direct commissioned after getting my Ph.D. (elsewhere) to become an active duty military officer, and Dr. Mead is wrong.

    For one thing, Harvard did _not_ “drive ROTC off campus in a fit of juvenile and ill-considered rage” — that’s just wrong. Harvard asked the military to show that ROTC classes met some kind of academic standard, which seems reasonable. The military chose not to and ROTC left. As has been well-documented since, the military has more or less chosen not to recruit from Northeast elite college and this decision will make little difference in that.

    In general I am not unfriendly to ROTC but don’t really think a lot of it either. Any Harvard grad who wants to direct commission probably can. ROTC will I suppose give you a transient advantage over your fellow officers in drill and ceremony and other things officers don’t do, and it comes at a commitment cost that weakens your ability, in my opinion, to do your job independently and well. I don’t particularly think ROTC at Harvard does much for the country — or for Harvard — one way or another.

    There’s another separate problem of the fact that in many of our elite circles we don’t really see people who have been in uniform, and in the military we are really disconnected from a lot of American intellectual and urban culture, and that rift needs to be lessened. But it is far from clear that this approach is the way to achieve that and I don’t see Dr. Mead making that case: indeed, I don’t think that case exists.

  • http://kieselguhrkid.blogspot.com Kieselguhr Kid

    Sorry, for those unacquainted with the military: Dr. Mead’s claim that “students hoping to serve their country after graduation have had to make the arduous trek to MIT for their training” is rubbish, and not merely because I’ve _walked_ that distance many many many times. Harvard students wishing to serve their country after graduating can (as I did) go to a recruiter, find some brass to talk to, and do it. Period. Easy-peasy. Harvard students _wishing to participate in ROTC_, a program with good and bad aspects and not widely prevalent in the area anyway, have to do it via MIT, and if the military sources Northeast ROTC programs with anywhere near the density and interest they have in past, then the same type of arrangement will _still_ be the case only with different students schlepping in different directions in a service-dependent manner.

    I don’t deny the symbolic value, but that’s all it is.

  • WigWag

    Distance from Harvard Square to Kendall Square is 1.7 miles. There are about 5 Starbucks, 2 McDonalds and 1 Legal Sea Foods on the route where the tired recruit can find sustenance. If it’s too far to walk, maybe the military is not the right choice of profession.

  • JKB

    Well, DOD could have solve this little problem long ago. Simply by refusing to let DOD personnel attend the Kennedy School of Government programs and establishing a relationship with another university for such training. The Harvard types could still be welcome at the new venue but no cash going into Harvard’s coffers. Not to mention, making it a the Kennedy School a backwater with little actual impact on government staff.

  • Kris

    I was going to rib the oh-so accomplished Kieselguhr Kid for failing to recognize our host’s typical and obvious humor (“arduous trek”), but then I read the next comment.

  • vanderleun

    Well, how enlightened of Harvard. Now if the $60K per year Bard College could just pull it’s finger out….

  • Chase

    “Vain and empty posturing by narcissistic intellectuals is not the most attractive feature of American campus life today.”

    Are neo populist libertarians exempt for this critique? And if so, why?

  • http://kieselguhrkid.blogspot.com Kieselguhr Kid

    Kris, we can talk about my accomplishments or lack thereof sometime. But in this context if I tell you I’m a Harvard grad and an active military officer, it is to establish the point that in this context I do, and oddly Dr. Mead does not, know whereof I speak: for example the story of ROTC getting “kicked off” of campus.

  • Kris

    Kid@10: And I referred in an unrespectful tone to your accomplishments in the classic context of city-slicker mocking.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2014 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service