Ivy Leaguers and the military have begun a drive to put ROTC back on campus at Harvard, Yale and Columbia as they try to heal the lingering wounds caused by the antiwar protests of the 1960s that led to the corps' banishment there.
A recent conference on the Harvard campus brought together about 100 participants from nearly every military branch and several Ivy League schools, from ultraliberal professors to retired admirals. Their goal: closing the ideological crevasse that still separates the military from some Ivy League circles.
"My own education, partially here at Harvard, in the entitlement of an Ivy League institution, gave me an arrogance that I wish had been more challenged while I was here," Harvard professor Diane Moore said.
A self-described "lesbian feminist, economically privileged, pacifist-leaning Harvard professor," Ms. Moore said she clashed often with her father, a conservative World War II veteran and former high school football star.
"My father and I embody the tensions that this conference seeks to explore and all that is implied in the designations 'Ivy' and 'military,' " said Ms. Moore, an opening panelist at "Ivies and Military Toward Reconciliation."
After decades of epochal battles, Ms. Moore said, she finally grew to appreciate her father's sensibilities and the selfless work ethic he brought to raising his family.
"As a professor and someone who finally came around to understand the nature of the fact that my privileges to be at a place like this are all due to my father's sacrifices ... we have to learn better how to engage our differences," said Ms. Moore.
Lukas Filler, a former Navy pilot who flew combat missions ranging from Bosnia to Baghdad and is now a second-year student at the Harvard Divinity School, said getting the two sides together will help them to understand the other's point of view.
"Military have real-life experiences, which give them a unique appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities found in modern conflicts, while academics/intellectuals have deep knowledge of specific subject areas that military may not," Mr. Filler said.
Raz Mason said she began straddling the realms of armed conflict and pastoral care after working to prevent domestic violence and seeing what she described as widespread, unresolved societal trauma. This interest in resolving trauma among war veterans led her to later embed for several months with Seattle University's ROTC unit.
"I was tremendously impressed with the moral and ethical questions these young soon-to-be-officers raised among themselves," said Ms. Mason. "I also was quite impressed with the military's leadership and mentoring training models, even as I was concerned about the life-and-death subject matter."
Ms. Mason, a Unitarian Universalist pastor-in-training, received her commission as a Navy chaplain and was sworn in as a naval officer at the reconciliation conference.
"[T]here are actually a number of initiatives in the military that might be considered progressive and attractive to those in the academy" she said, pointing to "more emphasis on understanding other cultures and faiths - understanding them on their own terms, not just so that we can manipulate situations to our desired ends - and an emphasis on stability and reconstruction."
Noticeably absent from the reconciliation conference were members of the Harvard administration, who have the final say in allowing ROTC recruiters back on campus.
Harvard spokesman John Longbrake said recruiters with the active military have "the same access on campus as other recruiters," and pointed out that Harvard students can participate in ROTC exercises down the road at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He declined to comment on the recent reconciliation conference and cited a June ROTC commissioning address by Harvard University President Drew Faust, who congratulated the 2008 graduating ROTC class.
"I wish that there were more of you," Ms. Faust said then. "I believe that every Harvard student should have the opportunity to serve in the military, as you do, and as those honored in the past have done."
Some at the conference are hopeful that a bill in the U.S. House, sponsored by Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, will end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," thus eliminating a contentious issue between the two sides. The bill has 137 co-sponsors, including one Republican, and is pending before a House Armed Services subcommittee.
Kathy Roth-Douquet, author of "AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from the Military and How it Hurts Our Country," noted that the "Don't Ask" policy was implemented by civilian leaders - members of Congress and former President Bill Clinton - rather than military leaders, who are merely following orders and don't deserve the scorn of elites eschewing what they see as a "homophobic" policy.
However, retired Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, a former senior medical officer for the Coast Guard who is openly gay, says Congress is likely to take its cues from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who in the past have argued that openly gay service members could harm overall troop morale.
"I don't think you'll get conservative Democrats voting for the repeal if the Joint Chiefs don't say, 'It's OK, we'll make it work,' " said Mr. Steinman, who advised President Obama's transition team in January on the impact of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"It is the only federal law authorizing an employer to fire someone for being gay, lesbian or bisexual," he said. "It forces gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military to lie about who they are ... members live in constant fear that they will be discovered."
Nearly 13,000 people have been discharged from the military since "Don't Ask" went into effect, Mr. Steinman said, and an additional estimated 40,000 people have left voluntarily out of fear they would be discovered. Those rejected include valuable specialists with experience as linguists, human intelligence collectors, engineers and explosives experts.
Whatever happens with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Ivy Leaguers and the military need to develop a mutual respect for each other in order to move forward, said Donna Hicks, a specialist in conflict resolution at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.
"This is about people. This isn't about politics," she said.