- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tomorrow, Harvard University will mark its 36th consecutive Memorial Day without the Reserve Officer Training Corps. The story is similar at many other of the nation’s finest schools. Cowed university administrators kicked ROTC off campus in an anti-Vietnam fervor and never looked back, not seriously. Years turned into decades and the arguments changed, but the policies did not. It’s time for Harvard, Columbia, Yale and other schools to heed what President Bush said last week: “It should not be hard for our great schools of learning to find room to honor the service of men and women who are standing up to defend the freedoms that make the work of our universities possible.” It’s time to give ROTC a chance.

We try to afford university administrators the benefit of the doubt when they argue that ROTC cannot return to campus because “Don’t ask, don’t tell” conflicts with campus antidiscrimination policies. It keeps getting harder. The morphing of this intellectual defense always seemed incredibly seamless, from an overt hostility to the military during the Vietnam era to a matter of civil rights, often advanced by the same people, and with the same practical conclusions. The Supreme Court’s 2006 Rumsfeld vs. FAIR decision clarified a thing or two.

This ruling to enforce the Solomon Act requires universities to choose between their military-recruiting bans and many types of federal funding. No recruiting, no funding. Faced with this dilemma, the schools showed a lack of courage in their convictions which, while understandable in the specifics, had nothing to do with stated principle. Harvard Law, among others previously banning recruiters, chose to allow recruiters back on campus, citing fiduciary obligations to the rest of the university.

The end of the recruiting battle has implications for ROTC. It means that the continued resistance to ROTC, if principled, is now an inconsistently applied principle which can be trumped by financial considerations.

These schools were wrong in the first instance when they concluded that their indignation at military policies of any kind could somehow excuse the practical effect of shunting military service onto others. Among other negatives, this exacerbated the rift between the military and elite civilian society, which opened with the end of the draft and continues to exist to this day.

One of the recent years’ most remarkable rebukes to the anti-ROTC disposition at elite schools came not two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and even then it was rebuke by implication. The date was Nov. 4, 2001, the location was Yale’s Battel Chapel and the speaker was Donald Kagan, who at the time was Yale’s Hillhouse professor of history and classics.

“Since every citizen has natural rights and powers, every one of them must understand and esteem the institutions, laws, and traditions of his country if it is to succeed,” he said. “Jefferson meant American education to produce a necessary patriotism. To add one humble voice to a great one, I agree. Democracy, of all political systems, because it depends on the participation of its citizens in their own government and because it depends on their own free will to risk their lives in its defense, stands in the greatest need of an education that produces patriotism.” We are not required “to admire our own [country] uncritically” — quite the opposite. But “Few countries have been subjected to as much criticism and questioning even from its patriotic citizens, as our own.”

Mr. Kagan then proceeded to lambaste the “assaults on patriotism” which “are made by privileged people who enjoy the full benefits offered by the country they deride and detest, its opportunities, its freedom, its riches, but they lack the basic decency to pay it the allegiance and respect that honor demands.”

If these words do not illustrate for “privileged people” the disconnect between their civic obligations and their continued shunning of ROTC, nothing will.

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