- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

Harvard is open to just about anything, but for 40 years it has been closed to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. That’s about to change.

Gen. David H. Petraeus will be the featured speaker at this year’s ROTC commissioning ceremony at Harvard University, marking a step in Harvard’s reclaiming of its honored tradition of service to the country.

There are about three dozen Harvard students in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), but the program is officially unrecognized. Students get no credit for military-science classes, and course work and drills are held at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Gen. Petraeus’ son Stephen will be commissioned this year. The officer-commissioning program was kicked off Harvard’s campus in 1969, the same year the Crimson student newspaper editorialized in favor of a North Vietnamese victory.

In later years, bereft of the Vietnam pretext, ROTC opponents justified the program’s exile using the military’s ban on homosexuality. This discrimination argument is specious because it punishes students who have little plausible influence on policy, while Harvard continues to welcome senior military and civilian defense policymakers to the Kennedy School of Government and other programs. About 150 members of the military are currently at Harvard in various capacities, and the current and two most recent former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are graduates of Harvard courses. Yet ROTC students have been relegated to second-class status, banished from the campus in the name of diversity.

Resistance to full reinstatement of ROTC comes mainly from tenured faculty. Retired Navy Capt. Paul Mawn (Class of 1963), chairman of Advocates for Harvard ROTC, points to the “Woodstock generation” of antiwar students who morphed into professors and now are part of a vocal minority using the issue as a continuing validation of their student-activist days. But, he notes, these people are nearing the ends of their careers, and the rising generations are not as committed to the anti-ROTC cause. The most petty of the indignities visited on ROTC cadets, such as bans against wearing uniforms on campus or against mentioning their activities in the yearbook, have been lifted.

Harvard has a long and distinguished military tradition dating back to the American War for Independence, in which seven Harvardians died under arms. During the Civil War, the 20th Massachusetts was known as the “Harvard Regiment” for the number of graduates in its ranks. Among them were Capt. and later Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who in his 1885 paean to the dead of his regiment memorably said, “the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire.” Among those he honored was Col. Paul Revere Jr. - grandson of his patriot namesake - who was mortally wounded on the second day of Gettysburg. He and other graduates who fought for the Union are commemorated in Harvard’s Memorial Hall, which was dedicated in 1874.

The ROTC program was founded by students a few years before World War I. Its members proudly wore their khaki uniforms at the 1917 commencement ceremony shortly after the United States entered the war. Howard Elliott, president of the Harvard Alumni Association, spoke of the “moral courage, self- denial and willingness to die in support of a just cause” that “represents the true Harvard spirit of service.”

Five hundred and fifty graduates of the officer training program served in the First Word War, and Harvardians also served in great numbers in World War II and the Korean conflict.

Ten Medal of Honor recipients are Harvard graduates. This includes the famous, such as Col. (later President) Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1880, for his charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War; and lesser-known heroes, such as U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Sherrod E. Skinner, Class of 1951, who was killed when he threw himself on a grenade in Korea to save the lives of his comrades.

Over the next few weeks, the Harvard alumni will be voting for candidates for the Board of Overseers. Two board candidates, Robert L. Freedman and Harvey A. Silverglate, have publicly backed the ROTC’s return to campus. We hope alumni will cast their ballots for these two candidates and any others who support ROTC’s full reinstatement.

Harvard points with pride to the current and former members of its community who have served our country honorably in peace and war. America’s most prestigious university should take similar pride in the aspirations and dedication of the undergraduates who seek to follow in the hallowed tradition of the long crimson line.

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