The Magazine

ROTC returns to Harvard, the Qaddafi concerts, & more

From the Scrapbook

Mar 14, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 25 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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ROTC Returns to Harvard

ROTC returns to Harvard, the Qaddafi concerts, & more

Everyone knows that the military’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) chapters were kicked off America’s elite university campuses—Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, et al.—because of hostility to the draft and to the armed forces during the Vietnam war. The draft ended, the war ended, but the antimilitary animus endured, though the universities in question increasingly sought to disguise their ideological hostility to ROTC training behind a smokescreen of “civil rights” concerns: namely, opposition to the policy of turning away openly homosexual volunteers, otherwise known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. 

Once Congress repealed that policy during its lame-duck session in December, it might have seemed that the last plausible excuse for banning ROTC had been removed. But that would be to underestimate the creativity and cowardice of university administrators. Early last week Harvard president Drew Faust said that while talks with the military were under way, progress was slow because “issues that are being voiced now by transgender students are ones that I think the military hasn’t entirely sorted through.”

Happily—perhaps embarrassed by the transparent lameness of this new talking point—Harvard saw the light three days later and announced the imminent return of ROTC to the campus, after a four-decade hiatus. Faust and Navy secretary Ray Mabus signed an agreement on March 4 to create a Naval ROTC chapter at Harvard.

At the other elite universities, delay is still the order of the day—sorry, make that deliberation. Brown and Stanford have set up “committees” to study the issue. Columbia has a “task force,” and Yale is actually having a “discussion” between the administration and the faculty. But when even Senator John Kerry is calling on his alma mater to follow Harvard’s lead, as he did in an open letter to Yale president Richard C. Levin on March 4, it’s probably just a matter of time before the holdouts cave.

The return of ROTC to our top campuses is worth celebrating, however grudging that process turns out to be. As Cheryl Miller and Gary Schmitt wrote in these pages a few weeks ago:

“Top-tier schools should aim to have top-tier ROTC programs. In so doing, they would help ensure that the American officer corps reflects America as a whole—thereby allowing ROTC to fulfill its original purpose. No less important, returning ROTC to elite university campuses will restore a proud tradition of military service. When the first ROTC units were established at the land grant colleges, students at Harvard, Yale, and other prominent schools petitioned for their own programs so they too might have the chance to demonstrate their patriotism. And serve they did. Yale’s Memorial Hall is covered from floor to ceiling with the names of students and faculty who fought from World War I through the Vietnam war, while Harvard boasts the highest number of Medal of Honor recipients outside the service academies.

“Not everyone agrees with the decision to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But its repeal does provide an opening for repairing relations between some of the nation’s top universities and the military services—a rift that has been unhealthy for universities, their students, and the armed forces. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t go to waste.” ♦

Frank Buckles, 1901-2011

The Scrapbook notes, with some sadness, the death of 110-year-old Frank Woodruff Buckles at his home near Charles Town, West Virginia. Buckles was the last American veteran of World War I​—​leaving, so far as anybody knows, only two veterans of the 1914-18 conflagration in the world, one in England and the other in Australia. 

Of course, the peaceful death of any 110-year-old is neither a great shock nor tragedy, and Frank Buckles died full of honors and admiration. He had been a successful farmer and businessman in his long life, and by a curious turn of fate, spent much of World War II as a civilian prisoner of war in the Philippines, where he had been working in the shipping business. His funeral was attended by the British ambassador and an honor guard from the French government.

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