Time To End The ROTC Ban
By John Wheeler
John Wheeler, the first Chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, was a key person in building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in November of 1982.
Close the Open Wound on Vets: End the Ban on ROTC at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia Effective Memorial Day 2010
Newly-formed American Warfighters Fund sets Monday May 31, 2010 as the day for elite colleges to join with the military for a win-win solution to ending the 42 year-old ban.
A Mistake Widely Recognized
In 1968 the ban on ROTC was set in place in college campuses for a mix of reasons, to protest the Vietnam War. The practical effect, intended in great part by many proponents of the bans, was to direct anger, spite and disesteem at America’s active duty warfighters and defenders, veterans, and leading policymakers.
The bleed of rejection of the warfighters and of the veterans “blamed the soldier for the war” is a mistake now widely recognized : such a mistake has fortunately not been repeated in Desert Storm and in the current fights in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the wound remains open, and the bans have continued for 42 years. The current justification for the bans is that they are needed to pressure leaders to end the stigmatization of gay military personnel with the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy (DADT).
The intent of the bans in 2010 makes no sense for any of the participants, most especially the leaders and proponents of the bans:
- The bans inhibit the flow of able, talented young officers into the military in a new Century of grave threats facing the United States. Harvard’s George Santayana long ago warned: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
- There is no systematic evidence that the majority of gays in the military and gay vets want fellow military personnel in ROTC stigmatized to end the stigma on gays.
- Stigmatizing one group of youngsters in order to de-stigmatize another group is self-defeating and a policy oxymoron. It expresses the principle of not stigmatizing an innocent person by stigmatizing other innocent people.
- The bans perpetuate the practice of “blame the soldier” — the youngsters are not to blame for any aspect of DADT.
- The US government and the Pentagon are working actively to end the DADT policy, and it is Congress who must act in the end. This means a ban in any way aimed at military leaders and the Pentagon is now moot and no longer serves its purpose.
- Majorities of all the stakeholders at the elite colleges favor ending the bans, especially students and alumni, and many or most faculty. The hard core disdain for the military and vets seems to rest just in small pockets of bitter and old professors at elite colleges who have inside ability to manipulate the governance process of the colleges. The center of gravity at the elite colleges has become to support the youngsters who defend our country, and to recognize the grave threats that face the nation — in accordance with the long tradition of sacrifice and valor at the best colleges.
- Thanks to long activism by alumni, there is already stirring in the elite campuses a movement to end the ROTC ban. The Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization has been a sturdy leader and has earned great thanks from all military and vets.
Time For Closure
As a student at Harvard Business School in 1968, I saw first hand the birth of the ROTC bans. The anger and disesteem was evident, plainly. The experience led in later years to my work as Chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, to build the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC. It has led to my forming the American Warfighters Fund, which will formally launch on Memorial Day, 2010. The Fund addresses unmet needs in the community of families of active military and vets, matters overlooked or too sensitive to engage by other organizations, such as lifting the ROTC ban, the dearth of Medals of Honor awarded in the current fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, and emerging medical issues such as the effect of heavy metal exposure on our military in burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, given cases of cancer now being reported.
The 21st century bodes hard war for our Country. Iraq and Afghanistan are really brisk fights and not wars, as war among nations cycles through history. In any event, the best deterrent to war is strength: that is the human condition. Harvard and Yale have Memorial Chapel and Memorial Hall marking the burdens of freedom that Harvard and Yale, Stanford and Columbia graduates have stepped up to and borne. The current situation with the ROTC Ban in effect is to suppress and shroud this heritage, and steer both schools away from duty and service in defense of freedom.
It boils down to that. More students at top colleges in this new Century would step up and serve if both schools were not burdening ROTC students with the travails of the ban, and radiating a mixed message: “Elite colleges want the Defense Department’s research money and tuition for officers in our graduate schools; we do not deign to defend our Country ourselves; on our campuses you are second class citizens.”
There is no mistaking the Second Class Citizen Status associated with the Harvard and Yale, Stanford and Columbia Bans on ROTC: I was on both Harvard and Yale campuses as an HBS student, with a brother in Yale ’69. I recall the Harvard student newspaper The Crimson of the time, where James Fallows wrote: “To justify a permanent exclusion of the army and navy from Harvard, one must characterize them as inherently and irrevocably evil.”
Jim Fallows saw what was coming. He saw the stigma which elite colleges place on the American Warfighter. I attest that it caused continuing pain and a sense of isolation for us in uniform in 1968, and for youngsters of 2010 in military ranks, new pain and separation. Harvard and Yale meant a cruel blow, and they delivered it upon young Soldiers and Airmen, Sailors and Marines. Some forty years later, a minority within each elite campus still keeps the stigma alive, with its disdain of those who put their lives between the foe and our country.
One would think that President Faust of Harvard and President Levin of Yale, and the minorities at elite campuses who still vote for the bans, would have some regret. Anyone who treats our youngsters in uniform so crudely should be called to account by our Country’s Senior Leaders and Officers.
Make no mistake: the Ban, when launched in 1968, was meant to be a branding iron and to inflict pain, and it did; and notwithstanding the Vietnam Wall and the passage of time, Harvard and Yale, Stanford and Columbia cling to their dishonorable course: “Take Money from the Military, Disdain the Military, Let Others Defend Freedom.” Accounts of the injury inflicted by Harvard and Yale at the time abound in books by Veterans. One is “Fields of Fire” by James Webb. Another is “Touched With Fire”, which I wrote.
A minority of editors, including James Fallow, wrote an opinion piece making the case for ROTC to stay on Harvard’s campus:
James Fallows and his colleagues at Harvard were correct in 1968, and correct now. America needs the best flow of young new officers possible from our best colleges, and Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Columbia have historically served our nation with valor and sacrifice. It is time to close the wound and face a new Century.
***Posted May 9th, 2010.