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ROTC a Distant Concept at Yale By: David Keene
American Conservative Union | Monday, May 05, 2003

Earlier this year, I was invited to debate the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays before the Yale Political Union. It turned out to be a rather interesting evening in spite of the selection of a debate topic in which I, frankly, had little interest and ambivalent feelings.

I began by suggesting that I had no real intention of defending a rather goofy policy instituted by Bill Clinton but that those who would liberalize the policy should have to prove that doing so will not compromise the military's mission. That mission, simply put, is to defend the rest of us by deterring or fighting and defeating our enemies on the battlefield. The military, I reminded the assembled students, isn't a social-welfare organization and exists to fulfill that one conceptually simple but often difficult and dangerous objective.

Some people there saw that view of the military as too archaic or narrow. One speaker spoke forcefully on the need to change the policy because he said our armed forces ought to "be as diverse" as American society as a whole. It was his view, in fact, that in discriminating against gays, our services are fielding a force that does not and cannot reflect the strength of a democratic nation.

I thought of that argument last week as my daughter graduated from basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and we shipped her off to Fort Bragg in North Carolina for additional training with the Army's 82nd Airborne. I suggested to the student who made it at the time that his argument seemed to be more an argument for a universal draft without exclusions for Ivy Leaguers than for simply opening the ranks to gays. Indeed, as the war news from Iraq demonstrates almost daily, there don't seem to be all that many graduates of Harvard, Yale or Princeton fighting as enlisted personnel in Iraq nowadays.

That was brought forcefully home by the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch of Palestine, W.Va., who joined up both to serve and to get the education that might not otherwise be available to her. She wasn't an Ivy Leaguer, but she emerged from a brutal firefight and the horrors of captivity as a hero to the men and women who served with her, as well as to her family and friends back home in the West Virginia mountains.

Our forces in Iraq include men and women of all races, religions and backgrounds who have voluntarily undergone the training and accepted the risks that go with military service in a troubled world. But I suspect fewer Ivy Leaguers are serving in Iraq today than in any previous war. And there's a reason for that.

Our elite universities do everything in their power to denigrate the military and make it difficult for their students who might on their own want to consider serving their country to gain access to either ROTC or military recruiters.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece on the difficulties her son faced at Harvard after enrolling in ROTC, banned at that esteemed institution since 1969, Regina Herzlinger noted that back in 1957, 400 of 750 men in that year's Princeton graduating class went into the military but last year only three out of 1,000 chose to enlist. Her son was one of only 43 students who have joined ROTC at Harvard and, like the rest, he had go to MIT to fulfill his obligations because of the ban.

One has to admit, however, that they have it easier than Yale students who choose ROTC. They have to drive 75 miles to the University of Connecticut for training, lest the military soil the hallowed ground of Yale.

Indeed, in addition to banishing ROTC from their campuses, the schools do all in their power to convey the impression that anyone dumb enough to actually consider service in the military could be a danger to students who are more balanced. Some students resent that. At Harvard there's even a group calling itself the "Advocates of Harvard ROTC," and its chairman has been quoted as saying, "We don't want them to feel they have to be hidden anymore."

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor back in 1941, Harvard, Yale and Princeton students, including our current president's father. rushed to recruiting stations prepared to defend their homeland. But only 47 Harvard grads died in Vietnam. It's hard to say how many of this year's class are harboring thoughts of coming to the defense of their country today.

You see, the military isn't allowed to ask, and most of them don't seem prepared to tell.

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental affairs firm.

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