ROTC & AIDS

From Our Readers

To the Editors of The Crimson:

This letter is in response to The Crimson's editorial of October 2, 1986, and the accompanying tasteless cartoon about the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program and new AIDS testing policy. The editorial inaccurately represents the issue and "A Boyd's Eye View" was more myopic than insightful. The essay was particularly disturbing because it is typical of the campus misconception about ROTC and ignored the many pertinent reasons why Harvard students should be allowed to participate in the program.

We wish to make it clear that in no way do any of us necessarily condone the new AIDS testing policy being implemented by the U.S. military. At the same time, though, we want to show that it does not automatically follow that homophobia led to the development of the new AIDS testing policy. In order to give people a more objective basis on which to make their own decisions, and to erase some of the prejudice and ignorance at Harvard concerning the ROTC program, the undersigned cadets and midshipmen provide the following information.

First of all, the new policy does not represent a "purge of homosexuals." The military realizes that not all homosexuals will test positive for the AIDS antibodies, while some heterosexuals will. One study found that in certain areas of Western Europe 30-40 percent of the prostitutes had AIDS antibodies in their blood. The virus appears to be spreading through the heterosexual population as well, and people of all sexual preferences stand increasing chances of being exposed to the virus.

An individual is determined to have the antibodies only after getting repeated positives in a three-stage process involving the Red Cross blood test and Western Blot analysis. And not everyone who tests positive will be discharged. If no symptoms are apparent, the individual can remain in the service but is restricted from overseas duty. Those showing signs of deteriorating health will be given a medical discharge. Only people trying to enter the services or who have been in for less than 30 days will be automatically excluded from joining or further service.

This type of exclusion in the military has a long-standing and legitimate precedent. Seemingly insignificant conditions like being allergic to wool or sleepwalking are grounds for disqualification for enlistment or commissioning. These standards constitute no value judgement, but rather a concern that such traits would make the individual less able to carry out the duties of a soldier. The military simply feels that AIDS-related symptoms would do likewise. In addition, members of our country's armed forces are entitled to many benefits, including health care. It therefore seems prudent that the military should not take individuals who may soon require extensive medical treatment and the related financial burdens. With the large number of people wishing to join the military today, the services can afford to select those who are most physically fit.

Individuals carrying the AIDS virus pose a serious problem for the military in another way. In conflict situations all personnel are considered walking blood banks. If no blood is available for casulties, the injured are dependent on their healthy comrades to provide it. But receiving AIDS-infected blood may eventually prove fatal, although the initial injury should not have. This point alone shows that the military's concern is based on more than the unfounded homophobia associated with AIDS.

Finally, people should be aware that positive result can not be used against the individual in any vindictive way. Although admitted homosexuals or drug users are not allowed in the military, test results cannot be used to discharge individuals on those grounds. The Department of Defense has clearly spelled out that the information is for "limited use"--that is, only in determining medical status.

It is especially ironic that an argument criticizing the military would demand, in the same breath, that Harvard close one of the primary vehicles through which reform can occur. The ROTC program is the major provider to the military of officers with a college degree and a liberal arts education. Current ROTC participants at Harvard have such varied concentrations as Folklore and Mythology, Government, Classics and Biology. By forcing Harvard students out of the program, they would limit the influence of educated minds on military policy. This would be a shot in the foot rather than at the adversary.

If members of the Harvard community are so committed to "the ideals of openness and tolerance" then they must also tolerate Harvard students' participation in ROTC. The program is essentially separate from the University and has no effect on students not in the program. We travel to MIT for all of our ROTC-related activities, and there is no possibility of ROTC's returning to Harvard's campus in the forseeable future. Harvard gives us no credit towards graduation for ROTC classes. ROTC is counted as an extracurricular activity, so we should be allowed to participate in it as in any other activity. Also many members of ROTC receive a scholarship, without which they might not be able to attend college. In essence, some who claim to believe in openness and free thought want to enforce their narrow and intolerant opinions by banning Harvard students from the ROTC program.

The Crimson editorial says there is "no place at Harvard" for "a program like ROTC which is committed to military values and priorities that inevitably conflict with the ideals of openness and tolerance for which, we are so often reminded, the Harvard community stands." But this is contradictory to reality. Our nation unquestionably needs an effective military arm, and it is highly unlikely that "the ideals of openness and tolerance" could be practiced at Harvard if our founding fathers and our current government did not field an able military force. The academic freedom and stature we enjoy in this country is possible partly due to the contributions of the military. Conversely, the military is dependent on the institutions of higher learning to provide the knowhow to be effective and the intellectual analysis and criticism which ensure its proper position in our society.

By joining ROTC we accept the possibility that we may someday have to give our lives to protect the nation and the rights we all enjoy. We see no threat to the university's priorities of "truth and learning" by our participation in ROTC. However, we do take offense in the implication that service to country is less valuable than service to the university. Truth, learning and service to country can each be components of selfish pursuits as well as selfless ones. But unique to the idea of service to country is the desire to place the needs of our society above our own interests. Those who benefit do so regardless of race, color, religion or sexual preference. Brian C. Harrington '87   and 13 other students in Harvard ROTC

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