Trust Requires ROTC Discrimination

MAIL:

To the Editors of The Crimson:

According to the October 25 issue of The Crimson the Undergraduate Council is choosing a committee to debate the issue of the ROTC. As a graduate of Harvard's Naval ROTC in the class of 1938, I would like to express some views on this subject based on real life experience. There are some important considerations not mentioned in President Rudenstine's well-tempered Crimson interview, or in any other comments I have heard from faculty or undergraduates. I believe these views need to be aired, if only to balance the more liberal and somewhat less informed ones being currently presented.

My four-year course in Naval Science, as it was then called, was one of the highlights of my undergraduate years. Courses in navigation, engineering, gunnery and history; summer cruises to the Caribbean living and working with enlisted men and officers of the regular Navy; and manning the varied duty stations involved with sailing and fighting a man-of-war at sea were maturing and broadening experiences of educational value. Within three years of graduation I was called to active duty, almost six months before Pearl Harbor. Late that summer six of us from that NROTC class were aboard ships in the same convoy dodging Hitler's U-boats in the North Atlantic. Our Navy and our country needed us, and we were well enough trained to serve competently for the four years it took to win the war. I spent nearly four years at sea participating in six major engagements and campaigns in the Pacific. This is to establish my bona fides.

As to the Pentagon policy: I believe any officer with combat experience considers it reasonable. I have worked with at least several homosexuals during my 40-odd years in banking. I am opposed to any discrimination in housing, employment or any other situation where close physical contact and strict discipline is not mandatory--as it is in positions of military command. My reason for saying that is that many people consider homosexuals to be abnormal, and unfortunately they are often the objects of scorn and abuse. As wrong as that is, it is just what we call human nature, and it will take time for attitudes to change. I do not question their patriotism, dedication or ability to serve--but the perception that the average sailor, airman or infantry man has of them because of their sexual preference makes them a target of derision and therefore a potential liability in a position of command. Those who have never stood a bridge watch in wartime can have little concept of how important trust and respect for the officer-of-the-deck is for the very safety and survival of that ship. Rightly or wrongly, the homosexual officer is not likely to receive that trust or respect so basic to the foundation of command.

President Rudenstine is quoted as saying he supports a policy of non-discrimination. Suppose a drama group at Harvard is casting a play which calls for a white man to play the lead--possibly involving a Lincoln or a Roosevelt--and a Black man applies for the part. Is it discrimination to turn him down in order to maintain the integrity of the play? Maybe we should talk about fitness rather than discrimination. The Pentagon is concerned about the fitness and integrity of our officers.

Severing all ties with the ROTC would be a retaliatory action against a governmental policy--not a Harvard policy. Two-thirds of all our active duty officers are ROTC graduates. ROTC is an essential part of our national defense, and Harvard should not deprive the armed forces of the services and the intelligence of its graduates.

Conversely, why deprive Harvard students of the opportunity for military training and service to their country if they so choose? Why cut them off from a broadening and maturing educational experience?

It will be a sad day for me and for many of my generation if one of the leading universities of this country turns its back on the defense needs of our armed forces, and takes away the means by which its students can serve therein. I hope such action will not be taken because of pressure from a minority group, or by the vote of a faculty, and a student body that have limited knowledge and experience in military matters. Richard E. Bennink '38   Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve (Ret.)