In 1932, a grateful University dedicated Memorial Church to the Harvard men who had given their lives in defense of their country during World War I. Even today the Memorial Room remains somber and contemplative, a place where one may pay reverence to the fallen heros of yesteryear.
Yet much has changed in the last 62 years. In many respects Memorial Church has become a relic of a time long part, a time when the military was treated with deference and respect by the administration of Harvard University.
In sharp contrast to its predecessors, the current administration demonstrates only disdain and derision for America's armed forces. This contemptuous attitude is most clearly revealed in the University's treatment of ROTC. In sharp contrast to most other colleges, ROTC is considered an extracurricular activity rather than an academic program here. Furthermore, students participating in ROTC must travel to MIT because there are no ROTC units at Harvard. All of these measures constitute an added burden upon students selfless enough to serve their country.
The recently proposed ROTC compromise only adds insult to injury. Currently, ROTC is funded directly from the budget of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The compromise, sponsored by President Neil L. Rudenstine, would cut off all direct funding of ROTC by the University. Instead, the program would be funded by a pool of money contributed by alumni. While this plan is certainly preferable to the elimination of ROTC on campus, the severing of direct ties between the University and ROTC is a slap in the face to all who serve in America's military.
The future of ROTC has not been truly assured, as evidenced by the recommendation of the committee chaired by Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba '53. This committee, which was formed by President Rudenstine to study the ROTC issue, had recommended that the University sever all ties with ROTC. Rudenstine fortunately disagreed, but who knows how long he can withstand the political pressure to completely eliminate ROTC?
In its recommendation, the Verba Committee cited the military's ban on homosexuals as reason enough to end funding for ROTC. The ban, they claim, violates Harvard's non-discriminatory policy on terms of sexual orientation. The committee members are not alone in holding this attitude. Several student organizations on campus--most noticeably the Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Student Association--have come out against ROTC. In addition, several members of the Faculty Council have called for the cutting of ties with ROTC because of the ban on homosexuals. All these groups believe that only through public pressure will the military allow homosexuals in the armed forces.
In so doing, these students and faculty members have demonstrated a willful disregard for the dangerous consequences of such an action. The case for banning homosexuals from the military is not based upon bigotry but rather on the realities of military life. The presence of openly homosexual individuals in the military would be damaging to morale and potentially disastrous in combat situations.
The effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces depends on unit cohesion and high morale. Ending the ban on gays would undermine both of these crucial foundations of military success. Military life involves residing in close quarters often for long periods of time. In the field men must share tiny tents and foxholes with their fellow soldiers. The experience of foriegn militaries that have admitted homosexuals has shown that forcing heterosexuals to share living quarters with homosexuals would be greatly damaging to morale.
This effect would also undermine unit cohesion. According to military experts the distrust and anxiety homosexuals would create would make it difficult for a unit to act as a team in a combat situation. Individual soldiers would not feel they could always depend on their homosexual counterparts in dangerous situations. These soldiers would be less willing to take the risks necessary to succeed in combat. As a result, American soldiers could die needlessly, helpless guinea pigs in a social experiment gone wrong.
While such feelings of discomfort may be unwarranted, they cannot be wiped away with the simple stroke of a bureaucrat's pen. Homosexuals are not accepted in society by many Americans. This fact can only be changed over time, if it is to be changed at all. To force such a drastic change on the military would be to dismiss entirely the primary purpose of the armed forces. The military is designed to win wars as quickly and with as few casualties as possible. It is a not a laboratory in which social engineers may perform their experiments at will.
The presence of openly homosexual individuals in the military would clearly have a negative effect on combat readiness. Prominent military experts such as Gen. Colin Powell and Col. David Hackworth have long opposed the admission of gays to the military. Nor is the situation comparable to desegregation, as Gen. Powell relates: "Skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the mos profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument."
In addition, the vast majority of soldiers agree that the ban should remain in place. Once the views of military personnel are considered, the contention that the ban on homosexuals is discriminatory becomes ridiculous. Under such reasoning the same argument could be made against the military's ban on the short, fat and mentally retarded. If such an argument were to be taken to its extreme, we would have to consider the Air Force discriminatory for not allowing blind people to fly airplanes.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, the Verba Committee called for the severing of all ties with ROTC. In so doing, they sent a blunt message to the military to either admit homosexuals or leave Harvard. Yet who are they to make such a decision? Simply being a member of the committee does not automatically make one omniscient, least of all in the field of military affairs.
By ignoring the advice of senior U.S. military officers, the Verba Committee managed to be both supremely disrespectful and contemptuous in their treatment of the military. In its quest to instigate social revolution, the Verba Committee blatantly disregarded expert advice in favor of the arrogant presumption that it knew what was best for society.
President Rudenstine should not be totally excused either. While he did not totally cave in to the committee's recommendations, he still moved inexorably closer to severing all ties with ROTC. By cutting all official ties with ROTC the administration would tell the military that their presence is not wanted on campus. In this respect, the latest ROTC compromise is merely a further curtailment of the program.
The opposition to ROTC is based primarily upon a general feeling of contempt for the military, a contempt that is made all the worse because of its ungrateful character. When the recent push to expand public service by students is considered, the case for curtailing ROTC is further undermined.
The administration should take a stand and completely reinstate ROTC. Harvard should establish its own ROTC program and fully fund it, rather than force students to travel all the way to MIT to do their training. The current policy represents discrimination against students who wish to serve their country.