Bias in Camouflage

The University has failed act on its opposition to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Military recruiters returned to Harvard’s campus last week, enabled by a March Supreme Court decision that upheld the Solomon Amendment and forced universities to choose between granting military recruiters access or forfeiting hundreds of millions of dollars of federal research funds. For clear financial reasons, picking the latter option would have been an irresponsible move for Harvard. Nevertheless, the University can, and should, do more to oppose the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy, which has damaging and reprehensible effects on both the military and the students it is recruiting.

Universities have been all but coerced into accepting DADT, which prohibits openly gay individuals from serving in the military. We are dismayed by this result: dismayed the Supreme Court’s decision; dismayed that Congress has not repealed DADT; and dismayed that the University has not pressured Congress to repeal the amendment. But we also disagree with the some of the indulgent, sensationalistic, and ill-founded protests against military recruiters.

Unlike its position during the Vietnam War, the University now does not object to military recruiters per se, but rather to the military’s exclusion of gays. By excluding gays, the military is, by extension, excluding a portion of the Harvard community, which the University’s anti-discrimination policy clearly forbids. We agree with this rationale.

To be sure, we have concerns about other military practices as well, such as the treatment of prisoners (think Abu Ghraib), the employment of private security firms in Iraq, and the use of depleted uranium bullets. But these concerns, while grave, do not justify a wholesale ban on military recruitment on campus. Instead, we should focus on changing the political administration that governs the military.

DADT, however, does. justify banning military recruiters from campus. In practical terms, the exclusion of openly gay individuals in the military has damaged the armed forces. Hundreds of linguists, lawyers, and other high-value soldiers have been discharged (dishonorably, no less) at a time when our country needs them most. But more importantly, DADT violates a fundamental principle that modern society should hold dear: Discrimination of any form (in this case, against gays) is abominable. To exclude those who want to serve their country on the basis of their sexual orientation is wrong.

That is the central point in this dispute that both the University and some students seem to have missed. For all its rhetoric during last winter’s Solomon court fight, the University has done precious little to exercise its clout in the interest of repealing both Solomon and DADT. What effect the University could have is unclear, but we can never know unless we try. Interim University President Derek C. Bok could easily write a letter to Congressional leaders, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the White House, and send a copy along to the New York Times for good measure. One amicus brief from a group of law professors is not enough.

Students, too, should focus their efforts on the real wrong that is being perpetuated by Solomon, not on auxiliary concerns. We applaud the efforts of Lambda, the Law School’s gay rights activist group, to protest DADT purposefully and effectively, and we wish that more undergraduates would follow Lambda’s lead. Regrettably, some undergraduates have chosen instead to hold aimless blanket protests of the military at large, including the inane recent “die-in” outside last Friday’s career fair, rather than focus on the military’s discriminatory policies. Such activists conflate a desire to serve our nation with support for the Bush administration and its military aims; it’s clear, after all, that a vote for Bush supports its martial policies far more than an individual’s decision to join the military does.

Undergraduates should rally to end DADT, they should question poor executive leadership, and they should protest military misconduct. But we recognize the military’s need to recruit its future leaders on university campuses like ours, even if we disagree with specific military practices or decisions. We hope that all at Harvard, from the central administration to undergraduate activists, will throw idleness and misdirection by the wayside and work for this just cause.