Last week, President Drew G. Faust declared that if and when the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is repealed, she will reinstate the Reserve Officer Training Corps on Harvard’s campus. President Faust certainly has political sway, and I applaud her efforts to press for the rapid repeal of DADT. However, blindly supporting ROTC is not a correct or just way to do that.
Harvard abolished its own ROTC program in 1969 in response to the protests of the anti-war group Students for a Democratic Society. The University now justifies its continued ban with its opposition to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which violates Harvard’s antidiscrimination laws. In fact, President Faust’s recent declaration implies that DADT is the only thing keeping ROTC away from Harvard.
I greatly respect those who want to join the military after college, and I certainly believe that the University should continue recognizing ROTC scholarships. However, the repeal of DADT should not entail an immediate reinstitution of ROTC on Harvard’s campus.
It is true that Harvard has a long and illustrious history of producing successful military leaders and has produced more Congressional Medal of Honor winners than any college outside the service academies. But the University is a private institution with no affiliation to the U.S. government and thus has no obligation to recruit for ROTC. And as a staff editorial in The Harvard Crimson from 20 years ago noted, “this University should be in the business of education and not military training.”
Discrimination against homosexuals aside, the U.S. military is far from blameless. The great majority of men and women in the military are courageous and honorable, and the military engages in many just and humanitarian causes around the globe. However, the U.S. Department of Defense has faced allegations of abuse ranging from torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to training Latin American soldiers in anti-humanitarian tactics and principles at the School of the Americas. The Iraq War alone has seen torture at Abu Ghraib, the Haditha massacre, and the horrifying shootings by Blackwater military contractors in Baghdad, as well as approximately 100,000 civilian deaths. Wikileaks recently exposed that within the last decade, the U.S. armed forces have engaged in countless non-humanitarian and debatably illegal practices in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has provided military aid in support of Israel’s aggressive actions against Palestinian civilians. These are not actions that Harvard University should condone, let alone support.
Also, apart from its ongoing history of discrimination based on sexual orientation, the military maintains a well-established policy of gender discrimination. Although many strong women serve in the armed forces, the military does not draft women or place them in active combat roles, perpetuating a stereotype of female weakness and subordination. Harvard excusing discrimination against women but not against homosexuals sends the message that restricting women in the service is completely acceptable.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Harvard’s actions reverberate across American media and discussion about university policy. Furthermore, our graduates become public officials, business leaders, policy makers, and influential academics. Thus, Harvard has a duty to act in a socially responsible and just manner and must carefully consider the effects of policy changes such as the reinstatement of ROTC. As such, we should avoid setting a national precedent of blind support for the U.S. military.
Supporters of ROTC note that if Harvard students object to the practices of the military, then they can join ROTC and work within the system to amend flawed policies. However, not only is it unlikely that a few officers could cause significant change to the U.S. armed forces, but it is also offensive and unfair to expect people to join and thereby support an institution that fundamentally contradicts their principles.
President Faust added in a speech that she hopes “the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ would smooth over lingering opposition to the military’s presence on campus.” Unfortunately, she incorrectly presumes that DADT is the only viable objection to the U.S. armed forces.
While I have the utmost respect for the women and men who serve our country every day, promising to reinstate ROTC simply to pressure a repeal of DADT is not only short-sighted but also contradicts President Faust’s vision of an open and just university. As long as the armed forces continue to act in a manner inconsistent with basic humanitarian principles, ROTC does not belong on Harvard’s campus.
Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Matthews Hall.