The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, first banned from Harvard in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, continues to be prohibited on campus because of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy written and passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. The repeal of this federal policy, which has stirred much controversy over the last two decades, seems to be on the horizon. However, even as we stand on the brink of its repeal, we cannot hold ROTC cadets accountable for actions outside of their control.
We are no longer living in the Vietnam era, when personal criticism of soldiers was in vogue. If we have qualms, then we should blame the federal government, not the honorable cadets of ROTC. Those who support the ROTC ban often seem to confuse ROTC cadets with Clinton and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The decisions of the federal government have little to do with the opinions of the cadets of ROTC. Regardless of the problems that we have with the federal government and military, we cannot blame ROTC for them. After all, their means of control over those policies is the same as all other American citizens: their vote.
If we want to protest the decisions of the federal government, we should boycott federal funding and federal student loans, not the service of the many men and women in uniform. They fight for our freedom; without them, we wouldn’t have the luxury of the protected, Ivy-League bubble within which we all live.
But in spite of the federal government’s culpability for the DADT policy, many still contend that ROTC should not be accepted on campus because the federal government ordered the military to “discriminate” against homosexuals and women. Harvard’s decision to continue the ban of ROTC on campus rests on the policy that openly gay people cannot serve in ROTC. Because of the DADT policy, many students are excluded from serving in ROTC. As practiced in the military as a whole, individuals are given discharge if they to admit to being homosexual while serving in ROTC. Harvard hopes to foster an open campus where any student would be able to join any student group. Nevertheless, the matter of discrimination in the military is a contentious issue, and there are many people who support and oppose policies like DADT. If we truly hope to foster tolerance and nondiscrimination, then we should not act upon opinions as if they were facts in order to impose policies on the American public and ROTC cadets.
While the intentions of Harvard are admirable in desiring to construct an open campus, if we ban ROTC on campus for these offenses, why not also ban the Catholic Student Association because priests have sexually abused children? Or the Chinese Student Association because the Chinese government often violates human rights? Each of these organizations has as much control over these larger policies as ROTC cadets do over the decisions made by the civilian leaders in the U.S. government.
Obviously, banning these organizations would be ridiculous, which is why I contend that the arguments frequently made against ending the ROTC ban are similarly invalid. If we ban an organization on campus because of allegations against some larger part of an organization, we are committing a grave injustice. Since those who oppose ROTC ostensibly desire a “just and open” campus, we shouldn’t punish ROTC cadets for allegations against the federal government or even the military as a whole.
With the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell imminent—or even if it were not imminent—University President Drew G. Faust should strongly consider ending the banning of ROTC on campus. It is impossible to honor and respect men and women who honorably sacrifice to serve their nation while discriminating against them because of a policy over which they have no control.
Lucas E. Swisher ’14, a Crimson business editor, lives in Thayer Hall. He is a member of the Harvard Republican Club