The Case for ROTC at Harvard

(The following is a memo submitted to the Committee on Educational Policy on Dec. 4, 1968 by Col. Robert H. Pell, professor of Military Science.)

Q. What adverse effect is ROTC having upon the Harvard faculty and student body at this time?

A. To my knowledge, the Harvard anti-ROTC debate has produced no real evidence that ROTC has ever had any adverse effect upon the Harvard faculty or student body. Compliance with the law of the land, honest service to the nation, and respect for the orderly processes of government are not viewed as debilitating. There is nothing insidious or evil about the ROTC program. Very few college educated men are known to have finished their experience as ROTC cadet and officer-leader without a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The few dissidents found among the college educated men who do fulfill their military obligation--a small minority of all graduates--are almost invariably those who served as privates, bitterly and begrudgingly, because they chose not to accept responsibility or weren't good enough to serve as officers.

Most employers of large numbers of college graduates (and most graduate and law school admission officers) state that they prefer ROTC graduates when considering applicants of otherwise equal qualifications. They find that the man with officer training and active military service generally is more mature, has had more leadership and management experience and is more capable of accepting responsibility than men hired directly out of college. Nationwide, less than five per cent of eligible college students take Army ROTC. (At Harvard the number who take ROTC is less than one-half of one per cent of the college enrollment.) Yet out of this five per cent comes 10 per cent of our Congressmen, 15 per cent of our ambassadors, 24 per cent of our state governors and 28 per cent of business leaders earning over $100,000 per year.

The Harvard ROTC units reflect this selectivity and high quality in their enrollment. For those who like to measure in terms of scholarship awards, there are 47 Phi Beta Kappas in the Army ROTC program now and five Rhodes Scholars have been in the program in the course of the past three years. In terms of military leadership performance, Harvard cadets set an all-time record at this year's Regular ROTC summer camp. Out of 29 cadets who completed the camp successfully (three were eliminated for physical reasons) 16 won honors (top 10 per cent) by being selected as Distinguished Military Students. Harvard men are standing at the head of their classes in Army Basic Officer Schools as they enter upon active duty, too.


None of this would be possible without a viable Army ROTC unit on the Harvard campus. Harvard men would not have this opportunity to serve their country's armed forces with honor and distinction, as commissioned officers, in the tradition of Harvard excellence. Harvard as an institution would not be able to uphold its proud reputation for supplying its share of leadership to the broad spectrum of our national institutions.

If ROTC has had any adverse effect upon Harvard faculty members it would have to be of their own choosing. If at all, ill effects would seem most likely to stem from the disappointment and chagrin faculty members might feel when impressionable, idealistic young Americans within their sphere of influence are observed to throw away their citizenship and ruin their lives by fleeing the country to avoid the draft. Harvard suffered some very bad national publicity--completely unwarranted and undeserved in my judgment--a few months ago when it was made to appear that a majority of Harvard men would take the draft laws into their own hands. Equally disturbing must be the knowledge that there are brilliant young Harvard men with God-given leadership abilities who seem content to waste two years of their life by allowing themselves to be drafted as a private.

Insofar as faculty members might have suffered because the presence of ROTC at Harvard violated their moral sensitivity or violated their conception of the rules of academic freedom, little is known. Categorically there is believed to be little suffering on the part of anyone at Harvard. Most faculty members appear to be oblivious to ROTC, with little concern one way or the other for the handful of students and ROTC instructors who are alleged to be taking advantage of the institution.

Q. Why is ROTC under attack at Harvard now?

A. ROTC is under attack at Harvard now because a small group of student extremists--a tiny minority of the student body--have played upon the inherent anti-war sentiment shared by a majority of peace-loving, traditionally isolationist Americans. The Vietnam war, grievous to virtually all of us, is the immediate source of their blanket denunciation of everything related to the military. They offer no alternatives when they propose destruction of the nation's armed forces. (Let it be understood beyond question that there is at present no acceptable alternate source of junior officer leadership if ROTC is driven from the college campus.) The radicals' reasons for wanting to destroy ROTC are patently contrived because they are exactly the same reasons that existed without challenge for 50 years before Vietnam clouded our vision and robbed our logic.

The anti-ROTC arguments in the excellent study done by the Harvard-Radcliffe Policy Committee are imminently logical when evaluated in the narrow terms of academic freedom. The arguments of the anti-war, moralist group are even less practical and convincing in terms of the real-life world. Both arguments deal mostly with technicalities from a very narrow point of view rather than with the hard realities of life and the broad spectrum of our national existence.

When pinned down, none of the radicals and their sympathizers will admit that the nation, in the presence of ruthless enemies, can afford to disband its armed forces. But the question of who is to man the armed forces is left unanswered. The traditional precept of a broad-based citizen-soldier army, with the dangers and sacrifices of military duty shared equally by all able-bodied men, is conveniently forgotten. There is no hue and cry to make the draft laws fair and equitable or to provide an acceptable substitute for ROTC, if indeed a substitute can be found.

How, in the presence of these facts, can there be any rational support for the destruction of ROTC? Surely there is some doubt that a gambit in the guise of academic freedom in the liberal arts milieu should not be allowed to destroy an important institution in our society without a reasonable alternative.

Q. To what extent is ROTC under attack on other college campuses?

A. Demonstrations and acts of vandalism against ROTC on a few college campuses have been so widely publicized as to leave the general impression that most of the 343 schools with Army, Navy or Air Force ROTC are embattled. Such is not the case. Serious incidents have occurred at the University of California at Berkeley, the universities of Washington, Delaware, Florida Southern, Wisconsin, and Fordham, in addition to the travesty at Boston University.

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