I have followed with great interest the recent recriminations and counter-recriminations both for and against General Colin Powell and the Harvard administration for inviting him to be the Commencement speaker. When the announcement was first made, I did not think his selection would be so controversial. Perhaps I was too naive, but I assumed that since Powell was clearly a distinguished American, he was a most appropriate choice. Since then, I have seen the debate over whether Powell's selection was in fact an appropriate one rage in the op-ed pages of The Crimson and other campus publications. I have seen friends argue both sides of this issue and do so in predictable ways--Democrats and liberals seem to oppose Powell's selection or are keeping quiet while Republicans and conservatives seem generally enthusiastic about it.
Up to now, I have been part of a group which I believe is sizable but has been silent: Democrats who support the choice of General Powell as Commencement speaker. I do not pretend to speak for this entire group, but I felt it was time that this view was heard.
Whatever one may feel about this issue of allowing gays in the military, it is doubtful that any student at Harvard is more familiar with the dynamics of military life or attuned to the effects that integration of gays would have than Powell--our nation's highest-ranking military officer. And so unless one is willing to assert that Powell is a liar or is deliberately misleading the rest of us, we must respect his professional view that integration of gays would be more harmful than helpful. As the principal military advisor to the president, Powell's job is to impart to a civilian commander-in-chief his expert opinion on matters of military policy. Powell has done exactly this. Furthermore, he has from the beginning made clear his intention to implement whatever course of action President Clinton decides upon, despite his personal deep opposition to the integration of gays. As always, Powell is simply doing his job and doing it very well. At any rate, Powell's stance (according to some polls) agrees with the majority of Americans and the overwhelming majority of military personnel. This is not to say that he is right but that it is possible that his motivation is something other than "hate" or "bigotry" or whatever else the radical campus left has accused him of.
It would be a different story if Powell's Commencement address were to focus on the issue of gays in the military. Then, a strong argument could be made that his selection was inappropriate. Since it is unlikely that he will broach this issue, I only hope that his address will be heard for what it is--a message from one of the best and most popular soldiers in American history.
Of course, Powell's accomplishments throughout his long and distinguished career should be well known and need not be listed here. We should welcome him and be grateful that such a man has agreed to speak at Commencement. I believe his is indeed a most appropriate choice, just as I would hope conservatives would support the hypothetical selection of say, Senator Edward Kennedy or Jesse Jackson despite any particular disagreements they may have with them.
I worked for the Clinton/Gore campaign last summer. I have served for two years on the executive board of the Harvard-Radcliffe College Democrats. I am a proud Democrat and a liberal on most social issues. And I believe General Colin Powell is an excellent choice for Commencement speaker. I believe that many others on campus can say the last two sentences. It is time they spoke up. Jay Kim '95