During the Vietnam era, trendy universities banished ROTC. The war ended; the program did not resume on certain campuses. Decades after Americans died in distant battle, schools said that the military’s Clinton-era policy regarding homosexuals justified rejection—although that issue had nothing to do with the original banishments.
The sullen debate does not need to be re-staged here, yet, since the Obama administration’s repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” colleges have been rethinking their approach to ROTC. Harvard is the most celebrated university to invite the corps to return. The move marks another plus during Drew Gilpin Faust’s service as Harvard’s president. President Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law, had urged schools in the Ivy League to stop shunning ROTC before he ordered the end of don’t ask, don’t tell.
Other schools continue to behave as adolescents. When a freshman at Columbia, who is a wounded veteran, asked his college to welcome ROTC, students jeered and booed and called him nasty names. Anthony Mascheck was shot 11 times during his deployments in Iraq and earned the Purple Heart. He uses a wheelchair. Many of his fellow scholars—civil idealists and advocates of non-violence, one and all—figuratively salted his wounds.
Jacques Barzun, a legendary professor of the humanities, has called upon the school at which he taught “to restore the university’s long-estranged relationship with the armed forces.” He notes that the Core Curriculum of Columbia College includes the funeral oration of Pericles, whose virtues are manifest in institutions such as ROTC. Columbia’s task is to enact the values it teaches. The Virginia Military Institute honors Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a martyr for peace and racial reconciliation who was shot to death in Selma. Is Columbia made of similar stuff?