Oh, baby. Here we go. There is a movement afoot to restore ROTC programs to the Ivy League campus. Let the culture wars begin anew.
We have found a new battle field. That the battle will be joined is suggested by the sympathy of Lawrence Summer, Harvard president, for the ROTC. He wants one. His faculty, famous for their reluctance to defer to higher authority, do not. The culture wars have found a new battle field and it is Harvard yard.
The “yeah side says that America needs “a cross section of America represented in its officer corps. (Lt. Col. Brian Baker, commander of the ROTC Army battalion at MIT).
The “nay side says that as long as the military discriminates against gays, universities may not admit them to campus without violating their own antidiscrimination policies.
But the real issue is clear.
America as Rome finds it gauling that the military should be excluded from these prestigious institutions. It dislikes being stigmatized as brutes unfit for the realm of the mind and the institutions of the elite. Officers are gentlemen and gentlewomen, and, often, scholars, too. The ROTC exclusions of the Vietnam era were more than a strategic loss. They were a stain upon honor. Militaries fight with bravery, but they stand on dignity. And this has been diminished.
There is a deeper issue. America as Rome is as much offended by the expellers as the expulsion. “Who are you, ‘they wonder, ‘to say who can and cannot be part of this community? Those who presume to exclude the ROTC implicitly claim to be the party of higher moral and or intellectual authority. And the military is, as they should be, loathe to surrender this high ground to anyone.
America as Greece wishes to remain inviolate, a liberal bulwark against almost all the things the military stands for: regimentation, chain of command, creativity-flattening discipline, extra-American intervention, interference with the autonomy of others, violence, and of course the arts of war. From their point of view, a “military officer is a creature straight out of the Stanley Kubrick casting office: General Turgidson, Major T.J. King Kong, and most tellingly, Brig. General Jack D. Ripper. You think Im kidding and I wish I were, but last night I saw an interview with Henry Rollins, who praised Dr. Strangelove as must-see viewing on the grounds, that ‘the people at the top are pretty psychotic.
The deeper issue for Greek America: several liberal bastions have fallen, but this one belongs to us, and, yes, by virtue of our education, intelligence, and thoughtfulness, we are well situated and entitled to “say who can and cannot be part of this community. We can hear the rally cry. “We must stand for something and we will not endure officers in our classrooms. We will not contribute even so much as a rambling, semi-coherent lecture to their education.
It is a New Yorker cartoon waiting to happen, as a rag tag band of anarcho-socialist students, wearing the rags and tags of their identity politics, as they face off against the cool, impersonal, discipline of the supporters of the ROTC. But of course in the delirium of a post modern culture, we can expect the two parties to switch identities. The ROTC camp will conduct itself with pretty un-war-like decorum. The liberal camp will engage with their usual instruments of contestation: spray paint, street theatre, building occupation, and a good deal, “hey, hey, ho, ho There will be the inevitable reversal of positions as well. The liberal camp will argue the case for exclusion. The ROTC camp will call for inclusion. The intellectual side will let fly with moral certainties. The warrior camp will respond with rational argument.
In sum, we have all the elements of a dandy contest: clearly defined combatants, an issue that mobilizes them deeply, the opportunity to settle old scores and addresses recent outrages (the Kerry loss), and the perfect stage: Harvard yard. Most important, we have an inflection point: the moment that President Summers must decide. (Assuming the ROTC is allowed back to Harvard, it is hard to keep the imagination from summoning images of officers-in-training brought to campus under the protection of U.S. marshals.)
But as usual, nothing will be clarified. The chief winner will be the 6 oclock news. And, in a cynical moment, we might find this apt. We are interesting, we are actual, to the extent that we provide one another with good television.
Hechinger, John. 2004. At Ivy League schools, ROTC, long banned, plots a comeback. Wall Street Journal. December 16, 2004, pp. A1, A12.
Kavulla, Travis. R. 2003. Respecting ROTC: The Learning Curve. The Crimson. October 28, 2003 here
Kubrick, Stanley. 1964. Dr. Strangelove.