Friday, April 26

Columbia Under Increasing Pressure to Bring Back ROTC

In a front page story today, the New York Sun is reporting that, since September 11th, there has been a growing movement at Columbia University to bring back the on-campus ROTC program that was banned in 1969. A group with the depressingly uninspired name of "Students United for Victory" (sorry boys, love the cause, but come on) has been formed with the express goal of reversing the current university policy, which prohibits on campus drilling and classes. Today, if Columbia students want to participate in an ROTC program, they must do so by attending classes at Fordham, Manhattan College, or the State University of New York Maritime College (guess which one is home to the Navy ROTC program).

I would like to throw my insignificant weight behind this fledgling--and long overdue--movement. The ROTC program allows poor and middle-class students, who would not otherwise be able to afford the soaring cost of an Ivy League education, to attend elite schools. As a Columbia alumnus quoted in the Sun notes, "[t]he nation's military officers have to come from somewhere; I'd rather see them come from Columbia U. than Redneck U." Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing some come from both, but the lack of almost any officers from elite American schools is disturbing.

It is disturbing because it contributes to the polarization of opinion in this country which in turn creates a gulf between the North Eastern and California intellectual elite who exercise a disproportionate amount of power in the media and in politics and the rest of the country. You can say what you want about the tradition of an hereditary officer class such as existed in Britain until WWII (and I am not interested in defending it in other contexts), but the effect of having boys from the most privileged families in the country serving their country and often dying for it created a bond between the classes that does not exist in the United States today. Today, almost no one who attends an Ivy League school or a comparably elite liberal arts college knows anyone who serves in the military; the country's armed forces are overwhelmingly made up of poor, often Southern, men. No wonder there is so much reflexive anti-war sentiment among the chattering classes. War is something that they have been raised to regard as beneath them, a primitive ritual practiced by less enlightened brutes who attended colleges that ended in "A&M." Obviously one does not have to propose resurrecting the idea of an hereditary officer class to bridge the gulf between these two solitudes. In fact, bringing ROTC back onto elite university campuses and encouraging participation by students seems to be the most reasonable solution.

As usual, there is no link to the New York Sun story. How many times do I have to tell you that you should surf over to their website and get a subscription?

UPDATE: I received the following letter from a reader, which I think is worth posting so that I may respond to his point.

Great Sun story. You mentioned that ROTC programs exist at Fordham and Manhattan colleges, among others. Then you noted this quote in your post on the Sun: Although it's been awhile since my graduation (three years), I cannot recall Lynyrd Skynyrd or Jeff Foxworthy concerts at Fordham University. The streets of the Bronx, as I recall, were nearly banjo-free, and the boll weevil, thankfully, left us alone. FU is not RU. Yeah. I'm pretty confident about that. Best wishes, [name removed].

Touche, sir. My response follows:

Dear Mr. [removed],

Thank you for your response. I regret the unfortunate juxtaposition of the information regarding where Columbia students can take ROTC classes and the comment by the quoted alumnus. I will look over my piece and see if I can make it clear that they are not directly related. In the mean time, I hope that you can ignore the unintentional slur against your alma mater and appreciate the point that the quoted gentleman was trying to make regarding the fact that while ROTC programs are active on some North Eastern and California campuses, they are much less common here than on Southern campuses and almost nonexistent on the most exclusive campuses (according to the Sun, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, and Stanford have similar bans). The unfortunate, implicit bias against Southern universities in the comparison notwithstanding, his point ties in with my humble comment on the matter.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

I hope this clears things up a bit.