The American hero has been transformed by the September 11th attacks. Gone is the cult of the Silicon Valley billionaire, the Wall Street whiz kid, and the bubble gum teen idol. In their stead stand the police officer, the firefighter, and the soldier. Yale graduates have always led their nation, in war and peace. Now that war is at hand, those Yale students moved to fulfill their duty to country will find that their university has failed them.
Just as Yale graduates have been captains of industry and vanguards of academic thought, Yale graduates have also been numerous among the leaders of the American armed forces throughout the major wars of American history. For much of the twentieth century this martial valor has been supported by the presence of the ROTC program on the physical campus. Today, however, as the United States is once again at war, ROTC is banned from campus. How will the sons of Eli answer the call to duty without it?
In 1916, Yale was one of the first 16 colleges to earn a Reserve Officers’
Training Corps program. The Yale ROTC program, which focused on producing
artillery officers, left its mark on that branch of the service—by the
end of World War I, one out of every twenty artillery officers was a Yale
graduate. Henry Stimson, Secretary of War under President Taft, remarked
that “The action of Yale University in this crisis offers the most notable
example in her history of the intelligent adaptation of means to a great
Since 1970, those students interested in training to serve their country while attending Yale have had to make a weekly journey to the nearest ROTC program on the campus of the University of Connecticut at Storrs. “On a good day, we can drive there in a little over an hour. On a bad day, it can take a lot longer,” explains Matt Collins MC ’03, a Yale ROTC cadet. In essence, Yale cadets are at a disadvantage to UConn cadets. They must spend at least two and a half hours in transit each week. “With most of our Tuesdays eaten up by the long commute to and from Storrs, I either have to schedule all Monday-Wednesday classes or else commit to missing half the lectures for a Tuesday-Thursday course,” Collins explains. For the past several years, Yale has supplied rental cars for the cadets to use for traveling to and from Storrs. Beyond this, however, Yale provides its students no assistance in serving their country.There are currently nine Yale students enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Connecticut.
One might think that the ROTC program would be the poster child of financial aid supporters. ROTC cadets receive coverage of tuition, housing, meals, books, as well as a stipend. In exchange, they take weekly courses at the University of Connecticut (in addition to a full load of Yale courses) and after graduation they serve on active duty for four years.
To install a ROTC program at Yale would involve some administrative
costs. The University of Connecticut ROTC program uses three classrooms,
several offices, as well as a gym roughly the size of a basketball court.
It also employs 5 or 6 Air Force officers. Even if Yale or someone
acting on Yale’s behalf was to provide the funds necessary to support a
Yale ROTC program, the military would have to be convinced that such a
project would be feasible and desirable.
This particular catch-22 can probably be dissolved with just a modicum of pressure—and support from Yale. If the military sees that Yale wants to make a campus-based program a reality, it will likely jump at the chance. Yale and the rest of the Ivy League has symbolic importance that is lost on no one. If the nation’s most prestigious schools and their students embrace military service, others may follow. Even students who did not participate might grow more comfortable with ROTC and the military in general. In short, it would be a PR coup. ROTC could send out press releases and get reams of free publicity. Imagine if 60 Minutes did a feature on the return of ROTC to the Ivy League. Layout editors would grab at the chance to use a variation on “For God, for Country and for Yale.” The University can set this all in motion with a little funding and a little respect. At the very least it could move from scorn to neutrality.
Critics of the ROTC program offer various complaints. The standard argument from the academic perspective is that the ROTC courses are of lower quality than the typical Yale course. This argument, however, rests on ignorance of what is taught. Cadets take courses in military history and strategy requiring class presentations, exams, and papers. Most cadets actually find the material more difficult than their coursework at Yale. Military history certainly sounds more rigorous than fractal geometry.
Another critique springs from the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards homosexuals seeking to serve in the military. How, critics ask, can we allow a discriminatory program to serve on campus?
The first answer is that the military, much less than ROTC, is not responsible for this policy. Congress and the President are. It is unfair to punish Yale cadets, students seeking to serve their country, because of scorn for laws made by politicians that we elect.
The second answer, one less convincing to the anti-ROTC crowd, to be sure, is that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” should not be removed from the context of regulations it exists within—regulations which are necessarily more strict than those imposed upon ordinary citizens. Among those discriminated against by the armed forces are those who wear long hair or a beard, the handicapped, the elderly, the obese, and women, who are not allowed to serve in combat positions. To lift any of these restrictions is to impair the ability of the armed forces to best serve and defend their country.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Yale student looks out upon a world that still requires duty to Country as well as to God and Yale. Yet the student finds his path to fulfilling that duty impaired by his very college. For a school like Yale, with a rich tradition not only of service but also of producing leaders, such hindrance is unacceptable.
Peter Somerville is a Junior in Morse College.
Joseph A. P. De Feo
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