May 30, 2008

Serving our country is a public service

It would be wonderful if there were no conflict in our world – no need for a military. But history has taught us otherwise, and we would do well to pay heed to its continuing lessons.

I was impressed last week by an editorial piece written by William McGurn in Atchison, Kansas for the Wall Street Journal. The commencement speaker at Atchison’s Benedictine College, McGurn contrasted the small heartland school with Harvard University, which has not allowed ROTC on campus since it “was booted off” during the Vietnam War. He reflected upon the nurturing pride that Benedictine showed its ROTC graduates.

McGurn noted that opponents of the Iraq war frequently express the view that they oppose the administration’s policy – not the troops. In fact, most public sentiment overwhelmingly supports the troops. He told of how tiny Benedictine College has embraced its ROTC graduates, recognizing that these young people may soon be put in harm’s way to defend the liberties we Americans enjoy. It was his opinion that Harvard would do well to emulate Benedictine.

McGurn’s observation that the military is one of our nation’s “most open and diverse institutions” rang true. Those of us who have served know all too well that the military is far from perfect. Like all huge organizations, it often succumbs to stupidity. Notwithstanding the views of those who focus upon the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals (, the United States military remains near the top of those organizations where you’ll find a modicum of openness and diversity.

Offering ROTC on campus is a good thing. I still subscribe to the notion that our country would do well to require that all able-bodied young people be required to perform two or three years of public service for their country. It might be the Peace Corps, a CCC-type domestic program, or the military. They – and our country – would be the beneficiaries of such a plan.

In the meantime, Harvard should go back to school and study the wisdom of embracing ROTC students on its campus.


PG said...

Which are the American institutions that are more gender-imbalanced and openly discriminatory toward homosexuals than the military? People complain about the legal profession's being too much of an old boys' network, but it's still better in this respect than the military is. What is the comparison point by which the military looks so good?

The military has made tremendous strides in improving racial diversity. Even under the Bush Administration (which opposes affirmative action), the military submitted a brief in the Grutter/Gratz v. Bollinger Supreme Court case, where the military said there needed to be enough minority university graduates and thus minority military officers so as not to create a huge disparity between the rank and file and their commanders. I'm not sure how you or Mr. McGurn feel about this issue, however. If the military became an institution that was racially diverse only at the lowest levels and failed to have significant diversity in its officer ranks, I think the claim of its "openness and diversity" even with regard to race would be suspect.

There also are factors of geographic and socioeconomic diversity, but again, to the extent that colleges are not diverse in these ways, neither will be the officer class. I don't think much of an openness and diversity that allows poor people of color to be cannon fodder and not much else.

LM said...

To PG: If "open and diverse" referred solely to "gender" issues in the military, your view would be more persuasive; however, my reference to "open and diverse" includes the far broader issue of race.

My experience of several decades in public broadcasting -- an institution often perceived as being "liberal" -- suggests that Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities have been unable to readily reach senior management jobs held by Anglos (but pubcasting has done better than the military and most other institutions, if you examine just "gender" issues; many state network directors and PBS CEOs are and have been women).

I would suggest the "geographic and socioeconomic diversity" to which you refer could be attained through implementing a universal requirement for able-bodied citizens to perform 2-3 years of public service (of which the military would be an option.)