ROTC Back at Harvard After Skipping Class For 40 Years

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Terry Scott, the Navy's top sailor in 2005, addresses ROTC students at MIT / Wikimedia

Good news that Harvard is set to recognize ROTC today after nearly 40 years. Originally booted off campus because of opposition to the Vietnam War, Harvard University and many other elite colleges kept the Reserve Officer Training Corps away following the U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam in 1973, and Saigon’s fall to the North Vietnamese communists in 1975, because they didn’t like the military or its mission.

Then, after Congress passed a law barring openly gay men and women from serving in uniform in 1993, the schools grabbed for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” excuse to keep ROTC and other military events off campus — even though the military had no choice but to obey the law. But now that Congress, under pressure from President Obama, has decided to lift the ban, all is forgiven.

Later today, Harvard is set to recognize the Navy’s ROTC program, which funds students’ educations in exchange for their agreement to serve in uniform after they graduate. “Our renewed relationship affirms the vital role that the members of our armed forces play in serving the nation and securing our freedoms, while also affirming inclusion and opportunity as powerful American ideals,” Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust says.

Added Navy Secretary (and Harvard Law graduate) Ray Mabus: “NROTC’s return to Harvard is good for the university, good for the military, and good for the country.” The other services are discussing bringing their programs back to Harvard’s Cambridge, Mass., campus as well. In recent decades, Harvard students wanting to belong to ROTC have had to travel to the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology to train.

Anyway, anything that mixes the military — increasingly growing apart from the rest of American society as it is drawn from the same families and regions  — more with the society that it defends is a good thing. That’s not to say, of course, that Harvard is representative of American society. But if these two great institutions can decide to get along, that has to be good for the rest of us, too.