Three days after starting work at Bear Sterns and three weeks after getting married to his high school sweetheart, Capt. Pete Hegseth decided to go to Iraq — and he does not regret his choice. In fact, the ROTC recruit and Princeton alumnus believes that military recruitment can be beneficial on an Ivy League campus, especially Yale’s.
Hegseth, the president of Vets for Freedom, spoke Monday night to the Yale Political Union in support of its ultimately successful resolution, “Resolved: Bring the ROTC back to campus.” While some YPU members criticized the concept of recruitment on campus and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays in uniform, Hegseth’s personal accounts as a soldier and an Ivy League graduate helped convince the audience to pass the resolution.
“ROTC is essentially an opportunity to serve one’s nation,” Hegseth said. “It is independent of values and yet represents the values that America stands for.”
During his speech, Hegseth said the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is instrumental in fostering diversity in the military. ROTC was banned from Yale’s campus in 1969, during the height of anti-Vietnam War sentiment, and has stayed off campus since then. Hegseth said while ethnic and political diversity are important, the military needs intelligent Ivy graduates to carry out its mission capabilities.
“This is a thinking man’s war — a war of ideas and ideologies,” Hegseth said of the war on terrorism. “We can’t afford to not have our nation’s best and brightest in uniform.”
He also referenced the current military success of Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw the “surge” in Iraq, and his own personal experience on the battlefield.
“General Petraeus’ education gave him the wherewithal and the intellectual capacity to look outside the box,” Hegseth said. “And for me also, it was Princeton and the liberal education that prepared me for Iraq as much as my military training did.”
Like Hegseth, Petraeus graduated from Princeton University.
When the floor was opened to the YPU debaters, some questioned the wisdom of allowing the military to recruit directly from on campus. While the military may benefit from Yale’s diversity, the University itself may not benefit equally from the partnership, they argued.
Naomi Lisan ’11 said that Yale, as a “holistic institution dedicated to liberal education,” should not embrace an institution that is so fundamentally opposed to its beliefs about toleration.
“We are here to see humanity in a new light,” Lisan said. “But the military necessitates the dehumanization of the enemy or a large number of people. That is against who we are.”
But others said that the ROTC could in fact enrich the student experience at Yale.
“A liberal education is about pushing yourself in a way you didn’t before,” Jeremy Schiffres ’11 said. “The ROTC would be a resource just like any other. If it appeals to a particular student, they should have the opportunity to develop in that field.”
The discussion then moved on to a more controversial issue: the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Some students mentioned last week’s protest of the policy in front of Yale Law School and said they oppose the military’s treatment of service people who are openly gay.
“It is against Yale policy to allow a program that recruits discriminatively,” Shaina Wright ’10 said. “Yale has a norm to stand up to discrimination and not allow that discrimination to be practiced here.”
Addressing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in his opening speech, Hegseth said while he may not agree with all of the military’s policies, he supports what it ultimately stands for.
“Radical Islam is a far greater threat to everything that liberalism stands for, including gay rights,” Hegseth said. “We should remember that we are facing enemies who want our destruction.”
The debate lasted for a little less than two-and-a-half hours. The serious discussion was punctuated by moments of levity, such as when Matthew Shaffer ’10 praised the superiority of Eli intellects. Since the military needs the most accomplished officers and “there is no better man than a Yale man,” ROTC should be allowed to recruit on campus, Shaffer argued.
While debaters such as David Porter ’10 criticized the military itself as a “blunt instrument of death,” the majority of the audience agreed that the ROTC should be allowed to return to Yale. The resolution passed after three calls to vote.