News’ View: University should resurrect Yale ROTC

In the nipping winter of 1917 — three months before Congress would declare war on Germany — Yale held a student-wide vote.

The resolution — calling for the College to offer some form of universal military service — passed overwhelmingly. The tally was 1112-288. The Pentagon swiftly established the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) on campus, one of the first such programs in the nation. Driven “by the belief that their membership in the American elite required certain sacrifices,” about 900 students enrolled.

But today, there is no ROTC at Yale even while one remains at Princeton: The faculty banned it during the Vietnam War and has maintained the policy largely to protest “don’t ask, don’t tell.” While the University provides transportation to nearby colleges to students who choose to participate nevertheless, there are — wait for it — only three students enrolled.

As Marc Wortman, author of “The Millionaires’ Unit” — the story of Yale’s “aristocratic flyboys” who “invented American air power” during the Great War — puts it in his book, “The rare wealthy family’s child who choses military service after attending Yale or Harvard provokes bewildered headshaking no different than would a married man who opted to enter the priesthood. While many … will one day become national and international leaders and some may emerge as decision-makers responsible for the military, very few will have experienced training or battle.”

Although Yale boasts the motto “For God, For Country and For Yale,” it does not, in 2008, live up to that second vow. As the YPU concluded in its debate last night, the time is right for the University to resurrect ROTC.

In bringing the program back to campus, however, the University must not abandon its opposition to Congress’ discriminatory policy that prevents openly gay Americans from enlisting. In fact, it should seize such a moment to reinvigorate the debate.

As it stands, Yale’s strategy to combat “don’t ask, don’t tell” is, practically speaking, ineffective. Yale Law School’s longstanding stance against providing equal access to JAG recruiters, for example, is the closest the University has come to prevailing. That approach ended with a unanimous loss at the U.S. Supreme Court more than a year ago.

There remains, however, a serious problem: The military unabashedly discriminates. We, like so many in the Yale community, believe “don’t ask, don’t tell” is wrong. The next president should call for its overhaul. But not allowing ROTC won’t achieve a thing.

“It’s kind of like not dealing with the problem at all as opposed to trying to change it,” said Taylor Giffen ’09, who spends all day Thursday at the University of Connecticut in the Air Force ROTC.

On a more fundamental level, Yale, of all schools, should reconnect to its history as a college at the forefront of national defense and public service. As Gen. William Odom, a Yale professor who passed away this summer, put it in 2006, “When a republic’s upper strata of youth contribute no leadership to the upper ranks of the military, is the republic really safe?”

Or just take Major-General Leonard Wood, the Rough Rider commander who delivered a rousing Woolsey Hall speech in 1915.

“At the present time, the country is woefully unprepared to resist a great power,” he said to a standing ovation. “The obligation to defend the country rests on everyone!”

Then he asked a good question. “Have you nothing to defend?”


  • Rebecca

    "Longstanding stance?" Come on, guys. Who edited this?

  • Agreed

    There's no reason not to have ROTC on campus -- it wouldn't be mandatory, and it's something that many students are interested in.

  • David Bookstaber

    Point of Order: Air Force ROTC is offered at UConn in Storrs, over an hour north of New Haven. Not exactly "nearby," as this otherwise excellent editorial suggests.

  • Anonymous

    "For God, For Country, and For Yale"

    the "For Country" part is widely interpreted to be service to our country by means of public service, involvement in the community, and social works. I have never interpreted this as being part of the military.

    Yale SHOULD NOT restore ROTC.

  • Huh?

    Amid a flurry of century-old anecdotes (we get it, Andrew, you wrote that "WWI Drills on Cross Campus" story), this editorial keeps pivoting between two very different arguments for bringing ROTC back to campus: First, that it's cowardly to oppose "don't ask, don't tell" without engaging in a dialogue on the issue; second, that more Yalies should be in the military.

    The first line of reasoning is absurd. The University certainly doesn’t need to implicitly condone the military’s discriminatory policies in order to better debate them. If your argument is that the military is a superior form of public service that more students should consider, at least make that argument on its own merits. Idealizing the WWI-era model, one which also openly discriminated against blacks, Asian Americans and women, is just embarrassing.

  • Andrew

    The logic in this editorial is so loose that I almost didn't comment for fear of stating the obvious. But no one else has said anything…

    First, the editorial observes that "Although Yale boasts the motto “For God, For Country and For Yale,” it does not, in 2008, live up to that second vow." The editors take this as something of a mission statement for Yale college that we do not fulfill because of our widespread opposition to a military on campus. But I ask this: is Yale for God anymore, either? It seems to me that the only this Yale is for is, well, Yale.

    They use this motto as a more general example of the traditions on which this university was founded--traditions that we betray here in 2008. But just as a vague call for "Change" does not qualify as a defensible stance, neither does a vague invocation of tradition.

    If Yale were to act out of faithfulness to its traditions, then perhaps the college should look into bringing slaves back to campus.

    As to the argument about addressing a problem by changing it from the inside, I think the YDN board needs a reality check. The Yalies who would decide to join an ROTC program would likely have no particular zeal for reforming discrimination, forgive my generalization. And even if they did, it is entirely unreasonable to expect that a handful of college students (from a notoriously left-wing university, mind you) could effect any meaningful change of a nationally entrenched policy.

    The best thing that Yale can do under these circumstances is to make public its disgust at the policies of the military.

  • Anonymous

    As an alumnus who also happens to be in the military I applaud the effort to bring ROTC back to campus. One thing that strikes me as particularly acute about today's society is its lack of knowledge about the military - its mission, its structure, and how it functions. Surely by more easily accommodating access to such programs as ROTC we can not only influence future military leadership but also gain a better understanding of the military in the process.

  • Y11

    @Andrew: False. The best thing Yale and its ilk can do is offer a more tolerant brand of officer that will hopefully reverse the "don't ask don't tell" policy in the near future. As it is, by ignoring ROTC, we leave the program at the mercy of the south and southwest, and things will only go downhill from there. This, more than anything, epitomizes the shut-in ivory tower approach liberals so often condemn.

    Compromises on both sides are necessary. The military considers bagging the policy, and the Ivy League considers bringing back the program. Don't be so self-righteous in your desire to prove to the nation how forward thinking we are. Take the high road and actually change things.

    Meanwhile, don't dare lump slavery with the rest of Yale's traditions. There are good and bad aspects of every historical institution, and we can indeed pick and choose what of the good we retain. By your logic we should dismiss any and every culture/civilization that ever used discriminatory practice, and I doubt you're as eager to condemn Rome, the founding fathers, etc…

    Don't spew this stuff here just because you lost the YPU vote.

    Props to the YDN for endorsing.

  • Recent Alum

    By all means bring back ROTC so at least Yale students have a chance to join and transform the greatest military in the world into an even better force for good.

  • Henry V. Janoski '55

    Would someone check and let this alum '55 know if there is finally a smile on the face of the Nathan Hale statue? The last time I was on campus I could swear I saw a tear under one of his eyes.

  • @Y11

    I think it's ridiculous how defending an individual's right is "forward thinking".

    When the CIVILIAN Leadership of the military overturn Don't Ask, Don't Turn, then the ROTC can come back.

    Yale should not be forced to openly advocate for an openly discriminatory organization.

  • Steve Trynosky

    An excellent piece that nicely summarizes an existing "problem" and identifies a realistic solution.

    That said, it is essential to point out a number of important facts that were omitted from the article.

    1. Army and Air Force ROTC at UCONN are over an hour away from Yale. This is an untenable arrangement. Given these barriers, is it any wonder that only 3 students participate?

    2. Navy ROTC is unavailable to college students in Connecticut. That's right, even if a student wanted to participate in Navy ROTC, it does not exist as an option for them. This travesty is not limited to Connecticut. Rhode Island, New Jersey and New Hampshire all lack a Navy ROTC presence. Moreover, the NYC Navy program is a "closed" program limited to students from SUNY-Maritime and Fordham. Students from Columbia, NYU or the ~240,000 diverse souls in the CUNY system are unwelcome.

    3. The lack of ROTC programs/resources is not just an "Ivy League" issue. This is a larger issue that suggests a systematic effort (by the DoD) to remove military officer training programs from urban America and progressive environments. The evidence is overwhelming. Between 1989 and 1991, the Army unilaterally shuttered 2 of its 3 ROTC programs in CT and abandoned Detroit, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Jersey City as ROTC host locations. While the Army deems a single ROTC program at UCONN as "adequate" coverage for the 3.5 million souls in CT, it showers Mississippi (pop. 2.9 million) and Alabama (Pop. 4.8 million) with 5 and 10 ROTC programs respectively. In contrast, NJ with 8.6 million people rates 3 Army ROTC programs (down from 7 in 1989).

    This is an important issue and needs to be addressed. Our entering cohorts of military officers look nothing like the national pool of college graduates from which they are drawn.

  • Nathan Tek '09

    Yes, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a discriminatory policy, but using that as the sole justification for kicking out ROTC is using a sledgehammer where a flyswatter is required. After all, the human rights abuses of the Chinese government don't stop Yale from having programs at Chinese universities.

    The simple reality is that we have been privileged with the best undergraduate education our country has to offer. We therefore have an obligation to give back to our nation. It is unacceptable for Yale to close off one particularly noble means of doing so.

  • Hmm

    I can think of a number of groups at Yale that either discriminate outright or do so by less explicit means:


    "Membership in YUWO is open to all women who are part of the Yale community."

    Black Student Alliance

    Kosher Kitchen

    Vegetarian Society (similar to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the group will allow meateaters, just not the eating of meat during functions).

    But, of course, pointing out hypocrisy merely induces cognitive dissonance…

    Other points: allowing ROTC on campus does not "openly advocate" military service (just as allowing Lit Crit does not--necessarily--advocate marxism).

    Let me paraphrase #4's inane absurdity: Because "*I* have never interpreted ["For Country"] as including military service…Yale SHOULD NOT restore ROTC."

    Military SERVICE, like it or not, is indeed NATIONAL service, and while it may not by YOUR preferred service, it is valid and legitimate nonetheless.

    Lastly: I wish y'all could just be honest--"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is merely a red herring (given that ROTC had been absent from campus for a long time prior to that Clintonian policy): opponents just. don't. like. the military.

    Right? Am I right? Fine! Just be honest about it…

  • Re: #4

    Maybe you should walk through the Commons rotunda-- every man whose name is inscribed on those walls would disagree with your interpretation of Yale's creed.

  • RE#14

    @ #14

    Your lumping of such groups as BSAY and Kosher Kitchen as proof that Yale support 'discriminatory' organizations is a borderline idiotic statement and unnecessary to your argument. There are few key differences between ROTC and those groups that make their presence at Yale:

    1. no non-black student has ever been thrown out of BSAY or gentile dragged from the Hillel House, kicking and screaming, after years of dedicated service to protecting both the organization and the people it represents. Members of the ROTC and the military have - I should know.

    2. Membership in those approved YALE groups is subscription based - you decide to go there because you want to know more or because you have something in common with a group's members. If you join the ROTC, you might share the common and noble cause of protecting your country in a more demonstrable sense. If you choose to eat meat, yes the Vegetarian Society might, politely, ask you to leave the group if you CHOOSE to eat meat - a CHOICE that is quite contrary to the purpose of the group. The ROTC/military however might ask you to leave or imply that you are not welcome in any uncertain terms because of a preference that you have had since birth. Now, it might be difficult to prove that being 'gay' is not a choice but one thing that IS easy to prove is that being gay does NOT conflict with the purpose of ROTC and one should not be forced to deny him or herself the right to a mutual relationship with another adult whom they love in order to serve his/her country.

    Once you get that point, #14, the discussion will be much easier for you.

  • #14

    To #16

    LOTS of behavior is proscribed under military service. Officer/enlisted fraternization is forbidden, freedom of speech (and association) is curtailed, and so on.

    Gays are not forbidden their "preference," only from BROADCASTING that preference.

    Are all priests asexual? Or do they CHOOSE to eschew (for the most part) sexual liaisons in pursuit of their chosen path?

    Lastly, #16 wrote "once you get that point, the discussion will be much easier for you." Well, dear friend, speaking as a VETERAN of the US ARMED FORCES (and not intolerant of gays, and aware of several gay fellow servicemembers who successfully AND WITHOUT REGRET modified their public behavior per state regulation), I think I rather DO understand enough of unit cohesion--as well as human understanding--to have the discussion.

    LOTS of sacrifices in order to serve--keeping one's sexual preference to oneself was just one more item.

    [As for vegetarians "politely" asking one to refrain from eating meat--surely you jest! "That meat is screaming" was my favorite line! And, yes, in the early days I certainly *DO* recall having my movements limited--I was not allowed to place my gentile tray on the kosher table--did I cry? No, I fully understood. Of course, I'm funny that way…]

  • Anonymous

    Wow, as a veteran myself, after reading through the comments and the article, all I can say is Yalees are odd and would have trouble fitting into the military. Especially considering most of them are marxists, who don't believe in inequality, especially not the standardized inequality of the military, which is like the most fascist place on earth.

  • Raffi Magarik

    As current president of the Kosher Kitchen, I think it is important to reiterate the point that membership in the Kosher Kitchen is open to all students of Yale College--I am proud to say that we have members from many faiths, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.

    We discriminate neither explicitly nor implicitly. Any suggestion to the contrary is nonsense, and I object strongly.

    Raphael Magarik
    Kosher Kitchen President

  • New YDS Student

    RE #4: Military duty is the ultimate form of public service, none of the things you mentioned as being "for country" are possible without a standing army to protect the state which binds them together. You must have a shamefully low opinion of the military in order to view it as anything other than public service.

    PS: Why is it the university's job to take a stance on "dont ask dont tell"? Let the ROTC back on campus and allow the students to make their own ethical deliberations.

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