Miller: Student and soldier

Thucydides once wrote: “A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.” As we consider the return of ROTC to campus, we should keep this sentiment in mind.

Julia Fisher’s ’13 recent argument against ROTC at Yale may be based on sincere student concerns, but I regret to say that most, if not all, of her points are rooted in negative stereotypes of the military. In August 2010, I resigned from the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) in protest of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and transferred to Yale. Having had both the cadet and Yalie experience, I feel qualified to speak to some of her bold assertions and separate fact from fiction.

Fisher first tries to pass ROTC off as a “trade-schooling” program, arguing that the tasks of a soldier are purely technical. For enlisted personnel (servicemembers who enter without a college education), this may be partially true. But she fails to make the crucial distinction between enlisted and officer personnel — ROTC deals only with the commissioning of officers. And in an age of global terrorism, humanitarian intervention and nuclear proliferation, military officers are constantly forced to adapt to evolving security needs. There is no standard operating procedure for “winning hearts and minds” in a counterinsurgency. Now more than ever, we rely on our junior officers (a majority of them ROTC graduates) to use their independent judgments and apply their educations when evaluating the missions at hand. In short, Fisher attempts to delegitimize officers as mere tradesmen, when they are in fact professionals.

She also argues that only a small segment of the student body is interested in military service. However, in the ROTC survey conducted by the Yale College Council, 39.2 percent of respondents answered that they had indeed considered joining the military at some point in their lives. Of those students, 12.2 percent said they hadn’t pursued a military path because they cannot accommodate Yale’s current off-campus ROTC program. Even worse, 42.1 percent said they lost interest after coming to Yale. It’s clear that Fisher is using a post hoc rationalization for the seemingly low student interest in ROTC. In actuality, this impression can be attributed to the fact that military service is currently not a viable option on campus.

Fisher then overgeneralizes the military by stating, “In the army, the broad freedom to question, investigate and experiment is a threat to cohesion and productivity.” Having spent two years studying at West Point, I can say without hesitation that she is wrong. I maintain that some of the best intellectual discussions I’ve participated in have occurred in military classrooms. I was free to question, investigate and even criticize the U.S. military. Of course there is an appropriate manner in which to express dissent, but the process of educating military leaders is certainly not a blind, asymmetric indoctrination like the one Fisher portrays.

The rest of her argument relies on this same perceived divide between military and academic ideologies. This misunderstanding contributes to her eventual proposal: Students should wait until after graduation to pursue military options and Yale should not bring back ROTC. Obviously, I am not asserting that the military is perfect (I ultimately resigned from West Point in public protest of its discrimination against gays and lesbians). But I am arguing that the way to change a flawed intuition that is a permanent fixture in American society is not to boycott it. Rather, we should try to change the military internally. The armed services are not inherently political; the leadership, however, is subject to their own personal and political biases, which are eventually reflected throughout the entire institution. But by contributing to the pool of military leadership, Yale students can take their liberal education and life perspectives into the ranks and fundamentally alter the military’s policies, practices and operations. However paradoxical the solution may seem, the first step to fixing the military is to embrace it.

Reversing the stereotypes and moving our military forward is our responsibility. Bring back ROTC.

Katie Miller is a junior in Morse College, a former West Point cadet, and a spokesperson and student field manager for OutServe, the association of LGBT Servicemembers.


  • gators29011

    West Point did not discriminate against you. West Point obeyed the law in place at that time, which was voted on in Congress by representatives of the American people.

  • jnewsham

    Yes, a discriminatory law. I don’t think Katie is faulting West Point as an institution for doing what it was obliged to do, but the policy of DADT itself.

  • waldo

    I find it a bit humorous that Katie states, “the way to change a flawed intuition… is not to boycott it. Rather, we should try to change the military internally.” Ironic, seeing as she bailed after only two years at West Point under DADT. Say what you will, but that doesn’t sound like someone committed to changing an institution from the inside.

  • jnewsham

    Refusing to lie about your identity is “bailing?”

  • bchick102

    shes going back to the military, one way or another. and you can’t really change the military internally if your silence is mandated, just saying.

  • waldo

    Yes, she bailed. Make no mistake, her actions were for her, not for the betterment of the military. She signed up knowing full well what policies were in place, but jumped ship when she realized she wasn’t as dedicated as she originally thought. I happily await her rejoining, so that those of us who have continued to serve and worked to change the policy and prejudice from within can show her what true selfless service and dedication looks like…

  • bchick102

    So you changed the policy from within, Waldo? I fear your efforts probably came up short. DADT was virtually ignored until Dan Choi and others servicemembers started speaking out in 2009 and onward.

    You seem to be of the mindset that there is only one way to serve one’s country.

  • waldo

    bchick102… you lack depth of perspective. These talks were going on well before Dan Choi and Lady Gaga. The policy was controversial back in 1993 when it was enacted, and brought up intense debate back in 2003 at the 10 year anniversary of the policy (when I first started being an outspoken service member against it). And, of course, I understand there are many ways to serve. However, I am of the belief that when you make a commitment you should stand by it. Call me crazy.

  • bchick102

    The first Congressional testimony by military leaders wasn’ t held until 2010, after the emergence of leaders such as Choi, Fehrenbach, Almy, etc. At that time, the tone of the discussion changed from being about gay rights to servicemembers trying to serve with integrity but failing at doing so because of a policy that facilitated coversion and secrecy within the ranks. It wasn’t until the issue was portrayed as a military agenda that it actually became mainstream. So I reiterate, the voices of out servicemembers made the change, not criticism from within (sadly).

    And she’s not bailing on a commitment. She saw a flaw in the military, helped solve the problem, and will be returning shortly (or so she says). If that’s really the case, then I could hardly consider that “bailing.”

    Plus it’s evident that she continues to support the military, despite its clear discrimination against LGBT people. I mean, the entire article is about her support of reinstating ROTC at Yale…

  • penny_lane

    I completely agree with you, Katie. Fisher argues that Yale is not a preprofessional school, but in this day and age, a purely liberal arts-based education can only take you so far–just ask any pre-med student. As long as ROTC trainees are held to the same rigorous academic standards as any other Yale student (so that it doesn’t simply become a fallback for below-average Yalies), there is no reason why the program shouldn’t be welcomed to campus.

  • elijah

    I think the article is spot-on, but there’s one more point that I think has gone unnoticed — the argument that Yale isn’t a pre-professional school. What exactly is the dichotomy between a school that prepares its students for life as intellectual leaders, and a school that prepares its students for specific careers? Should students not be able to take the Pre-Med track? Aren’t majors just concentrations that specify which career or academic field of study a student is interested in pursuing?
    It seems that insofar as the choices we make to specialize our education lead to a kind of specialization and narrowing of scope, while still allowing us the kind of liberal education Yale offers, ROTC and *especially* the Teacher Prep Program whose shameful and unfortunate removal Fisher used as an argument for ROTC’s exclusion, can be no less pre-professional than other facets of Yale’s education, and this does not have to be a bad thing.

  • Segal

    @bchick102: When Navy Secretary Ray Mabus was at Harvard for signing of agreement between Naval ROTC and Harvard, he said that he has come to Harvard talk with President Faust in 2009 because it looked like DADT would be repealed and he wanted to look beyond that to see how the Navy and Harvard could work together more closely (see I bet he had statements of President Obama in mind, rather than actions of particular activists.

  • bchick102

    President Obama’s rhetoric mirrored exactly that of said servicemembers, but he didn’t create it. It wasn’t until his State of the Union address in 2010 that he actually put DADT repeal on the agenda, and – again – it wasn’t about gay rights but rather improving the military and conditions for servicemembers.

  • waldo

    I always thought he actually put it on his agenda when he penned this open letter to the LGBT community in February of 2008 during his campaign saying he wanted it repealed.
    But then, based on bchick102’s postings, I’m sure she didn’t plan to hold Obama to his word, just as she didn’t expect Miller to uphold her agreement at West Point.

  • ServiceMBR

    While I understand Miller’s response to the discriminatory and anachronistic DADT policy legislated by Congress and enforced by the military, I disagree in the way with which she went about expressing her dissatisfaction with the policy. The US Military is an incredibly close-knit unit. As a service member, there are several individuals of the LGBT orientation who proudly serve their country. When I committed to this country, I did so by swearing an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution. This meant that even though I serve in an organization that actively discriminates against those who put their lives at risk, I do so knowing the letter of the law and its subsequent implications if violated. This knowledge, however, does not preclude action from within. There are, and have been, several internal movements that, without their happening, would not have facilitated the repeal of DADT. My branch alone (for anonymity purposes I will not say which one) has led the charge when it comes to repealing current policy and initiating new. These initiatives have never been made available to the public due to the sensitive nature of DADT and the lives of the individuals involved. I can, however, wholeheartedly say that these initiatives (dating back to 2007 and beyond) undoubtedly created an environment that allowed for the mere discussion of the repeal of DADT (something unthinkable until their inception). Not only did these initiatives serve as the impetus to engage in much-needed dialog, they also served as the foundation upon which several premises of the Task Force Recommendations rest. This, in conjunction with the activism of the public is what ultimately served to repeal DADT, not the actions of one individual. As a service member, it would be nice to finally receive credit for the TREMENDOUS effort done internally from those within – MBRS who adhered to their oath despite their obvious apprehensions.

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