Some time after their charge up San Juan Hill, the Rough Riders stormed Woolsey Hall.
The mood was electric that June evening in 1915. Twenty five hundred Yale men were inside the marble doors, anticipating the call of the former Rough Rider commander, Major-General Leonard Wood. Yale professors were jumping on stage, fiery-eyed and trying to make history. Explorer-professor Hiram Bingham III offered up a silver “Loving Cup,” valued at $100, to the class that enlisted the most men in training.
“At the present time, the country is woefully unprepared to resist a great power!” Wood shouted. “The obligation to defend the country rests on everyone! Have you nothing to defend?”
As the rest of the country embraced isolationism, the Yale crowd leapt to its feet, cheering. Before long, the campus was described as an “armed camp” by the New York Observer. Some students who heeded Wood’s call and joined Yale’s pioneer ROTC program even traded in traditional robes for military fatigues at graduation that year. But they wouldn’t have stood out: Hundreds of other students and alumni did the same.
Ninety years and six wars later, Chris Day ’07 stands out.
It’s not just the fact that he is already engaged to his future spouse or holding two pistols in his Facebook photo. It’s not even that he’s ideologically conservative. It’s that every Wednesday, as he walks into his Strategy, Technology and War course, he wears Army blue and epaulets, following in the tradition of his Eli predecessors. Though his classmates may be patriots — may even be planning careers in the CIA, the State Department or elected office — they often do a double take at the sight of Day’s cadet uniform, weathered by an early-morning ROTC drill session.
After all, only four Yale students are involved in ROTC training. Though Princeton has a formal ROTC program — the Tiger Battalion — and approximately 100 Harvard cadets walk down Massachusetts Avenue to nearby MIT in order to participate, the Yale faculty voted to ban ROTC in the late 1960s. Today’s battle-ready Bulldogs, therefore, must drive nearly two hours to the University of Connecticut or Sacred Heart University, usually at around 5:15 a.m.
Day says his military service is “good for Yale and good for the country,” but the reality is inescapable: The meaning of “for country” in the Yale motto is no longer the same.
Though students still flock to public service — Yale can seem like the country’s political breeding ground — a search of the Yale Alumni Directory indicates that about 12 times as many alums are employed by the government as by the armed forces.
Gone are the days when masters sent greetings to alumni fighting overseas — boxes and boxes of such correspondence from past wars sits in the Mudd stacks. The Yale president no longer holds events for veterans, from Kentucky to Boston, to gather and celebrate a unified America as Theodore Woolsey did in 1865 following the defeat of the Confederacy.
In short, Yale no longer places a premium on military service.
But the rebel Nathan Hales (Class of 1773) of the campus, though not common, are still out there. They are still bleeding magenta: that Bulldog blue mixed with red and white. They are ready to lose a life for their country and, by extension, for their college.
‘Brainiacs’ in battle
Whether it’s the communications director in the deadly Anbar Province whose e-mails come tagged with classification codes, or the intelligence analyst stationed in Alaska, Yalies who joined the military agree: Their alma mater can be both a source of pride and a burden.
That duality is reflected in — some say stems from — the stance taken by Yale’s decision-makers. Day, for instance, said he feels that administrators from Richard Levin on down speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the ROTC.
“They won’t go on record saying they don’t support ROTC: It’s double talk,” he said, adding that in fact, “they don’t really care.”
After talking to classmates, Day thinks that if Yale did offer ROTC on campus, about three dozen students would join immediately.
But Levin said the program’s abolishment on campus will remain as long as the military insists that Yale grant course credit for ROTC activities and give faculty members involved in the program simulated ranks (i.e. “Lt. Colonel Harold Bloom”).
“[Yale’s] policies still remain in force today and they have to do with ensuring the academic independence of the Yale faculty,” Levin said.
Still, he said he has “personally tried to encourage” students interested in getting military preparation to participate in ROTC. Yale provides transportation to and from the neighboring universities, unlike some other nearby universities without programs.
For intelligence analyst Lt. Celina Croteau Noyes ’00, who spoke to the News from her Alaskan base, that transportation was enough. She attended Yale on a military scholarship and found the University accommodating; she noted that Yale is the only college in the area without ROTC to offer free rental cars.
Taylor Garrett Giffen ’09, who travels to University of Connecticut to participate in Air Force ROTC, said he is also satisfied with Yale’s support. He said being at both Yale and in ROTC has been a positive experience.
But Capt. Allan Chiu ’02, an officer of the United States Marine Corps, said he has been called a “Brainiac” — “not always a good thing” — and that he has therefore had to work extra hard to serve effectively as an officer.
“They think, ‘Here is an officer who went to Yale,’ and immediately there’s a disconnect,” Chiu said.
Second Lt. Emily Grant ’02 heads up the Marines’ communications in Iraq’s Anbar Province, controlling satellites and monitoring switchboards and routers. Though her regiment knows that she is a Yale graduate, she gets more ribbing for being 6’ 2”.
“My military service is another expression of Yale’s emphasis on service,” she said from Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
But a Yale education is hardly tailored to the needs of combat. Jean-Paul Christophe ’04 eschewed Wall Street in favor of the Air Force, although he was not involved in ROTC. Last week, suspended in midair, transfixed on the objective before him — follow orders, don’t screw up — he couldn’t help but remember a lesson from his Yale professors: Analyze, don’t summarize.
“Yale will prepare me for when I am out there, being a leader, making decisions that will affect people’s lives,” he said. “But in terms of the academics, flying is just the opposite. This is not about think, analyze, take it home to do something with it. It’s about learn, memorize, spit it back out.”
Whether or not Yale prepares students to make life-or-death decisions for others on the battlefield, it rarely inspires them to do so. The social and political tides of the past few decades have washed away much of Yale’s once-legendary sand.
Dusting off the sand
If there was something known universally on the Yale campus of the early 20th century, it was that to help a locomotive grasp its surface, one must toss sand in front of its wheels.
“If you did something for Yale, you were said to have sand,” said Marc Wortman, a New Haven-based historian. “It was another term for showing character.”
In his book “The Millionaires’ Unit,” Wortman describes how six members of the Yale flying club in particular took it upon themselves, “driven by the belief that their m
embership in the American elite required certain sacrifices,” to amass a fleet of airplanes. A year before Woodrow Wilson declared war, the six would rotate shifts protecting the New Haven harbor. One of the six went on to help the Department of War create a strategic bomber force, credited by many for America’s victory in World War I.
“‘For God, for country and for Yale,’ in those days, were all one and the same,” Wortman said.
It was this “Yale Spirit” that made Yale among the first institutions to implement the ROTC program, in which the U.S. military pays the college tuitions of students who participate in training while they are undergraduates and serve upon graduation, said Gaddis Smith, emeritus professor of history and Yale historian. Arthur Hadley, Yale’s president in 1915, “pulled a fast one” on Yale’s faculty, some of whom objected to the ROTC program. He corresponded with various U.S. presidents and military chiefs to ensure that the University would spearhead on-campus training, as it had done during the Civil War.
As World War II passed, the “Yale Spirit” intensified. Branford, for example, saw hundreds of its men shipped overseas, including all four members of the college’s a cappella group.
“The old Branford Quartet is now spread around the world,” Quartet member Willys Monroe wrote while at war. “I know we’ll never forget Branford Men and [singing] before an appreciative audience.”
During the Korean War, almost half of the Yale undergraduate body was in ROTC units, and Yale professors often added officer ranks to their university titles.
“The high-water mark in enrollment came during the Korean War,” Smith said.
But on an eerie evening in 1969, dozens of Calhoun College men were listening to the radio. They were not dancing to the Beatles, or using Bob Dylan as a backdrop to their conversation: They were praying, listening to the numbers being called out on WYBC, turning pale and leaving Calhoun’s Castle Room one by one to call home about their fates.
Jay Gitlin ’71, now a Yale history professor, was among the men who witnessed the draft lottery. It was around that time that the Rough Rider speech of 1915 began to seem more like a fable than a Yale reality. No one wanted to be in that room. No one wanted to serve.
“In a way, it was like the angel of death touching you on the shoulder and saying, ‘Ah, your number is called,’” Gitlin said.
Though the angel of death did not touch everyone in that room, it did fire the final shot at Yale’s ROTC program. Since then, institutions like Siena College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have graduated ROTC students in numbers that make Yale’s connection to the military seem tenuous, almost obsolete.
“Yes, the lefties were there, and they were screaming,” Smith said. “But the faculty committee had been pursuing this even before the Vietnam War became controversial.”
While Gitlin and his classmates were holding their breaths, Charles Hill — now an international relations professor — was relaying detente strategies to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Four decades later, Hill summarized the state of affairs at the University: Since Vietnam, he said, Yale has been “adversarial to the military.”
“A student who wants a military career is not going to get any help around here, and is probably going to get a lot of criticism,” Hill said. “A student who wants that has got to find their own way.”
For country or for Yale?
But as Minh Luong, a Yale professor with ties to the American national security establishment, points out, the average Yale student’s “own way” rarely means the military way.
“I have met many Yale students during my seven years here who wish to pursue a career in public service — the primary question in their minds is which avenue would allow them to best serve their country,” he said. “Far more Yale students pursue careers in the intelligence and diplomatic corps than uniformed military careers.”
Lt. General William Odom, a Yale political science professor who directed the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan, bemoaned the disconnect.
“If a political or intellectual elite contribute nothing to the military, I think it’s trouble,” he said. “Military authority is the ultimate limit against chaos and disorder, and if the leadership is not willing to take on that mission, what happens? You become corrupted.”
At the beginning of his popular seminar, “American National Security,” Odom, who has suggested a constitutional amendment to mandate that presidents must have served in the military, poses a question. He doesn’t bother discussing it for long, but the point comes across.
“When a republic’s upper strata of youth contribute no leadership to the upper ranks of the military,” Odom asks, “is the republic really safe?”
Yale alum Flagg Youngblood, for one, doesn’t think so. A former officer, he wrote in the Washington Times that he was “deeply ashamed” of Yale because it would “sooner embrace an ambassador from one of America’s declared and defeated enemies” than allow ROTC on campus, showing “where Yale’s allegiance to America falls, or should I say fails.”
And in drafting the legislation forcing federally funded law schools to provide equal access to military recruiters — upheld by the Supreme Court despite legal challenges by Yale and other law schools — Rep. Richard Pombo called on his fellow congressmen to “send a message over the wall of the academic ivory tower.”
But one of the epicenters of that tower — Woolsey Hall — is, ironically, where the American military tradition may remain the strongest, though only one name has been added to Commons’ wall of fallen Yalies over the past several decades.
Jerry Morones ’07, the other Army ROTC undergraduate besides Day, said other cadets laughed when they realized that only two Yale students were involved in the Army ROTC. But one night in mid-October, he found himself in the memorial rotunda, reading the names, dates, ranks and poetry engraved in the white marble.
“It never really struck me like it did that one evening — it was then that I realized that I was joining such a deeply rooted tradition, spanning hundreds and hundreds of years,” Morones said. “It saddens me that Yale no longer supports ROTC on campus, but whether it’s through two students or 200, Yale’s connection to the military … lives on.”
Several weeks later, Morones attended this year’s Veterans Day concert in Woolsey Hall. Professors were not jumping on stage. Students were not standing, cheering or enlisting. No Silver Loving Cup was offered.
But as the Army Band played for the audience of Yale and New Haven veterans, Morones could not help but notice something.
“Woolsey Hall,” he said, “was completely packed.”