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.