As you walk along Beinecke Plaza, you can’t help but notice the neoclassical behemoth that we all call Commons. But few of us pay attention to the words inscribed along the top of the dining hall that we all lament no longer serves us dinner. The words Thierry, Cambrai and Somme that are inscribed along the top get lost in the snowfall of winter. These words hide more about our Yale than we all truly know.
Yale has a long tradition of military service. Today is Veterans Day, the day we honor about 25 million soldiers, fallen and alive, who have served America. Yalies have served in our military as far back as the American Revolution — a tradition that continues with our classmates considering a career in the armed forces. That group of students have persevered and continued to pursue ROTC regardless of the fact that it has meant commuting to the University of New Haven or the University of Connecticut.
On this day of remembrance, we should not only look at our storied past but also consider how we should look ahead. The past year has been a watershed in the relationship between Yale and the military. After over four decades of absence, ROTC is returning to Yale. An overwhelming percentage of the student body supported the return of ROTC, and administrators took note.
With the return of ROTC in the fall of 2012, Yale can build on its long tradition of teaching the leaders of tomorrow. In order to address the increasing complexities of our world, our military must continue to employ the most talented, strategic thinkers, and Yale must contribute to this educational process.
ROTC can work in tandem with the great programs Yale offers, like Global Affairs and Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s course on leadership, and expose those interested in going into the military to the liberal arts, much in the same way we create such an environment for tomorrow’s investment bankers, physicians and architects.
Ours should be a community of inclusion, not exclusion. It is great that Yale administrators are not planning on treating the academic accreditation of the program in a cookie-cutter manner but are instead considering a much more personalized approach. The long hiatus of Yale’s ROTC program was — at least in name — the product of the University’s failure to implement a policy that satisfied the academic concerns of the college and the program.
The ROTC program we will welcome next fall should be an integral part of Yale’s plans for the future because it represents a major field of interest from which we cannot withdraw. The four decades we spent retreating into our ivory tower were a disservice to our men in uniform — a move I am glad we are reversing. We are not above the fray, and we should not attempt to be.
The military is just as valuable a field for Yalies to go into as the markets, academia and civilian life. It should not be treated as a simple vocation, because our armed forces need people with a liberal arts education. The military provides much of the innovation that affects us on a day-to-day basis. Before Juan Trippe ’21 founded Pan Am — the airline that democratized air travel for all Americans — he was a naval aviator. The analytic skills we gain as students at Yale could be used in the military, and the discipline and diligence the military instills would teach students, too.
Yalies in the military pioneered much of what we consider integral to it today. A group of entrepreneurial Yalies pioneered military aviation during World War I. Among them, one David S. Ingalls ’20 (yes, the namesake of Ingalls Rink) went on to serve in both world wars and win the honor of being the only U.S. Navy Flying Ace of World War I. He was also the captain of the Yale hockey team. The university strives to produce tomorrow’s leaders; Yalies are incredibly talented, and they should invest that talent to serve and lead for our nation.
Ingalls was one of 29 members of the First Yale Unit, the first naval air reserve unit founded by then-Yale sophomore F. Trubee Davison ’19 in 1915. This group went on to produce an assistant secretary of war, an undersecretary of the Navy and a secretary of defense. Hopefully, another generation of Yalies can accomplish something comparable in the 21st century.
Today we honor our fallen, our heroes, our veterans, but there is also room to look towards tomorrow, towards the hopes of our generation. We should support that classmate who hopes to enlist in the military after Yale because his dreams and hopes are just as valuable as the future economist you sit next to in French class.
Christian Vazquez is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.