ROTC and Yale:
Which is the four-letter word?
The Yale Free Press
By Joseph Callo
an article about ROTC in the Yale Daily
News of 21 January 2005, reporter Jessica Marsden quoted Yale President
Richard Levin as saying, “It’s a difficult question of values.” President Levin
has it right; the ROTC issue, more than anything else, involves values.
And among the values involved is Yale’s former, forward leaning
tradition of support of the
In any event, that tradition was repudiated in 1969. Yale Larned Professor of History emeritus Gaddis Smith described the events pretty accurately—from the University’s point of view—in a chapter of Time and Change—Yale 1952—The 50th Reunion:
presence of the Reserve Officer Training Corps programs was (in 1968) the key
There’s a lot of emotional content between the lines of Professor Smith’s chronology. And, he rightly ends his summary with opposing views, leaving it for his reader to search for conclusions about what really went on. Did Yale betray its extended family and country? Or, did the university’s actions simply serve its higher purpose by fostering dissent? Those are provocative questions, and when emotions run high, it’s useful to begin at the beginning.
In the Shadow of a Hangman’s Noose
Yale’s tradition of support for our military goes back a long way. Nathan Hale, whose statue stands outside the university’s oldest existing building, provides a dramatic entry point for an examination of the school’s earliest military connections. He was a member of the Yale class of 1773.
As a Continental Army militiaman, Hale was
a prototype for the thousands of volunteer, non-career military officers Yale
has introduced into
Other Yale graduates also served in the
Continental military during the American Revolution, including Timothy Dwight,
class of 1769 and President of Yale College from 1795-1817 and David Humphries,
class of 1771. Dwight was a Continental Army chaplain and Humphries fought at
ROTC Enters the Yale Scene
Yale was among the small group of private
universities that established Army ROTC programs in 1917, as the
But, perhaps the most intriguing WWI link
between Yale and the
The volunteer naval aviators had the university’s overt support. On 28 March 1917, several days before the United States entered the war, Yale’s Emergency War Council supported the interruption of undergraduate educations with voluntary military service saying: “[I]f he is an undergraduate in good and regular standing at the time of leaving, who has advanced to Junior year, due credit towards a degree will be given him for satisfactory work in the Army or Navy.”
First Yale Unit members distinguished themselves for their combat courage and flying skill. The group is considered to be the beginning of the U.S. Naval Air Reserve, whose thousands of members have served their country above and beyond the call of duty. Many of the unit’s original unit members went on after the war to be nationally recognized for noteworthy postwar careers in business and government.
Yale also was among the original six
universities that established Navy ROTC units in 1926, along with the
The Greatest Generation at Yale
Following what was by then a well established tradition of broadly based and pro active support of the U.S. military, thousands of Yale’s graduates served in WWII and the school was thoroughly involved in military training with such efforts as the Navy’s V-12 program. The V-12 program provided students an opportunity to complete their undergraduate Yale educations, while also preparing for active duty as naval aviators.
After WWII an Air Force ROTC unit was established at Yale. At that point, the university had ROTC units for all of the armed services. And thousands of its graduates had gone on to active military duty, bringing their Yale perspectives with them, most for relatively brief periods before civilian careers and some for distinguished lifetime active duty or reserve careers.
Yale’s Post WWII involvement with
In his book, Winks, a Yale professor and college master, included Norman Holmes Pearson, who served in the intelligence path finding U.S. Office of Strategic Services during WWII and in the post-war Central Intelligence Agency. Pearson also led the immensely popular undergraduate American Studies program at Yale during the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s. Winks also included James Jesus Angleton, Yale ’41, in his book. Angleton headed up the Central Intelligence Agency’s counterintelligence efforts for 25 years.
On the evidence, there can be little doubt that many Yale graduates moved quietly into the nation’s Cold War intelligence community during the 1950s and 1960s. In almost all cases, their stories will never be told.
Yale Dismisses the Troops
came the Vietnam War. It wasn’t the first
One of the special and irrational
characteristics of the Vietnam War dissent, however, was the degree of
vehemence directed specifically at the American military. It was a time, for example, when military personnel were
harassed and even assaulted on the streets of our cities. Active duty and
reserve military personnel in
The academic community was, unfortunately, in the forefront of the era’s hate-the-military attitudes. And many educators are still there. As recently as February of this year, there was a newspaper report of a sixth-grade teacher sending anti-military letters to a GI as part of a class “social studies” assignment.
The signature event of the time for media
was the series of
Then, it just happened at the time that universities, including Yale, began to reevaluate the academic credentials of the ROTC program. Some said that the courses were too “vocational.” Others said that the courses lacked “intellectual weight.” The more aggressive dissenters simply said that it was immoral for intellectual bastions to associate with those who were trained to blow things up and kill people. Not surprisingly, it also just happened that university committees—comprised of various combinations of students, faculty, and administrators—found the ROTC programs were not intellectually worthy of a university campus presence. New requirements for the ROTC units were then established by many universities, again including Yale.
The rest, as they say, is history. By 1973
many universities simply did not renew contracts with the Department of
Defense, and other units were withdrawn by DOD. A survey by The Harvard Crimson that year reported
that “the ROTC program is…dead and buried at Harvard, Yale, Brown,
Whoa, Not so Fast
There are several details involved with the forgoing process that have been glossed over for years but that deserve some exploration. One is the frequently repeated statement that ROTC units were “of slight intellectual weight.”
For one thing, although ROTC is almost
always thought of as a single entity, it is not one program but a series of
programs. The Army, Navy/Marine Corps, and Air Force curricula and faculties
are all different, and each is administered by its own service. And from
personal experience, I can unequivocally attest to the fact that the NROTC
courses in the early 50s were more rigorous than some of the other Yale
undergraduate offerings of the time. In addition, the instructors were well
qualified and highly motivated. Further, there were initial requirements in
math and science for the NROTC program that exceeded those of
Further, if there was a concern with academic quality in the various ROTC programs at Yale, those concerns should have been articulated with specificity, so they could be addressed by the military service involved. Withdrawing academic credit and official faculty status of the military instructors across the board does not seem to be what the circumstances called for. In fact, it could be reasonably perceived as a rationalization for a decision that all things military on the campus had to go.
New Cover for Old Enmity
the old indictments of inadequate academic content and the claimed immorality
of the Vietnam War have faded. And they have been replaced primarily by
objections based on the government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards
homosexuals. Gay activists claim discrimination. A recent example appeared the The Yale Herald with a quote from a
And, if you had lived for two years in a shipboard compartment approximately fifteen feet by fifteen feet, with two double bunks, a desk, a sink, and a double locker, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy strikes one as a reasonable recognition of reality.
Part of the problem with “don’t ask, don’t tell” is the unwillingness by some to recognize that the military is not the same as corporate, academic, or, in fact, any other kind of civilian activity. It has special requirements that are in place to give those involved the best chance of staying alive, and in the process, providing an effective military defense force for our country. These special requirements are not driven by social agendas or moral judgments but by practical considerations that relate to military—and especially combat—realities.
Finally, it seems to be an intellectual anomaly for Yale and other universities to fall back to the position that banning ROTC is basically a matter of free speech. That argument simply stands the principle involved on its head by denying others’ speech and rights. A letter to the editor in The Wall Street Journal of 16 December 2004 by David J. Arthur put it in elegantly simple terms. The letter read: “University faculties ingeniously use the language of tolerance to justify their intolerance for viewpoints that differ from their own. Faculties tell the military and others that they must agree with the faculty’s views on what fair personnel policies are or be banned from the university. This arrogant intolerance of particular opinions is counter to the very tolerance universities profess to favor.”
But the intellectually inconsistent thinking Mr. Arthur describes is, unfortunately, politically correct in today’s world. And that is the most distressing aspect of the present ROTC situation at Yale. A great university has displaced a centuries-old tradition of support for some of our nation’s best and bravest with verbal gymnastics and political correctness. Yale has traded some of its most precious values for a trendy, anti-intellectual conformity.
And if one doubts that Yale is in the thrall of inherently anti-military political correctness, one should be reminded of the truism that you can judge an organization by whom it honors. Now, think hard; when was the last time Yale honored a graduate—anyone, for that matter—for achievement in a military career?
The Way Ahead
During the interview cited at the beginning of this article, Yale President Levin responded to questions about ROTC by saying that there are no new university decisions on the issue. He added: “We’ve had some conversations, not directly with ROTC, but with some individuals interested in trying to facilitate that.”
Indications suggest, however, that it is time for the university to do the right thing and reverse its politically correct but intellectually inconsistent ROTC policy. The virulent anti-military attitude that infected university students of the 1960s and 1970s has devolved into an array of left-leaning activist groups and individuals, mostly focused on Gay rights. Today, the inherited anti-military attitude of the late 1960s and early 1970s is being challenged, in one respect, by the question: “Why not ROTC?” Consider the following:
· A Columbia Spectator report claims that a recent undergraduate referendum produced a roughly two to one favorable vote for ROTC.
· The commander of the MIT ROTC Battalion, where Harvard ROTC students have classes and drills, has cited a significant increase in ROTC access to the Harvard campus during the past five years.
· The Yale College Republicans are campaigning for an undergraduate petition that will help to determine, among other things, if there should be increased discussion with the university administration about bringing ROTC back.
Even some media are beginning to suggest that
there is a significant amount of intellectual hypocrisy associated with Yale’s
attitude of “What issue?” An editorial in the New Haven Register of 18 February
defines the university’s intellectual contradiction in dollar denominated
terms: “The university takes $300 million in
There are two thoughts that President Levin, the Yale administration, and particularly the Yale faculty should consider from their pinnacle of cool. The first is an idea nicely expressed by humorist Will Rogers: “If you’re riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there.” The second idea is something that by now—borrowing a Margaret Thatcher phrase—“is so obvious that only very sophisticated people seem unable to grasp it.” Yale needs ROTC more than ROTC needs Yale.
Mr. Callo was commissioned from the Yale NROTC. He is a retired U.S. Navy Reserve rear admiral and an author. His next book John Paul Jones: America’s First Sea Warrior will be published in March. During his life, he has witnessed WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War. The views he represents are his own.