The Senate has already reported in favor of reinstating ROTC at Columbia. Yet, as I look through the transcript of the hearings, I cannot help feeling that many objections reflect fears that are not justified. In support, and in the hope that those who lost may still be converted rather than remain aggrieved, I can do no better than to draw on my personal experience with the issues at hand.
Our only daughter, Anu, studied English Literature at Yale, and, after one semester at Columbia, chose to join the Marine Corps (under the Officer Candidate Program, which draws in graduates). After five years, she left as Captain. She then joined Kennedy School at Harvard and studied Human Rights for two years with Michael Ignatieff and others. She then founded her own NGO, titled SWAN (Service Women’s Action Network), to assist military women, having witnessed first hand the acute problems afflicting women in the armed forces. She has been doing great work, testifying occasionally in the Congress, helping draft legislation, fighting against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, writing op-eds, appearing on TV shows, and much more.
Some weeks ago, she reached a different level, when SWAN brought a class action lawsuit against the Department of Defense and Secretaries Gates and Rumsfeld on behalf of 16 assaulted women (and two men). She gave a powerful press conference at the National Press Club, followed by appearances on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, Kyra Phillips etc., National News on NBC with Isikoff, and even Piers Morgan for over half an hour. She also made it to New York Times and Washington Post print editions and to shows worldwide with an extensive AP interview. SWAN has additionally brought a lawsuit with the ACLU, asking for the release of information by the DOD on assaults against women in the military—she should win.
I say this not only because we are proud of her accomplishments, —particularly since they are based on social engagement that characterized our own parents almost 100 years ago, and are the jewel in the crown of the State of Gujarat from which we come, as did Mahatma Gandhi—but because it shows that none of what Anu has accomplished would have happened if she had not joined the Marines in the first place.
The strongest argument for ROTC, now that DADT has been defeated and will go within a year for sure, is that ROTC is one more, and indeed an important, way people like Anu are brought into the military. We need a first-rate military, where the diverse undergraduates and graduates of our universities enroll and bring open and lively minds, and the habit of seeking virtue as they see it to their chosen vocations.
I should add that familiarity breeds contempt, but contempt does not breed familiarity. In my experience, schools like West Point are staffed by faculty with some of the finest degrees—one economics professor is a former MIT student of mine. The splendid students there are also exposed to a lively exchange of views on our foreign policy issues and dilemmas, and to human rights questions. Anu just lectured there. So did the Human Rights professor Peter Rosenblum of the Law School.
Unfortunately, few critics of our military on campus, who are among the most militant critics of ROTC, are aware of these realities, and proceed from the stereotypes that the military trains brutal men programmed only to kill, and that our military is an enforcing instrument in the service of our “imperialistic” ambitions. The fact is that the American empire is an amalgam of three varieties: empire by example (think of Tiananmen Square and Middle East in the last month); empire by invitation (think of World War II); and empire by stealth (think of CIA-led sedition). The last is indeed deplorable. But if we are to fight its incidence successfully, we better get more of our young like Anu into the military where they can put their shoulders to the wheel, alongside ours, to counter it.
This article originally appeared in the Columbia Spectator.