After an absence that dates back to the Vietnam War era, and 11 years to the day after 9/11, ROTC is finally returning to Harvard, Columbia, and Yale. At a time when everybody is talking about how polarized America has become, it’s worth noting this sign of reconciliation between elite academic institutions and the U.S. military.
We’ve had two unpopular wars since 9/11—Iraq and Afghanistan—but relations between civil society and the military have not been as deeply affected as they were in the Vietnam era.
Much of the credit must go to the military leadership. Military thinkers have been deeply worried about the gulf between civilian and military elites that opened up in the Vietnam period. They have taken great pains to build links between the military and civilian professionals and leaders. Organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations have also played a part by creating fellowships that allow military officers to spend time with civilian counterparts. Bard College, where I teach, and West Point work together to build close contacts between their students.
Civilians have had a more mature attitude today than they did during the Vietnam War. More Americans understand that the military doesn’t make war policy. And the immature Vietnam-era habit of blaming uniformed military for policies that were created by civilian politicians has largely—though not entirely—vanished from American life.
George Washington took command of the Continental Army in Cambridge, not far from the Harvard campus. It is good to see the successors of that army welcomed back, in uniform, and to know that Harvard grads will be among the officers leading American forces in the 21st century.