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“You will influence the military and it will influence you”

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Still more on the ROTC. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Nelson makes the case for bringing ROTC back to elite schools. One especially good bit from the essay’s conclusion:

Reopening the doors to ROTC, a military institution that is understandably chary of being burned again by some future campus controversy (an especially unpopular war? military harm to the environment?), won’t be enough. Colleges and universities need to put out the welcome mat so that students are encouraged to consider military service as an option for at least part of their lives—en route, as some of them will turn out to be, to high public offices in which they will make decisions about war and peace in years to come. One form of welcome would be to top up ROTC scholarships so that high-tuition institutions are affordable to service-oriented young people. More generally, though, colleges should take to heart an argument made by Josiah Bunting III, the Vietnam-era army-major-turned-novelist who later became president of Hampden-Sydney College and superintendent of Virginia Military Institute.

Writing in The American Scholar in 2005, Bunting observed that the long-term benefit to society of Teach for America—the program that recruits high-flying college grads to spend two or three years teaching in difficult public schools—is that later in life, when they are in positions of influence, “they will know the costs and difficulties and sometimes dangers of such duties. So it should be with … soldiering in behalf of the American people.” That’s not a programmatic plan of action, but it is an animating spirit that individual colleges and universities would do well to adopt and then apply to their own distinctive circumstances.

Nelson’s essay put in mind a snippet from an interview with Nathaniel Fick on why he became an officer in the Marines:

Mr. Fick majored in classics at Dartmouth, and he speaks about being motivated to join the Marines by a talk given by Tom Ricks, a Washington Post reporter who covers the military. Fick says that Ricks was an advocate for ROTC on campus during his talk, and a professor challenged him, saying if you bring the military onto our campus you’ll screw up our peaceful nature and tolerance.

Ricks replied, no, what will happen is that you will liberalize the military. You will influence the military and it will influence you.[Emphasis mine.]

Image from Army Cadet Command.