The Case for ROTC at Harvard

Memorandum by the Army ROTC faculty at Harvard University, 4 December 1968

Q: Why is ROTC under attack at Harvard now?

A: ROTC is under attack at Harvard now because a small group of student extremists - a tiny minority of the student body - have played upon the inherent anti-war sentiment shared by a majority of peace-loving, traditionally isolationist Americans. The Vietnam war, grievous to virtually all of us, is the immediate source of their blanket denunciation of everything related to the military. They offer no alternatives when they propose destruction of the nation's armed forces. (Let it be understood beyond question that there is at present no acceptable alternate source of junior officer leadership if ROTC is driven from the college campus.) The radicals' reasons for wanting to destroy ROTC are patently contrived because they are exactly the same reasons that existed without challenge for 50 years before Vietnam clouded our vision and robbed our logic.

The anti-ROTC arguments in the excellent study done by the Harvard-Radcliffe Policy Committee are eminently logical when evaluated in the narrow terms of academic freedom. The arguments of the anti-war, moralist protest group are even less practical and convincing in terms of the real-life world. Both arguments deal mostly with technicalities from a very narrow point of view rather than with the hard realities of life and the broad spectrum of our national existence.

When pinned down, none of the radicals and their sympathizers will admit that the nation, in the presence of ruthless enemies, can afford to disband its armed forces. But the question of who is to man the armed forces is left unanswered. The traditional precept of a broad-based citizen-soldier army, with the dangers and sacrifices of military duty shared equally by all able-bodied men, is conveniently forgotten. There is no hue and cry to make the draft laws fair and equitable or to provide an acceptable substitute for ROTC, if indeed a substitute can be found.

How, in the presence of these facts, can there be any rational support for the destruction of ROTC? Surely there is some doubt that a gambit in the guise of academic freedom in the liberal arts milieu should not be allowed to destroy an important institution in our society without a reasonable alternative.

Q: What alternatives are available if the ROTC program is discredited or driven completely from the college campus?

A: There is no acceptable program in existence at this time to substitute for ROTC as a broad-based source of college-educated citizen-soldier leaders for our armed forces. About 45 per cent of all Army officers currently on active duty are ROTC graduates; 65 per cent of our 1st lieutenants and 85 per cent of our 2nd lieutenants come from the ROTC program. The Army needs 18,000 new 2nd lieutenants each year to meet normal attrition. We met that goal last year and expect to meet it again this year. For some years before that, we had serious shortfalls. There is little question that the current wave of anti-ROTC sentiment, unless reversed by exemplary action on the part of ROTC host institutions, will have serious impact upon ROTC production figures in the immediate future.

The anti-ROTC extremists apparently do not accept the criticality of ROTC to our defense establishment. They persist in the notion that the armed forces will continue to exist and perform their functions, somehow, without ROTC. The blunt truth is that Officer Candidate School (OCS) programs are not attractive to college graduates unless there is extreme pressure from the draft. One reason is obvious: the Army OCS volunteer must serve a three-year tour of active duty, not two years as in the case of the ROTC graduate or the college graduate drafted into the Army as a private.

What about officer training programs such as the US Marine Corps' Platoon Leader Program which requires no on-campus training for college students? That program is not popular because it requires two summer training camps instead of one, plus three years of active duty. College men are increasingly reluctant to give more than one summer of their college years to officer training.

An OCS program catering to high school graduates and college dropouts as a primary source of junior officers for the Army Officer Corps is unthinkable. The armed forces simply cannot function - nor should they be expected to function in our complex society - without an officer corps comprised largely of college graduates, just as most of our national institutions these days rely upon college-educated men for their leadership. Who is prepared to trust their sons - let alone the nation's destiny - to the leadership of high school boys and college drop-outs? Only the grossly uninformed or narrowly bigoted critic could fail to comprehend that the armed forces have a perfectly valid need for a fair share of the time and talents of the young Americans who have been blessed with a college education.

Q: What will be the effect if the various changes in Harvard ROTC programs being recommended for faculty action are approved?

In the matter of faculty status for service officers assigned to ROTC duty, this is a requirement of law. It follows that no one in the Department of Defense could possibly have the authority to waive that requirement. The Congress could change the law, of course, but the purpose of the provision in the first instance - insuring a respectable position and status for the ROTC program on every college campus, insuring that the program is not categorized as a college game - would be sacrificed. . . .

In the matter of withdrawal of physical support - classrooms and administrative offices - by the institution, it seems quite clear that no military department could continue to operate a unit under such circumstances.

With regard to academic credit, the services are all known to be most anxious to retain academic credit as a mark of prestige and a matter of ultimate inducement in attracting young men to the ROTC programs. All services are known to be most eager to "upgrade" their curricula to satisfy the demand for "college-level" subjects. All services have some flexibility in this regard and are anxious to work with host institutions in search of agreeable compromise ground. The ability to do this varies among the services, however, largely because the Army is wedded - for better or for worse - to a two-year active duty obligation. Without being grossly imprudent personnel managers, we cannot afford to take six months out of the two years - 25 per cent of the ROTC graduate's productive time in service - to teach him the military skills which he must know in order to be an effective officer. With a three or four year active duty obligation to work with, our sister services can afford to teach their "officers" what is required to be an officer after they come on active duty. . . .

More important than any point thus far made is the role of Harvard University in setting a pattern of ROTC policy for the entire academic community. There are other colleges and universities where academic credit for ROTC is much more meaningful than at Harvard. Many of these institutions are big-production schools which can have a major impact upon Army officer procurement objectives. Harvard has a special obligation to the nation as a precedent-setting leader of the academic community. "As Harvard goes, so goes the Army ROTC program" might produce a disaster of real proportions if the ROTC concept is weakened and degraded nation-wide.