The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 2      January 17, 2011

U.S. gov’t pushes ROTC return
after ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal
(front page)
Washington has taken another step in its bipartisan effort to bring the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) back onto campuses where massive protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s forced it out.

On December 22, the same day Congress approved nearly $160 billion more for the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gays from serving openly in the military. University administrations at elite schools like Harvard, Columbia, and Yale quickly announced they would welcome ROTC back on campus.

According to the Army ROTC’s website, the program is the largest source of commissioned officers for the U.S. military, producing “approximately 60 percent of the Second Lieutenants who join the Active Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard. More than 40 percent of current Active Duty Army General Officers were commissioned through ROTC.”

ROTC has programs at more than 1,100 schools, including junior programs at some high schools. Recruits take military courses and undergo training in addition to regular studies. Those on scholarship or who take advanced courses are required to serve in the military for eight years upon graduation.

At the time of Washington’s war in Vietnam, in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Indochinese were killed, along with nearly 60,000 U.S. soldiers, the ROTC was seen by many students as a symbol of a hated imperialist army that defends the interests of the propertied U.S. rulers against struggles by the oppressed and exploited around the world. Students demanded university administrations cease collaborating with efforts to recruit more soldiers and officers.

With a greater need to assert its military power around the world today because of sharpening competition with rival capitalist powers, Washington has undertaken a transformation of its armed forces, including reconsidering the ban on openly gay troops. The debate among top generals and capitalist politicians has not been about whether to discriminate against homosexuals, but what best serves their goal of increasing U.S. military might.

When Obama campaigned for U.S. president in 2008 he called for repeal of the antigay ban as part of presenting himself as more capable of prosecuting the “war on terror” than John McCain. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is “a counterproductive strategy,” he told the Advocate newspaper at the time. “We’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military… . What I want are members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are making decisions based on what strengthens our military and what is going to make us safer, not ideology.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was signed into law by William Clinton in 1993. He had promised during his presidential election bid to issue an executive order lifting what was then a blanket ban on gays in the military. In the end Clinton signed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” under which troops cannot be questioned about their sexual orientation, but soldiers who are known to be homosexuals can be dismissed. Under the policy more than 17,000 men and women have been thrown out of the service, according to the New York Times.

One of the most receptive university administrators to the military’s effort to get ROTC back on campus is Harvard president Drew Faust, who proudly points to that school’s long record in providing top officers for the capitalist war machine.

In 2005 the Harvard faculty voted to reinstate ROTC, which had been barred from campus since 1969, if the military ended the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Faust joined Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a public appearance in November in announcing that ROTC would return to the campus once “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. “I want to be the president of Harvard who sees the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ because I want to be able to take the steps to ensure that any and every Harvard student is able to make the honorable and admirable choice to commit himself or herself to the nation’s defense,” Faust said.

Columbia University president Lee Bollinger said the end of the antigay policy offers “the opportunity for a new era in the relationship between universities and our military services… . This is an historic development for a nation dedicated to fulfilling the core principles of equal rights.”

The New York Daily News editorialized that bringing ROTC back onto Ivy League campuses would help break down “the social and economic chasm between the well-to-do and those on the front lines.” Columbia, said the editors, “has a responsibility to expose its students, many of whom are privileged, to the opportunity to serve their country. Investment bank recruiters have the run of the place; the military is owed at least as much respect.”  
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