By Steve Kelman

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The Harvard 'anti-military' stereotype

Those assuming that liberal/radical/leftwing Harvard is anti-military would have been surprised to observe Veterans Day at the Kennedy School. On arriving Wednesday morning -- the school was closed on Veterans Day itself -- there was a table offering Starbucks coffee, scrambled eggs and pastry for service members at the school. Active-duty military and reservists -- mostly students, but also some fellows in our various national security programs -- came to school in uniform. (I am not sure if this was a local initiative, or is generally promoted by the services for active-duty people at universities.)

Several of my master’s degree students posted Veterans Day greetings on Facebook. One status update, from a non-service member, read: "So excited to see my military classmates (active duty, reserves, guard, vets) in uniform tomorrow. Happy early Veterans Day!"

This of course tracks a larger change in American society over the past decades. It is only occasionally noted in the debate about gays in the military that gay-rights advocates are presenting the military as a good  institution in which people rightfully want to serve. Indeed, as someone who went to college in the late sixties, I am amazed to see the shift in the locus of campus opposition to ROTC: instead of being based on anti-militarism, such opposition often now is based on support for gay rights.

(Incidentally, to set the record straight, as a recent letter to the editor in The New York Times noted, Harvard never "threw out" ROTC from campus, even in the sixties, although this was demanded by radical students. The position of the faculty -- which I, incidentally, advocated as a student at the time -- was that Harvard should not accept ROTC courses being given academic credit. When the faculty voted to eliminate academic credit for ROTC courses, ROTC chose to leave campus.)

Posted on Nov 16, 2010 at 7:26 PM

Reader Comments

Tue, Nov 23, 2010

Although it is legalistically correct to say that top colleges such as Harvard didn’t “ban” ROTC in the 1960s, the colleges knowingly created conditions under which ROTC could not remain legally. In 1969, Harvard and other colleges, upset over the Vietnam war, cancelled faculty appointments and course listings for ROTC, thereby running afoul of the provisions in the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964.

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 Gorgonzola

As someone returning to Cambridge at frequent intervals, I have to agree with the observation, reflected in some comments, that the university community tends to disdain the military. Gratuitous pats on the back and momentary, guilt-driven "thanks for your service" can make me ill. Military service in the last few decades, is clearly for "someone else" to do. It does not help that our military adventures are pointless and wasteful, but that's not the fault of the military. "We get the kind of government we deserve."

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 Steve Kelman

May I repeat?: Our country would be better served by a little less -- maybe a lot less -- impugning of the honor and motives of others, and a little more -- maybew a lot more -- efforts to understand each other.

Fri, Nov 19, 2010

Laughable...it's just a stereotype...sure! Instead of viewing Harvard (IVY LEAGUE) threw crimson colored glasses, maybe you should take them off and see the world the rest of us see. Harvard, and Ivy league schools in general are sorely underrepresented in the military because they feel military service is below them and they act the part. Wrt "Don't Ask Don't Tell" instead of dictating (or instituting your own Harvard policy) what the military should do from the outside, why not send more grads into the military, liberalize it and change it from within. But god forbid we send someone from a gated community to Afghanistan.

Fri, Nov 19, 2010

The points below seem to recognize a certain inconsitency in Harvard's honoring of service members. Surely, it is popular and almost chic to pat vets on the head on veteran's Day. But Harvard talks down to the military the rest of the year. The only thing consistent in these two treatments is Liberal chic and patronization. I smell the hubris too.

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