Unfriendly Fire
How the gay ban undermines the military and weakens America

Who Bears Responsibility for R.O.T.C.’s Alienation?

Apologists for discrimination are at it again. Kenneth Harbaugh, a former Navy pilot, occasional professor at Yale and director of the Center for Citizen Leadership, has written an op-ed in the New York Times calling it a “disgrace” that Yale students don’t notice the absence of military uniforms on campus.

But rather than address one of the root causes of the problem—that the government’s ban on openly gay troops conflicts with both the policies and principles of most of our nation’s best universities, who are committed to equality and non-discrimination— Harbaugh dismisses the military’s gay ban as an insignificant reason for opposition to R.O.T.C.’s presence on campuses.

“Whenever I encounter animus toward the military at Yale, it is almost always born of ignorance,” writes Harbaugh. “Students often cite the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on gays in the military as a justification for the ban on R.O.T.C. They are far more sympathetic when I explain that such policies are enacted by Congress, and that the military has no choice but to comply.”

Huh? This is what Yale University is teaching our nation’s leaders, and by a guy who directs a Center for Citizen Leadership? That if a government policy violates your sense of what’s right, fair, and democratic, then just blame Washington and move on? This is “citizen leadership?”

I have always been sympathetic to the argument that our nation suffers when a wide gap exists between elite universities and those responsible for our national defense. Military scholars speak of a “civil–military gap” that is exacerbated by this situation, and this gap ill-serves both civilian society and the armed forces, who ultimately need one another’s understanding and support to thrive.

The question is where do you lay the responsibility for the problem, and what do you do about it? What does true citizen leadership entail?

Harbaugh would benefit from reviewing the history of the battle over gay service. It is true, of course, that Congress, under the leadership of Sen. Sam Nunn, wrote the gay ban into law; but the nation was strong-armed into doing so by a united front of military generals (egged on by the religious right) led by Gen. Colin Powell, whose credibility has been badly damaged by his appeasement of the neo-cons in taking us to war on false pretenses. Even today, as the battle over gay service heats up again, lawmakers—whom Harbaugh tries to blame for the gay ban—are deferring to military leaders to make the decision over whether to lift the ban.

Harbaugh has it backwards: he attributes anti-military sentiment to civilian elites who are “dangerously out of touch” with America’s rank and file; in fact it is military elites who, by insisting on a gay ban, have driven our best and brightest away from military service, even as polls show the rank and file increasingly don’t care if their comrades are gay.

Even more amazing, Harbaugh clearly hasn’t done his homework if he blames the universities for banning R.O.T.C. It turns out that R.O.T.C. was not banned by elite universities at all, but that the military decided to close their detachments there! More on this in Part II of this blog post, coming later in the week.

The bottom line is this: if it’s a disgrace that the military can’t show its face on Yale’s campus it’s an equal disgraceful that gays and lesbians can’t show their faces in the military. The good news? Both problems can be solved at once by lifting the ban.

One Response to “Who Bears Responsibility for R.O.T.C.’s Alienation?”

  1. […] this week I wrote about apologists for anti-gay military discrimination. These are folks who lay the blame for the feud between elite universities and the military at […]

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