Right to Serve and Gay Rights Clash

by Jason Hartwig | 11/11/05 6:00am

At the most recent Student Assembly meeting, the Gay-Straight Alliance put forth a resolution to encourage the College to reject all support of the ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) on the Dartmouth campus. I encourage the GSA to distribute this statement for all students to read. The statement raises important issues, and I would like to see the College's trustees live up to their promise to put pressure on the United States government to overturn the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. I must, however, strongly disagree with the logic that compels the GSA to call for ROTC's removal from this campus. While in concrete terms it would probably not impact a single gay or lesbian student on this campus, the GSA's resolution will have a direct and dramatic impact on the lives of ROTC cadets and the future of the program. In the event that the GSA resolution is adopted, Dartmouth College will cease to produce U.S. Army officers. The nearest ROTC campus is an hour away, thus making participation in ROTC difficult and significantly hindering training.

As of late, Dartmouth Army ROTC cadets have been placed in a difficult position. On one end rest conservative student organizations that applaud the cadets for preparing to enter a war they loudly support and yet have no interest in fighting. The liberal institutions towards which many cadets lean have taken a menacing posture, as evidenced by the GSA statement. ROTC seems to have become the dog to be kicked every time people on this campus feel the need to disagree with the government.

Unfortunately, rather than trying to effect actual change by working through the school's immense resources, groups like the GSA sacrifice the handful of ROTC cadets on this campus to make a statement. After four years of silently ignoring people who give us the finger while driving by, who ridicule us while we wear the U.S. Army uniform, and who call for our removal from this campus, ROTC cadets have had enough. We do not need parades celebrating us or glowing newspaper articles. But we are tired of bearing the blame for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that was imposed on the military by its civilian leaders.

This campus forgets all too often that ROTC is made up of fellow classmates. We are regular students who are also preparing to enter a war where we are responsible for making decisions that determine who lives and who dies. While ROTC scholarships have received much attention lately, simply giving students scholarships and kicking them off campus for training does not cut it. The training given by the ROTC program on a daily basis teaches future leaders how to make the right decisions in combat to preserve the lives of the men and women under our command and the civilians we are tasked with protecting. It is not a game -- Dartmouth ROTC alumni now in Iraq can attest to this. Forcing cadets to move off campus for their training will have a serious detrimental effect -- period. Upon graduation, most students are free to discuss the pros and cons of the Iraq war or "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in a cozy coffee shop. But ROTC cadets, regardless of their support for the war, face the prospect of a complex and deadly guerrilla conflict upon graduation. It is a reality that we live with every day. I wish the campus would recognize this.

Banning ROTC from the Dartmouth campus projects two images. One, as described by the GSA, would be an obvious positive image of acceptance for all people. The second, however, is a declaration that Dartmouth feels no obligation to contribute officers to the U.S. Army. This is an army tasked to rebuild countries destroyed by war, an army increasingly constituted of the most destitute segments of our society. Members of the Dartmouth community call for an intervention to halt genocide in the Sudan, but who will intervene? The GSA's resolution could be interpreted as saying that it is more important to make a statement than produce leaders from this campus who could potentially save hundreds or even thousands of lives abroad.

Cadets in this program chose Dartmouth over places like West Point Academy because it is a liberal, open-minded institution. The military needs intelligent people from institutions such as Dartmouth. However, the efforts of groups like the GSA will ensure that the military will not get them. In a democratic society there is great danger in removing these individuals from the military. By advocating an outright rejection of ROTC, the GSA offers little room for compromise or recognition of the importance of ROTC on this campus for our country and for our world. Nuance is a word constantly used in classrooms at Dartmouth, I think a nuanced approach to ROTC and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be far more worthwhile than black and white declarations.