Last night, President Obama said the following:
Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. (Applause.) And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation. (Applause.)
Okay, there is one huge problem with this. It's easy to demonize the "elite" universities for not having more ROTC programs, but the reality is that the U.S. military has been the one most responsible for divesting from ROTC programs in the northeastern United States. It's hardly the fault of Columbia University that the U.S. Army has only two ROTC programs to serve the eight million residents and 605,000 university students of New York City. And it's not the University of Chicago's fault that the entire city of Chicago has one ROTC program while the state of Alabama has ten. The U.S. military made a conscious decision to cut costs by recruiting and training officers where people were more likely to volunteer. That makes sense given an ROTC budget that has been slashed since the end of the Cold War. But it also means that the U.S. Army and its sister services are just as responsible for this divide between the so-called "elite" living within the Acela Corridor and the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was one of two Army ROTC graduates in my class at the University of Pennsylvania, but it was not the fault of Penn or the ban on gays in the military that the U.S. Army decided to shutter the ROTC program at Penn after my freshman year and move us all over to Drexel's program. (Go Dragon Battalion, by the way!) The U.S. Army made a decision based on a logical (if short-sighted) cost-benefit analysis, and if there were only two people in my class of 2000+ at Penn (with one of them being from East Tennessee, which is far from Philadelphia's Main Line) who wanted to do ROTC, why did it make sense to fund a separate battalion?
The bottom line here, expressed far better than me by John Renehan in the Washington Post, is that we need to stop scape-goating the elite universities for the lack of ROTC on campus. Instead, we need to ask harder questions about what kind of efforts we need to make to build an officer corps that best represents the American people.
Update: Cheryl Miller of AEI has a response to my post up on the Weekly Standard's website, largely agreeing with what I wrote but adding more. Cheryl is the real subject matter expert on ROTC, so be sure to read what she has to say.
There is a great passage in Powell's Men at Arnhem in which he describes how junior officers and noncommissioned officers die in combat. I do not have the book in front of me, but it describes how, in combat, junior officers do not normally die while doing anything fancy or obscenely heroic but rather by simply doing their jobs. They die while running from one position to another, adjusting their machine gun's right and left limits, shifting one squad a little to the right, etc. They die while consciously exposing themselves to the enemy in order to carry out their job, which does not allow them to fight in place.
That having been said, I have never known a job more horrifying and more rewarding than to be a platoon leader in combat. The only job I ever saw that looked even remotely as rewarding was that of Ranger squad leader.
Anyway, I thought of Powell while reading this James Dao piece in today's Times.
Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller have a really fantastic op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal that is, alas, password-protected on the Journal's website.* The money quote:
Much ink has been spilled over the fraught relations between the military and the Ivy League. But while the good military vs. the bad Ivies makes for good political theater, it isn't the whole story. While ROTC has been banned from many Ivy League campuses since the Vietnam War, the military has also drawn down its ROTC programs in the Northeast and in urban areas. ROTC has become increasingly Southern and rural.
In Virginia, for example, there are 7.8 million residents and 11 Army ROTC programs. New York City, home to over eight million people and America's largest university student population, has two Army ROTC programs. The entire Chicago metro area, with its 10 million residents, is covered by a single Army ROTC program, as is Detroit. Alabama, population 4.7 million, has 10.
After my first year at the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army decided our ROTC program should merge with and move down the street to Drexel University, which admittedly made some sense because Drexel had a National Guard Armory on their campus. It is thus one of the quirks of my biography that I was Drexel University's ROTC commander as a college senior despite having never attended Drexel.** But the U.S. Army has made a lot of decisions based solely on monetary cost-benefit calculations that have resulted in ROTC withering on the vine in the urban areas of the Northeast and, as Schmitt and Miller point out, a disproportionately small number of military officers hailing from the large middle-class suburbs of our nation's urban centers in the North.
Schmitt and Miller end their column sharing President Obama's lament that "every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan ... That's not always the case in other parts of the country ... [It's] important for the president to say ... that if we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some."
The U.S. Army, then, needs to be more intentional about recruiting officers outside the American South. It is no coincidence that the only combat arms officer commissioned into the U.S. Army from my class of 2,000+ at Penn was a white southern male. (The other officer commissioned graduated from Penn's top-ranked nursing school.) There is nothing wrong with white southern males, of course (we Scots-Irish are, after all, America's warrior class), but we can hardly claim to accurately represent our nation's awesome cultural, racial, social and ethnic diversity, and there is an argument to be made that a nation's officer corps should do that to some degree. The burden for making that happen falls more heavily on the U.S. Army than it does our nation's university presidents.
*I know it makes a lot of sense for the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times to charge their customers for the news services they provide. But the op-ed and editorial pages are ostensibly meant to spark public debate, and I fail to see how keeping opinion pieces behind a paywall does that.
**Many thanks, though, to all the cadets of the "Dragon Battalion" for their service. I am a proud alumnus and made a lot of good friends through the program -- who I would not have met had I remained south of Chestnut Street!
UPDATE: @dianawueger pointed me toward this earlier op-ed in the Washington Post that made some of the same points. Depressing fun fact: "the Army's self-imposed target for officer-training programs in the New York City region is roughly 30 new officers per year."
...from the House Armed Services Committee version of the fiscal year 2011 Defense Authorization bill. Allowing officers "off-ramps" and "on-ramps" to their careers is a good way to both retain good officers and allow them to take time off to have kids, travel, or pursue an academic course:
ALTERNATIVE COMMISSIONED OFFICER CAREER TRACK PILOT PROGRAM
In an effort to create an officer corps that is better prepared to assume the responsibilities of waging war, peacekeeping, stabilization, and other critical missions carried out by our military, the Committee created in this year’s bill a pilot program to offer an alternative career track for commissioned officers. This new program will offer a broader range of experiences and opportunities and extend over a longer career, providing more time for officers to experience a greater variety of training and education.
As regular readers know, I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times every morning because I secretly find the world of finance to be as fascinating as defense policy. And every once in a while, something I read in the business pages has relevance to what is discussed on this blog.
As people smarter than me have already pointed out, it does not appear the SEC has much of a case against Goldman Sachs. The investigation into potential wrong-doing, though, has shed a less than flattering light on Goldman's organizational culture and business practices. And something I read on Page C5 of the Journal this morning struck me.
On Saturday, Goldman released batches of emails by Mr. Tourre to girlfriends that revealed doubts about some mortgage securities issued by the company and an occasionally dismissive attitude toward the investors buying them.
Goldman also released translations of portions of emails that originally were in French, including some messages with details about Mr. Tourre's personal life.
The scope of the released documents led to widespread speculation that Goldman was seeking to make more-senior executives who also are caught in an uncomfortable political and public-relations spotlight look better by comparison to the 31-year-old trader.
This is the kind of thing that makes me thank the Lord that I go to work every morning and answer to a retired U.S. Army officer and a former Marine Corps officer as my supervisors. Because I know that neither John nor Nate will ever throw me under the bus in the way that it appears some of Goldman's executives are throwing this French bond trader under the bus. In fact, on multiple occassions over the past year, I have either offended someone or written something outrageous on this blog, and John and Nate have had my back every time, earning my loyalty in the process. Where did they learn to protect their subordinates?
The U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, of course. It's true that we have all seen field grade officers allow a junior officer to take the fall for something, and I know some guys at Goldman who seem to be top-flight men of character. (Some of them, not surprisingly, are former military officers themselves.) But reading this article in the Journal this morning made my stomach turn on the Green Line into work, because it goes completely against the ethic we learned as young officers. Protect and mentor your subordinates. They will, in turn, reward you with their loyalty and hard work. This is smart advice that applies as equally to business as it does to military organizations, and you wonder if management at Goldman couldn't use some remedial training from the gang at MCB Quantico.