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.