NAS conference notes 3: The academy, the military, and gays

A final brief report, for now, from the past weekend’s NAS conference.

I missed part of the panel on the academy and the military, but caught a fascinating talk by Alan Silver, sociology professor at Columbia University, about the issue of bringing ROTC back to college campuses that currently exclude it (and the way this ties into the issue of the existing gulf between the military and academe). A major obstacle to ROTC presence at many “progressive” schools is the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which bars openly gay men and women from serving. Silver conceded that in some cases, opposition to DADT is merely a pretext for general hostility to the military dating back to Vietnam; but he also argued that changing this policy, and agreeing to a measure of academic control over the programs, would bring ROTC back to the colleges and universities from which it is now banned. (ROTC presence is strongest in Southern schools.) Silver added that the military had always been a locus for asserting equality — for black, Japanese Americans, women, Latinos, and now gays, and while the specifics are different in each case, the principle is the same. He also added that, in order to bring ROTC back to campuses and help bridge the socially harmful gulf between the military and the academy, “the military needs to overcome its own prejudices about the academy, and be willing to have ROTC chapters in an environment where some military actions are disapproved of.”

During the Q & A, a middle-aged female questioner (whose name I know but won’t mention) accused Silver of being willing to “concede too much,” and hectored him for “talking about ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ as if it was this terrible thing” when, in fact, there may be perfectly good reasons for barring open homosexuals from the ranks and it might be just as well to leave that decision to the military. She opined that the real problem was that in certain segments of society, “treason is celebrated,” and added, addressing Silver, “Being from New York, you know this very well.” (Silver chuckled and shot back, “Yes, we’re a well-known nest of traitors in New York”; and later on, another audience member who took the microphone, himself a serviceman who said he had done recruiting in New York, took explicit umbrage at the idea that New Yorkers are unpatriotic.)

On “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Silver replied that “it’s not a compromise, it’s a question of political reality. It’s impossible to bring ROTC back to campuses without these changes, and if it was brought back by fiat, it would be illegitimate.” Next came the truly interesting part.

The two panelists who were actually in the military, and both had an affiliation with the notably conservative Virginia Military Institute — Gen. Josiah Bunting, former VMI Commander, and Brigadier General Charles F. Brower, IV, Deputy Superintendent of Academics and Dean of Faculty at VMI — commented on the issue, and both were unequivocally in favor of repealing DADT. Gen. Bunting pointed out that “the British Army has a policy of admitting gays” and discharging those who unwanted advances, and queried, “Why not do that?” Brig. Gen. Brower said that he basically agreed: “Heterosexual or homosexual, predators should be prosecuted. Treat them all equally.” He added that “there are many homosexuals who are now serving honorably in the military, and anyone who thinks they aren’t needs to get in touch with reality.”

There has been some discussion of whether Obama will repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At least judging by the NAS panel, such a move won’t meet much opposition from the military.

There was another fascinating question from the audience about whether the disconnect between the military and large segments of American culture — the fact that the career military is now strongly Southern and overwhelmingly politically conservative — should create a concern about “standing armies” as understood by the Founders. (In other words, an army that does not represent the population.) It seems to me that, in this sense, the absence of ROTC from campus should be more of a concern to the liberals but to conservatives.

3 Comments

Filed under gay rights, military

3 responses to “NAS conference notes 3: The academy, the military, and gays

  1. Revenant

    People often forget that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is actual military, passed by Congress. It isn’t something the military does just to be mean.

  2. Cathy Young

    Good to see you back here, Rev!

  3. Revenant

    Thanks, Cathy. Glad to see you posting again. 🙂

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