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Editorial: Return of the soldier

Last Friday, The Herald published a poll showing a strong plurality of Brown students in support of the return of the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which prepares college students to serve in the United States military. With 33.8 percent of respondents uncertain, 41.3 percent said they would approve of ROTC's reinstatement. These results should be a wake-up call for the faculty, the administration and the Undergraduate Council of Students: After nearly four decades, it is time for Brown to reconstitute this vital connection to America's proud tradition of military service. 

The University's chapter was disbanded in 1971. Today, the most salient focal point for hostility toward ROTC is "don't ask, don't tell," a policy that prohibits open homosexuals from serving in the armed forces. ROTC's opponents claim that its reinstatement would run afoul of the University's commitment to non-discrimination. In their view, all we have to do to keep our consciences clean is sit back and wait for DADT to be repealed.

That attitude is unacceptably complacent. The exclusion of homosexuals from the military is insulting and counterproductive — since DADT was established in 1993, more than 13,000 service members have been discharged for their sexual orientation, many of them mission-critical specialists. But despite President Obama's pledges, the policy is not necessarily nearing its end. In a poll of service members last year by the Military Times, 10 percent of respondents said they would decline to re-enlist if DADT were repealed, and 14 percent said they would consider doing so. Several factors suggest that these numbers overestimate the threat, but if even a small fraction followed through, the end of DADT would trigger a devastating recruiting crisis even as our military commitment to Afghanistan escalates. Brown alumni with military commissions could play a small but appreciable role in bolstering tolerance in the ranks and hastening the demise of DADT.

The reinstatement of ROTC would be welcome news for Brown students willing to serve their country. Currently, cadets at this campus must travel to Providence College to train and study with the battalion there, and they receive no course credit for the many courses they take in their commendable pursuit of a commission. In the past, a few students have defied these obstacles. But this year, the severe inconvenience and virtual invisibility of this noble option has left the Providence battalion without a single member from Brown. Cadets benefit not only from practical training, but from the opportunity to earn significant merit-based scholarships. In the same Herald poll that showed student support for ROTC's return, 38.1 percent of respondents were worried about their ability to finance their education here. They should have the chance to avail themselves of ROTC's benefits without compromising their education.

ROTC would strongly complement Brown's tradition of public service. Though its significance is often ignored, Soldiers' Arch is a powerful daily reminder that many Brown students and graduates have stepped forward across the years to make extraordinary sacrifices to preserve the freedom and prosperity we value so dearly. The return of ROTC would help this campus to engage with the experiences of the tens of millions of Americans who serve or have served, and would foster diversity by attracting students from families with robust military traditions. For our country, for our university, and for ourselves, the students of Brown want ROTC on campus.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to


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