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William Tomasko '13: Brown, ROTC and DADT

This year, if President Barack Obama can fulfill a promise he made in Wednesday's State of the Union address, Congress will finally repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. When — and only when — this national injustice is remedied, Brown's administration should begin planning to welcome the Reserve Officers' Training Corps back to College Hill.

One national leader in the fight to stop the military's discrimination has been Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. Frank, who is gay, is an influential House committee chair and has strategized with the White House and Democratic leadership on how to end the ban. In an interview with The Advocate, he described his strong confidence in a plan to include the policy's repeal in a Defense Department authorization bill, which would be debated and voted on this spring and summer. If passed, starting Oct. 1, gays and lesbians could join the military without having to pretend to be straight.

Besides Frank's preferred strategy, a separate bill to overturn the ban has already been introduced in the House, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is considering doing the same in the Senate. Regardless of the exact nature of its passage, it is increasingly clear that Obama will be able to carry out his pledge to abolish the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" compromise. As Frank said, "The administration is totally committed to this and has been from the beginning."

Once the military stops discriminating based on sexual orientation, the University should reinstate Brown's ROTC program. The Corps has been disbanded since 1971, the height of the Vietnam War, when administrators and the program's overseers could not agree to make it an extracurricular activity rather than an academic department. Now, Brown students can take ROTC courses and undergo training at Providence College, but they do not receive academic credit from Brown for their work and must provide for their own transportation. Only one student currently participates.

The ban on gays' and lesbians' service ought to be the only reason against ROTC's return — the program vitally promotes the importance of national service, and Brown students would truly make valuable future leaders in the military. If the University has other reasons why they would oppose ROTC after "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed, they should name and justify them.

Many on campus are eager to welcome ROTC back even before the sexual orientation ban is overturned. A plurality of 41.3 percent of students would support this return, according to a November Herald poll. Some proponents of an immediate return, such as The Herald's editorial page board, acknowledge that discrimination would ensue, but believe the policy would still yield incremental advantages. In "U. should reinstate ROTC" (Feb. 12, 2009), The Herald's editorial page board argued that open-minded Brown students "could provide gay soldiers with valuable allies in the ranks," and, soldier by soldier, convince a number of their fellow enlisted men and women to be more tolerant and embracing of homosexuals, which would eventually foster a military climate more favorable to someday ending "don't ask, don't tell."

Such a defense of hosting a discriminatory ROTC is certainly thoughtful. However, I doubt that helping pro-gay rights activism can be an effective justification for either side in this debate. Congress will certainly not decide to end "don't ask, don't tell" because it is cowed by a Brown boycott. While the support military officers who are Brown alumni can give to gay and lesbian soldiers would, of course, be valuable on individual levels, it would not be sweeping and would not greatly liberalize the armed forces. 

Rather than focus on the questionable amount of positive change either policy could bring about, the debate should center on whether the discriminatory nature of ROTC would be acceptable at Brown. No matter the merits of reinstating ROTC, it would be clearly discriminatory and blatantly unjust for Brown to offer credited courses that open gays and lesbians would not be allowed to take.

The Herald's editorials have argued to reinstate ROTC in the interest of pragmatism, and I can usually appreciate the value of making incremental progress toward more just ends. However, this is not the time for incrementalism. This is not the time for making the best out of a bad situation. This is not the time for saying that more work has to be done to change social attitudes before we can demand equality and fairness.

Polls consistently show that landslide-worthy majorities of the American public support letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military. Obama won the presidency in a rout while promising to end "don't ask, don't tell." Democrats won commanding majorities in Congress while many of them were promising to end "don't ask, don't tell."

A clear, popular consensus exists for ending the military's injustice, and, facing the reality of that climate, Brown need not decide to flinch from defending equality in the interest of pragmatism.

William Tomasko '13 is an undecided concentrator from Washington, D.C.
He can be reached at
William_Tomasko (at) brown (dot) edu.


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