For some reason Yale University in New Haven enjoys a good reputation in Connecticut. Maybe it’s because the university goes back so far and was chartered in 1701 by the colonial government itself. Indeed, while even the state’s own university, the University of Connecticut, isn’t mentioned in the state Constitution, since 1818 Yale has had its own special provision there: “The charter of Yale College, as modified by the agreement with the corporation thereof, in pursuance of an act of the General Assembly, passed in May 1792, is hereby confirmed.”
Yale graduates include five U.S. presidents (both Bushes, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, and William Howard Taft), dozens of members of Congress, and many military heroes, starting with Connecticut’s own Nathan Hale. Indeed, for much of its first two centuries the university was intimately associated with the fortunes of the United States, and the university’s song, “Bright College Years,” concludes with the pledge: “For God, for country, and for Yale.”
That changed in 1969 when Yale expelled the Armed Forces’ Reserve Officer Training Corps program, which provides military training and officer commissions for college students. The expulsion was more or less a protest of the Vietnam War, though of course the military didn’t and doesn’t decide whether and where to wage war. That is a political decision by the country’s elected leaders.
Back then the logic for expelling ROTC from Yale and other colleges seemed to be that the country’s military resources against any and all threats should be hobbled by objections to how the military was being deployed in a particular instance. As stupid as the Vietnam War was, college expulsions of ROTC only distracted from and impugned political efforts against the war and cast the anti-war movement as anti-military. This probably lengthened the war.
As much of the anti-war movement was enraged into irrationality, ROTC was not that irrationality’s only target. College students throughout the country also undertook “strikes” against their classes in the name of protesting the war, as if their colleges were somehow responsible. This too distracted from political action, but students seemed satisfied when, to restore peace on campus, colleges ended classes early or canceled final examinations and gave students passing grades that had not been earned.
Lately Yale and other colleges have boycotted ROTC because of the exclusion of homosexuals from military service. That exclusion was always merely prejudicial. While the generals and admirals have professed concern about sexual involvement between men in the ranks, ever since World War II, when women were allowed to serve, the overwhelming sexual problem in the military has been heterosexual. But since that time not even the most reactionary generals, admirals, presidents, and congressmen have been ready to tell the female half of the population that they were not suitable for military service. Only homosexuals, who always served in the military quietly and well, could be disparaged, because they were a despised and, until recently, voiceless minority.
But college boycotts of ROTC arising from government’s prejudice against homosexuals made no more sense than boycotts based on war policy. Objectionable as the exclusion of homosexuals was, was the country really not to be defended at all because of it? Is the country not to be defended because of any grievance with government policy?
Vietnam being long over and homosexuals, by presidential order, lately having been allowed to serve in the military on the same terms as everyone else, Yale has just restored its ROTC program and presumably again condones national defense in principle, at least for the time being. But the university’s law school is devoted to getting more illegal aliens into New Haven, and what if the federal government ever gets serious about enforcing immigration law? Will Yale again find national defense politically incorrect and expendable?
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.