Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

War and the university

Andrew Delbanco wonders whether it’s possible for folks on (elite) university campuses to think clearly about war, in the absence of much contact with those who have real experience with it. Is this an argument for the return of ROTC to the colleges and universities who have banished it? Or for elite institutions (especially) to set aside scholarship funds for veterans?

Discussions - 17 Comments

Joseph, That was very good. While I do think ROTC belongs on campus, that is not really what is missing. Those would be young, pre-war military in experience. I do not think it would speak to Delbanco’s concern. Your scholarship idea would do better. However, isn’t this what the G.I. Bill did, once upon a time? My dad went to Columbia and Georgetown, post-WWII, on that. My son is going to begin at community college, hoping to transfer eventually, for an engineering degree from Cleveland State. He is beginning at community college, because his veteran’s benefit will really help with that cost. CSU will be a struggle, Case Western Reserve, closer, but, roughly priced as Columbia, is out of sight. Did the level of benefits fail, or are college expenses the problem? The "elite institutions" as you call them, are not welcoming to veterans in many ways.

There was once a memorial to veterans at Columbia, of the type which Delblanco looked for in vain. I remember looking at it and thinking about it, a long time ago, in my anti-war years. It was probably demolished for new construction.


Send Delbanco an email about your recollection.

As for the other, you’re right about ROTC, but those kids at least bring contact with the military world to campus, and often have friends who are serving in dangerous places. (One of my former students, now a commissioned 2nd Lieutenant and in law school, keeps in touch with me and with friends serving abroad.)

The sticker price of education has clearly gone through the roof, and veterans’ benefits, like other forms of federal aid, haven’t kept up. This is a place where the elite institutions could, if they wished, begin to make up the difference. Tuition is heavily discounted in lots of places, with few actually paying the sticker price. Adding a couple of dozen returning veterans at the margins wouldn’t make a dent in anyone’s budget.

I am shocked, SHOCKED to learn of Kate’s anti-war years. It seems that many of us have pasts.

Thanks for posting the piece. I have sent it to a member of the coaching staff here at OSU, a Vietnam war vet, who was instrumental in building just such a memorial on this campus.

All federal funding should be withheld from any campus that rejects ROTC or JROTC.
Let those True Believers do a Hillsdale.

I think "elites" in universities cannot "think" rationally, period. Recent studies show that our brains are hardwired at an early age and will lean in the direction of parents, schools, and the media they’re exposed to.

Worse yet, university campuses lost the ability to be honest decades ago.

Sue, can you give me a citation on these recent studies...not a hostile request. I’m interested.

Joe, I sent an email to Andrew Delbanco remarking on and responding to his article. And I am inclined to agree with that comment of Walter about ROTC and federal funding. However, can you imagine the howls from those universities who have banned it - what would they call it? Censorship? Totalitarianism?

Steve Thomas, I am SO sorry to have shocked you with my anachronistic revelation. No, I am not, as we can’t help our pasts. I was involved in high school SDS at 15 years old, with my father’s full approval. I would be a very different person, with very different politics if I had been "hard-wired" in my parent’s direction from my early years.
And by that destiny to perform an act
Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.

I was of course teasing. Intellectual and political migration is, I believe, more likely to betoken an alert and strong mind, one that notices facts, than to imply a mind ready to bend to any fashion.

I would encourage Kate to post her letter here, along with any response Delbanco offers (with his permission, of course).

OK, Joe, and thank you for the encouragement.

Joseph Knippenberg referenced your article from The New Republic Online, at the Ashbrook Center blog. I wrote a response to his blog, and he encouraged me to write to you.

I attended C.U. in the mid 1970’s as an undergraduate student. I recall at least one war memorial on campus. I had been anti-war, and my memory is of standing in front of this war memorial to former students killed in action and thinking about the sort of thing you address in your article. My father had attended Columbia on the G.I Bill, and I was taking a course with someone my father had known, another veteran, Prof. George Collins. I was even in the General Studies Department, which, if my recollection is correct, had been started to accomodate the veterans of World War II. Dad’s recollections of the college were all about veterans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill. My contemplation was that I knew no one who would be on a war memorial at any college. I think this might have been after or during the retreat from Southeast Asia, as that shook my faith in my anti-war convictions. I came to know that I had been very wrong.

Do I remember where this war memorial was? No, I do not, nor to which war’s soldiers it had been dedicated. Perhpas it was removed during new construction? Or perhaps it was removed as an embarrassment. There must be some photos, some institutional memory of the campus that would tell you this. You know there might have been war memorials going back to the Revolution, at least plaques.

My sons who serve or who have served in the military tell me that they are advised to keep their heads down as to their military status, when in public. They are not to wear their uniforms when out and about. This is especially held to be important on college campuses, where they become targets of abuse. Almost every young person I know who enlists uses their veterans benefits to further their educations after they are out of service. It is often a motivating factor to join. I also know young people who join after college and submit this site to you to suggest that there are more college graduates in the military than you might suppose. I know a recent graduate of George Washington University who is currently in Army Special Forces training, for example.

I appreciate your article, and not just because you are writing about Columbia. As I said, I have sons who have served, and who serve, and would have them continue their educations. Their place on campus is of concern to me. I teach now at a community college in Ohio, and am very solicitous of my students who are former military, or serving in the reserves. This is the sort of place their benefits let them go. Once upon a time, a veteran could go to to Columbia University on those benefits. Not anymore.

Kate Pitrone

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