I had occasion to address a gathering of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients visiting Harvard last week. It was an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of courage, and also on the relationship between universities and the military. Our freedom, including our academic freedom, depends on the existence of a strong military, and of people who are prepared to serve in it. Universities have a responsibility to support the individuals and the institutions which defend that freedom.
The good news is that ROTC is back at Harvard, and that military recruiters are allowed on campus. The bad news is that our cooperation with the military appears to be contingent. It reflects less a sense of our obligations of citizenship than our lack of major disagreement at this moment with the country’s military policies. I did not support the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, nor the invasion of Iraq, but I do not believe that support for the military should be contingent on the political decisions of those who exert civilian control over it.
Given that the harmony between universities’ values and the military’s policies is unlikely to endure permanently, I think the issue of universities and the military is profoundly important.