With all eyes on the Arab Spring, a revolution on American soil is going largely ignored. After four decades of estrangement from the U.S. military, elite universities are reopening their doors to the Reserve Officer Training Corps. At hand is an unprecedented opportunity to repair relations between America's military and the society it protects. For ROTC's return to be more than symbolic, however, university and military leaders must move beyond handshakes and start building real bridges.
Vietnam-era walls have been crumbling since Congress voted in December to repeal “don't ask, don't tell.” Last Thursday, the Yale faculty removed a set of resolutions that precipitated ROTC's dismissal over forty years ago. Two weeks ago, the Stanford faculty voted to invite ROTC back to campus. Harvard and Columbia were the first institutions to revise their policies and have already struck new agreements with the U.S. Navy. Among the Ivies without ROTC programs, only Brown has yet to make its intentions clear.
This trend at America's top universities confirms that the rift between American citizens and their military is neither preferable nor permanent. The military has been the most trusted institution in America for over a decade, but less than 1 percent of Americans currently serve, and an increasingly disproportionate number of recruits hail from the South. Today, most Americans “support the troops” without actually knowing them. This affliction is especially acute at America's elite universities, where students have little outside of Hollywood to inform their perceptions of military life.