Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Injecting Politics Into Graduation

Common sense and common courtesy should dictate when are appropriate times to protest something political. For example, Ted Kennedy is a political figure I despise, but as a man I wish him no harm; I certainly wouldn't advocate protesting him, his votes, or his views outside of his hospital or home right now. That's just not appropriate. He and his family are suffering--a decent person wouldn't compound that. We should be able to disagree politically and still maintain our humanity.

I wrote recently about another time when it's inappropriate to undertake more than the most minimal of protests--at a graduation. Armbands are one thing, turning your back on an invited speaker is another. Do we really want to turn every single event into a political protest?

The president of Harvard might answer yes.

And (former Harvard president) Mr. Summers backed up his words by attending the commissioning ceremonies for Harvard's ROTC graduates.

Unfortunately, his successor, Drew Faust, did not attend last year's ceremony. Recently, she announced she will attend this year's ceremony. And in an email, a Harvard spokesman confirms that while President Faust has the "greatest admiration" for Harvard's ROTC students, she has clearly stated that the opportunity to serve should be open to all Harvard students – and any reference she makes that day will be "respectfully and appropriately conveyed." In other words, she reserves the right to use the event to voice disagreement with "don't ask, don't tell."

What would this mean? Well, for the Harvard seniors who will be receiving the gold bars of a second lieutenant, it would mean a political note injected into what should be a day of pride and celebration. It would mean that they will be called to account for a political policy that they do not set. And it would mean that in their first moments as new officers, they will be told by the leader of their university that they serve an institution that isn't, well, quite worthy of Harvard.

How sad this is. We are constantly told by critics that it is the war and the administration's policy they oppose, not the troops. University commissioning ceremonies would be a good time to prove it.

I agree. People where were "brought up right" understand this. Those who want to selfishly score their political points by raining on someone else's parade are not brave, are not to be celebrated. They, in the words of John Stuart Mill, are miserable creatures who have no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of men (and women) better than themselves--men and women like those President Faust seems to hold in such contempt.


Unknown said...

You have to admit that "don't ask, don't tell" is a ridiculous policy. I'd say your right in that bringing it up at their commissioning ceremonies is both rude and disrespectful, but unlike you I would suggest disbanding their ROTC program until the policy changes if they want to make a point.

Darren said...

For the eight zillionth time: the prohibition against homosexuals' serving openly in the military is not a DoD policy, it's federal law. It was passed by Congress and signed by a President, but I don't know which one.

Your people run the Congress. They could change the law if they wanted to. Why do you think none of them ever brings up the topic? *I* think it's because they like having it as a wedge issue--either that, or they don't *really* want to overturn it, despite their words.

David Foster said...

Suppose that there was a ceremony honoring students who had been chosen as congressional interns. Do you think similar comments would have been made?..remember, it is Congress that establishes the policy.

This kind of thing is generally not about the claimed issue, but about the contempt of many American academics for the American military, and indeed for everyone in the country who is not like themselves.

Ellen K said...

If it's offensive for a student to receive his or her bars, which are a measure of achievement within their field, then it is similarly offensive to have graduates decked out in loud scarves and banners from various honorary and social organizations. And in this world legally, it's pretty much an all or nothing proposition. So boys and girls, do we give up the honor cords and plaques and ribbons and sashes so we can make sure not to inadvertently give credit to students who do well in studies surrounding military science?

Fritz J. said...

For the record, don't ask, don't tell was instituted 1993 and was approved by a Democrat controlled congress and Pres. William Jefferson Clinton.

On a more puzzling note, why is it that those who oppose the policy continually place the blame on the military? The military is controlled by the president and congress and those having a disagreement over the don't ask, don't tell policy should take it up with the people capable of changing that policy, but they don't and so I am left with no other option than to question both their intelligence and logic processes. And yes, I know that some people will question my putting logic processes in the same sentence that obliquely refers to university presidents because they believe it is an oxymoron, but it should not be that way.

Fritz J. said...

In answer to Ronnie, I would suggest you look up the Solomon Amendment to answer your question as to why universities don't simply disband their ROTC programs. The short answer is that they are not morally honest enough to stand behind their beliefs.

Unknown said...

Yes it's very clear once you look at the Solomon Amendment that both the military and Congress have respect for universities. Threatening a loss of funding for any real action really shows the politeness. If anything that amendment shows that this is the only way that any real opinion can be shown by a university on this subject. Since any major university has a medical department they need federal funding to function, and therefore no major university can disband their ROTC program which means protests are about the only way they can express their disagreement with policy. I've never stated that protests should be directed at the military for changes to policy, everyone whose stated that the policy is Congress's doing is correct, but one can't really say the military didn't want this policy when their original policy was the outright banning of homosexuals. When you can't let someone show their actual feelings about something through action, you have to expect protest, and although the timing of this specific protest was rude, I can't think of a time when a protest against "don't ask, don't tell" would be not rude and in some kind of relevant context. Luckily the policy might be on the way out - http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iusf0qzmyeUxdw-9g2DKh42LzkNwD90QDLHO0

Darren said...

Ronnie, where do you get that "the military" doesn't have respect for universities? The military had nothing to do with the Solomon Amendment.

And besides, every officer in the military has at least a bachelor's degree.

Your words belie ignorance or contempt of the military--you have another explanation?