After the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, a small pro-war campus group sprung up at Columbia. Originally named Students United for Victory, the group now goes by the even more presumptuous and pretentious Students United for America (SU4A). Perhaps the group's most prominent campaign is its effort to bring ROTC, banned since 1969, back to Columbia. This particular campaign is a good case study of the group's penchant for fanatical claims and myopic and ignorant analysis. Many at Columbia opposed to an ROTC presence have cited the military's institutionalized homophobia, currently embodied in its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, as one of the many reasons for their opposition. SU4A, however, continues to play the hair-splitting, lawyerly apologist on this issue.
A recent column by the group's president, Jennifer Thorpe, portrayed the military and its culture as innocuous and indifferent to homosexual presence within it and writes that blame for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy really ought rest at the legislative level. Thorpe, in her Feb. 5, 2003 column, wrote: "... the policy is a federal policy, not a military one. It was not created by the military but merely imposed on it much like any law is imposed on the public. Blaming the military for this policy is akin to blaming the American public for following any law that the people find inappropriate." In writing such, Thorpe ignores key influences of the 1993 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation. Former President Clinton, who had originally pushed for greater homosexual rights, ultimately buckled to pressure from certain elements within a historically retrogressive homophobic and sexist military culture. This reactionary military brass claimed euphemistically that openly gay and lesbian soldiers would compromise what it called "unit cohesion." Their claim has since been debunked by, among others, Human Rights Watch and the normally conservative RAND Corporation think tank. When Clinton endorsed the legislation, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation issued a press release that condemned Clinton's lack of political backbone. GLAAD wrote: "The President's capitulation to the advocates of bigotry is indefensible. This policy is old discrimination in a new package ..." What was the ultimate source of Clinton and other politicians' cowardly compromise? You guessed it--the military and its retrogressive social ethos.
SU4A has also complained about the lack of Columbia academic credit granted to ROTC cadets, who must participate in the program off-campus, and labeled ROTC's absence here a denial of "opportunity." On the SU4A website, Eric Chen, SU4A vice president and the group's other primary mouthpiece, explains what he means by "opportunity" as follows: "Students explore and experiment in college, yet at Columbia, the military is a closed option. It is in and of itself a fascinating field of study, and it would be a rewarding, challenging career for ambitious, intelligent Columbia students." However, Chen seems to forget that Columbia, at least in theory, is not a vocational tool factory. This is why some colleges have vocationally-oriented undergraduate majors for broadcasting, accounting, journalism, business management, graphic design, and advertising, among others, while we do not. His statement forces readers to accept the premise that ROTC is of comparable scholarly rigor to political science, economics, history, philosophy, English, and any of the other disciplines offered at our undergraduate liberal-arts institution--and thus deserving of academic credit afforded to disciplines of more scholarly rigor. Columbia's stance towards not granting academic credit for ROTC has less to do with rabid "anti-military discrimination" than with the simple fact that the college has determined that it does not coincide with its undergraduate, liberal arts-based academic and intellectual mission and tradition.
This claim of rabid anti-military sentiment is another fanatical notion that SU4A enjoys batting around in its posters and public pronouncements. Is the group unaware of our squadron of 'realist' political scientists, Columbia's defense research, or our University President's recent decision on Air Force recruitment at Columbia Law School? In an office communication, Bollinger wrote: "With great regret, I have authorized the General Counsel of the University to inform the United States Air Force that our Law School has agreed not to enforce its non-discrimination policy against military recruiters," which the Air Force may well have violated due to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Bollinger, by the way, cited with regret a threatened 70 percent cut off of federal funding as rationale. Anti-military discrimination? More like pro-military capitulation.
Finally, the group's ROTC analysis is quite narrow. It rarely bothers to engage the legitimate moral opposition to ROTC, and more broadly, the often deplorable, inhumane, and frequently illegal post-World War II conduct of the American military to which it has contributed--sometimes in conjunction with organizations like the CIA and the FBI, which recruit at Columbia.
Recently, the group continued its campaign of distortion and hyperbolic rhetorical recklessness by promoting an event featuring, among others, conservative ideologue William Bennett. Along with Daniel Pipes, Lynne Cheney, and others, Bennett, on the dime of right-wing pseudo-think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, has spent his free time in the past year superficially pointing fingers at professors, including some at Columbia, and accused them of indoctrinating students with "unpatriotic" and "anti-American" notions. The primary method employed by Bennett and his ilk usually involves removing small quotes from their proper context, self-publishing hastily researched "studies," and protesting against principles of academic freedom, implicitly calling for reprimand or even removal of these intellectuals. That SU4A would ally itself with such intellectual reaction should come as little surprise.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore