Why the Military Needs Our Top Students

A recent Pew Research poll has shown the growing distance between the American public and the U.S. military in regards to civilian understanding of the armed forces. This problem is further distancing the public’s understanding of the role of the military in society, as young people have fewer personal connections (such as family members or spouses) in the military. This is especially true for younger people and has negative implications for a new generation of Americans who have grown up in the shadows of constant wars, which have had few implications for their daily lives.

In light of this data, the American military should work to specifically recruit the youth of our nation’s elite universities. Despite having a rocky relationship with top universities in the past, both the military and the educational institutions have much to gain from a partnership that sends America’s brightest into the ranks of the military. Opposition to military recruitment on these campuses should recognize the benefits of an officer corps with a liberal education that can better work to bridge the gap between the public and the military.

Since their founding, many elite American universities have had a large involvement in the military. This relationship was strained with the opposition to the Vietnam War, when many elite schools instituted a de facto ban on ROTC programs and military recruitment on campus. Many of these institutions continued to implicitly discourage military involvement, as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) became a major contention point between university anti-discrimination policies and the military’s institutionalized discrimination.

Many elite universities have recently begun to take steps to repair this relationship as the repeal of DADT has been implemented, as seen with Harvard bringing back NROTC last March and Columbia doing the same in May. The military has a unique opportunity to tap into a precious intellectual resource by increasing its recruiting activities at these universities and bringing up an officer corps that have been educated at the finest schools that this country has to offer.

Drawing students from top schools will have a variety of benefits for all parties. The military will gain officers with a firm grounding in a liberal arts education that will give them a unique background with which to understand the subtleties of modern wars that are heavily influenced by international politics and involve cross-cultural understanding. The students and institutions will have the opportunity to use their intellectual capital to influence the future of a military that is continuing to be further distanced from the average American.

Opposition to recruitment at elite schools comes from many different sources. Many LGBT groups point to the fact that while DADT was repealed, the military still does not provide homosexual couples with many of the benefits that it provides for straight couples. This point is used to continue opposition to military involvement on campus. This passion is misguided. These students should realize the benefits of having their peers, many of whom share their very same ideals, within the ranks of the military. They can serve as a source of progressive thinking within the military leadership and help to shape its future.

Some opposition comes from the military establishment itself, which feels alienated by the institutions that have lived up to a negative stereotype of the “elite” label. As top schools spurned military recruitment efforts, this was often perceived as a lack of support towards the military. In actuality, this was often a mix of discontent with the military’s discriminatory policies and a statement of protest against unpopular wars.

Even as the military becomes more disconnected from the public as a whole, it has the chance to build relationships with a valuable source of future officers. Higher recruitment from top schools will have a liberalizing effect that will promote the ideals of the educational institutions while giving the military top intellectual talent.

For the future of both, I hope they capitalize upon this opportunity.

Photo Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff