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Kevin Cullen

Crimson with shame

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / December 7, 2010

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Scott Brown changed his mind. Now it’s Harvard’s turn.

Having been handed empirical evidence that the vast majority of those serving in the US military have no problem with repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,’’ Brown, the state’s junior senator and a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, did the honorable thing and said he’d support the repeal.

Harvard has banned ROTC from campus since the Vietnam War, and president Drew Faust has said that ban will remain in place until “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ is repealed. She, like I and many others, believes the military’s prohibition against homosexuals serving openly is discriminatory.

But, as the hearings on Capitol Hill have shown, the problem isn’t the military. It’s the politicians. The military didn’t impose “don’t ask, don’t tell.’’ The politicians did. The military can’t get rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell.’’ The politicians can. Brown, to his credit, changed his position, citing the Pentagon’s study showing that most members of the military have more important things to worry about than a comrade’s sexual orientation.

Even if you believe Harvard’s stance is principled, following Faust’s logic, Harvard should ban any and all members of the US Senate from campus until there’s a majority vote in that august body to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.’’ Of course, if that happened, the Kennedy School would fall down and be swallowed up by a huge, yawning sink hole.

Faust was tied up in Corporation meetings yesterday and I couldn’t get to her for comment.

Faust is not anti-military. She’s a class act, the daughter of a decorated World War II veteran, and attends the commissioning ceremonies of Harvard’s ROTC graduates. But she inherited a faculty, particularly in Arts and Sciences, whose most outspoken members cling to a Vietnam-era mistrust of the military that is ludicrously outdated and embarrassing.

The ban against ROTC is, at worst, a sop to old lefties, and, at best, taking Faust at her word, a symbolic gesture against discrimination.

But it is more than that. It’s an insult. It’s an insult to the 20 current ROTC cadets and midshipmen at Harvard who are forced to trudge down Mass. Ave. to take part in corps classes at MIT. It’s an insult to the Harvardians whose names are on the walls of Memorial Church, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. It’s an insult to every Harvard man and woman who wore the uniform.

Paul Mawn, Harvard class of 1963, wore that uniform. He’s a retired Navy captain and while he heads a group called Advocates for Harvard ROTC, he says there is a deeper problem than the ban.

“The bigger problem is the anti-military mindset,’’ said Mawn. “I checked out Harvard’s Center for Public Interest Careers. They are teaching people to become community organizers or go into the Peace Corps, which is fine, but they don’t mention a military career because they don’t consider that a public service.’’

He went to a recent panel discussion at Harvard aimed at exposing students to government careers. “They talked for two hours, and not once did anyone mention the military as an option,’’ Mawn said.

Harvard’s attitude toward the military, whether symbolic in banning ROTC or institutional in its myopic view toward military careers, rejects its own history. Beyond all those names on the walls at Memorial Church, Harvard counts among its graduates 17 Medal of Honor recipients. Only West Point and the Naval Academy have more.

Eight years ago, I took a human rights class at the Kennedy School and among my classmates was a pair of Army captains, bright, earnest young guys who had seen horrific human rights abuses in the Balkans. They wore their uniforms to class, and every time they spoke, a few students would mock them privately or even hiss.

I always wished the people who objected to their presence had read the names on the walls at Memorial Church.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.