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Letter Box


Letters from readers about Princeton and the military

October 10, 2003

In a letter that appeared in October 8, Jonathan Ophardt criticizes President Tighlman's Commencement address because it did not specifically mention military service as an avenue for performing public service.

"Having recently joined the ranks of our nation's volunteer fighting forces," Mr. Ophardt found President Tighlman's remarks "discouraging."

This criticism is unfair. First, at least in some sense the armed services is part of the federal government and, thus, in fact, was mentioned as a place where one may serve the public.

Second, any fair reading of President Tighlman's remarks leads to the conclusion that she was attempting to be as inclusive as possible in conveying an idea within the constraints imposed by the time allotted to make an informed an inspiring address. This goal she accomplished.

Finally, I observe that President Tighlman also did not specifically mention the myriad other ways the public may be served, including by service as a judicial officer or as a member of one of the several councils of the National Academy of Sciences. My sense is that Mr. Ophardt is spoiling for a fight.

Henry Kennedy Jr. ’70
Washington, D.C.

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June 5, 2003

President Tilghman’s address to graduates on June 3, 2003, had a glaring omission in her description of public service. She stated “Public service comes in many forms – it can involve positions in local, state or federal government or international agencies, volunteer service in your communities and schools, participation in charitable or other non-profit organizations, or speaking out for the interests of others or of the community at large.”

Evidently, devoting oneself to the protection of our country by joining the military is no longer considered a form of ‘public service’. Having recently joined the ranks of our nations volunteer fighting forces, her remarks are discouraging.

I sincerely hope that President Tilghman honestly omitted military service from her remarks.

Jonathan Ophardt ‘03
Jacksonville, Fla.

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April 27, 200

Professor Reinhardt’s letter in the April 23 PAW concerning the University caveat to the R.O.T.C. graduates list in the Commencement program is P.C. carried to the ultimate. Graduation is a brief, glad moment to honor men and women who have spent 17 years of their lives in school and college but Princeton feels compelled to cloud the event to express its dislike for our armed forces’ policy respecting avowed homosexuals.

As to the R.O.T.C. graduates it is mean-spriited, but as to Princeton University, it is demeaning.

Charles L. Horn ’49
Bloomington, Minn.

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May 1, 2003

In response to Professor Uwe Reinhardt’s letter regarding the University’s nondiscrimination policy on sexual orientation (April 23), I welcome the University’s pointed declaration that open discrimination on the basis of certain incontrovertible human characteristics is inconsistent with its principals and values, especially when practiced by University-sanctioned groups that so discriminate.

Upon their commissioning as officers in the United States Marines, one immediately becomes a stakeholder of that institution’s values, including its regrettable position on gays and lesbians. In the coming years, one would hope that more enlightened military officers — as Prof. Reinhardt’s son surely is — who recognize the economic and organizational benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce will demand the changes Mr. Rumsfeld ’54 has not.

J. Nick Geimer ’98
London, England

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April 27, 2003

If, as Professor Uwe E. Reinhardt contends in his letter (April 23), it is the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that offends the university, then it seems a roundabout and invidious way of airing its opposition to print in the Commencement program a disclaimer that diminishes the graduation achievement of newly commissioned officers in the R.O.T.C. program.

If the university feels so strongly about the issue, then it should either force the R.O.T.C. out, which would be a sad outcome, or take its opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” directly to the Department of Defense. The message in the commencement program accomplishes nothing beyond embarrassing the university and everyone connected with it.

In any case, I should have thought that the university’s oft-repeated exhortation “Princeton in the nation’s service” was meant to include, along with the other ways graduates might serve their country, the choice of military service, whether pursued as a career or simply as the active-service obligation of a military scholarship.

The university and the R.O.T.C. have had a long history, ever since 1919, when the Student Army Training Corps came to campus. That association has had, of course, its ups and downs. It was notably, and close to irrevocably, strained by the antimilitarism of the Vietnam years. At some point the faculty came to decide that military science courses should not count for academic credit in a liberal arts curriculum, as once they had. The Navy and Air Force finally withdrew their programs.

After all that, however, there is still an Army R.O.T.C. unit at Princeton, and I believe that both institutions — and the nation at large — benefit from the arrangement. Clearly, the military gains through the annual incorporation (and leavening influence) of highly educated young men and women into the ranks of its junior officers. Princeton benefits as well, gaining a competitive advantage over some of its main rivals through being able to attract those first-rate students who particularly want a military experience as part of their civilian education.

Surely, military affairs can and should be a concern of a liberal education at Princeton and other civilian colleges. In fact, I note that the sociology department offers Professor Centeno’s excellent course The Western Way of War. So, as vexing as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be, the university has compelling reasons to maintain, through the R.O.T.C. program, its connection with — and influence on — an important area of national policy.

Let the trustees tell Donald Rumsfeld what’s wrong with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But meanwhile, let’s also avoid denigrating the achievement of R.O.T.C. seniors and delete the gratuitous reference to the policy in this June’s commencement program.

Bruce R. Carrick ‘58
Somers, N.Y.

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April 22, 2003

Tiger, Tiger, Tiger for Professor Uwe Reinhard!

I had no idea that the trustees and administration are cowering under fine print while expressing their distain for the U.S. Military at graduation.

As has been noted in the past on other issues via PAW letters, I demand that the statements offered by candidates mailed with trustee ballots include their positions on issues such as this and other matters of current concern to the university community.

In the meantime, PAW could do us all a service by interviewing each of the current candidates and reporting their views.

Don Tocher '59
Sunapee, N.H.

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April 21, 2003

Princeton, the Military and the Flag of Freedom

Watching our young marines hoist the American and Iraqi flags over the statue of Saddam Hussein before symbolically toppling the brutal butcher of Baghdad was an emotional experience that made me very proud of my country. We have liberated the 25 million oppressed people of Iraq, while most of the world stood by or turned their backs.

Operation Iraqi Freedom has made me rethink the claim of “Princeton in the nation’s service.” In 1957, 400 of 750 Princeton men served in the military. Last year, it was three in a class of 1,000. The statistics are depressingly similar at other Ivy League schools, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Regrettably, Princeton and other Ivy League universities have developed an elitist attitude that military service may be necessary, but it is somehow beneath the dignity and sensitivity of Ivy League students. Today’s students seem more willing to protest in antiwar demonstrations and hold candlelight vigils to oppose the singing of “God Bless America” in the public schools than to honorably serve in the military.

President Tilghman, tear down the wall of antimilitary bias that has been built up since the Vietnam War and the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” treatment of gays. Commandeer a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and rush down I-95 to the Pentagon to beg Don Rumsfeld ‘54 to restore Navy and Air Force R.O.T.C. to the Princeton campus. While you’re at it, celebrate with pride on-campus military recruiters.

If “Princeton in the nation’s service” is going to have real relevancy today, students must develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the role of this nation’s military in winning, maintaining and spreading the peace and freedoms we all take for granted.

Bob Hazard ‘56
Paradise Valley, Ariz.

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April 11, 2003

Princetonians in the Military?

This week, the ideals of America won big in Iraq, in defense of freedom, against Militant Islamic terrorism and it's domestic apologists. Our technological superiority, was directed on the ground, in real time, by the tactical genius and guts of the most competent soldiers and commanders in global history. We have made history.

In light of these incredible world events, Princeton Alumi Weekly featured The McCarter Theatre and the African-American studies program. What a disconnect ! There was nothing in these issues representing such a timely topic as "Princeton in the nation's service." I am sure if PAW had looked hard enough, it could have found at least one Princeton grad serving his/or her country in the armed forces. Princeton graduates in the military deserve to be held up as role models of service, courage, initiative, and leadership. I urge you to find some and profile them.

The fact that they are not mentioned is illustrative of a prevalent "politically correct," noncommittal attitude taken by campus opinion makers and functionaries with regard to the marketing of Princeton. Just as the U.N. benefited from the billions it managed through the Iraq Oil for Food program, Princeton benefits from the tuition dollars of overseas students and giving bolstered by its international reputation. The moral relativism that comes from giving equal consideration to all factions gives leadership to none.

By the way, when was "and in the service of all nations" added to the motto "Princeton in the nation's service?" The message of the altered motto is that Princeton must accommodate the "feelings" and opinions of every member of the University community equally. The one year graduate student from Saudi Arabia precepting "validating the Wahabi exerience" is just as important as the valedictorian soccer team captain from Wisconsin or Maine.

Instead of eroding its moral core, Princeton's administrators should remember that Princeton is an American university, and it should act like one. America is a global leader setting a standard for other countries, and we do not need to "join the world community" as campus leftists are fond of saying. As one of the premier loci of American education, Princeton should set an example by encouraging leadership and support of our nation. Current students have an excellent opportunity to find pride and direction in serving their country when compared with students that attended Princeton during previous years.

Thor Thors '84
New York, N.Y.


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March 25, 2003

The following letter was written March 25, the sixth day of war in Iraq; it is intended for the university trustees and the broader Princeton community:

Every year, the university’s commencement program, in the section announcing awards given to seniors, features the following “Commissions and military science prizes are awarded by the United States Army and Air Force.” So far, so good. It continues: “Admission requirements for Armed Services ROTC programs are not consistent with the nondiscrimination policies of the University that govern admission to University academic and other programs.” The font used is small enough that not too many celebrants will actually read it. But, it is large enough to communicate that, on a matter of moral principle, the university is taking a swipe at the U.S. military.

My wife and I — parents of a Princeton grad now serving in Iraq with the Marines — are perhaps too sensitive for taking offense at the clause. When our son graduated in 2001 and that same day was commissioned into the Corps in an all but deserted Nassau Hall, he shrugged it off. I won’t.

I understand the grievance many have against the policy alluded to in that clause. At the same time, I doubt that gay students would wish to take out any frustration on classmates who chose to serve their country in uniform and who had nothing to do with writing that policy. Why not instead aim objections to the policy at its architects and guardians?
In his role as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Colin Powell fought President Clinton’s proposal to eliminate the discriminatory policy. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ’54 now preserves the objectionable policy. If these gentlemen chose to grace our campus with their presence, would we print that offensive clause on the menu of the dinner celebrating their presence? Would not instead Princeton’s trustees, its administration, and its faculty fall over one another to sit near these architects and guardians of the offending policy?

I would like to see the commissioning of graduating Princetonians an integral part of Commencement, allowing their classmates to honor them for their approach to Princeton in the nation’s service. Or, perhaps the trustees could attend the commissioning ceremony in the afternoon, to shake the hands of these young officers, and of their parents, on behalf of us all. And if even that small gesture were too much to ask, could that gratuitous passage from the commencement program be removed?

Uwe E. Reinhardt
James Madison Professor of Political Economy

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