More Re: Who Serves in the Military?


You know what?  My term as a trustee having ended this past June, I feel at much greater liberty to talk about my beloved Dartmouth College. As distinct from certain of its Ivy peers–Harvard, for example–Dartmouth has always retained an ROTC program.  But whereas civilian service represents a pervasive, permanent part of the culture in Hanover–over and over again, the Peace Corps and Teach for America simply bubble up in conversation–the military scarcely ever arises.  The very few young men and women who find their way into the ROTC program–Dartmouth graduates two or three each year–must do so almost entirely on their own, in opposition, as it were, to the wider mood or atmosphere.  

Forty years ago, it was the counterculture that opposed ROTC on campuses across America. Today in Hanover, New Hampshire, ROTC is the counterculture.

But those few students who do graduate with both Dartmouth diplomas and commissions in the U.S. Army or Marine Corps?  Among the most impressive young people I have ever encountered in all my long life. This past June, for example, Joel Malkin ’13 received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps on one day–and graduated as a valedictorian of the College on the next.  

Or consider Philip Back ’10 (pictured above, he also appears in the YouTube video below).  In February 2010, young Mr. Back sat at the piano with the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra to perform Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto.  In June he received his commission as an officer in the U.S. Army and graduated from Dartmouth.  In September, he shipped off to Afghanistan.

Dartmouth is much better in its dealings with the military than most Ivies–whereas Harvard only just recently reinstated ROTC, Dartmouth never lost it, and the College has in recent years covered itself with honor by helping veterans to become undergraduates.  But even at Dartmouth, as I say, Teach for America is in the air while ROTC might as well be hidden off in the woods somewhere.

The Ivies will do anything at all to redress racial or ethnic imbalances.  What about giving the nation more Joel Malkins and Philip Backs?  What about redressing the gap between the culture of New York and New England and the culture of national defense?  What about taking just a step or two in that regard to promote–may I use the phrase?–national unity?  

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  1. Profile Photo Podcaster

    The Ivies believe that one only fights for what one believes in. They are ashamed of America. That’s unlikely to change soon as long as there’s just one Red state.

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  2. Profile Photo Coolidge

    I certainly do not have the street-cred (or is it yacht-cred?) to speak for the Ivy outlook. I graduated from one of Wisconsin’s hyphens–you know, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. I suspect that the Ivies as a whole see nationalism as passé and the honor of serving in the US armed forces as something for others to do. Perhaps when the military morphs into a transnational world peacekeeping entity it’ll bring renewed interest in the tower. Professors and left-leaners across the country still have to contend with the healthy pushback from a populace at ease with ROTC on campus. As the country balkanizes further, I don’t see the Ivies changing much. Thank you Peter for bringing Lts Malkin and Back to our attention. 

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  3. Profile Photo Coolidge

    It’s telling that even an ROTC program, which typically is a very thin slice of the student population, gets the ax at some colleges for what can only be reasons of disdain at higher levels.  Yet if a group of students who juggle cats while singing Broadway tunes wants to form a group, and get funding from the college, well, hey – here’s the keys to some office space, the printer’s over there, and be careful with those cats.

    I was surprised to learn that only a handful of graduates come out of the program each year at Dartmouth.  I would have thought at least dozens, not several.  There is no greater service than offering up your life for your country, yet squirrelly community organizers are the ones who get touted for their “service”.

    We’ve been insulated from the realities of war for far too long, which is why a soldier/sailor/marine/airman/CG doesn’t merit the respect he or she deserves, nor does their choice of career merit the respect it should.  Used to be if you didn’t serve, it was looked on as some kind of failing. Today it’s the norm.

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  4. Profile Photo Member

    Terrific concert. The military supports so much innovation because they buy from smaller companies and bring a regular cash flow. This innovation then flows to the nation.

    Then there are the values and shared experience of being part of a world class organization. 

    Americans who belittle their military are seeing the jarhead view without realizing that the jarhead also got a pay check, experience at being part of a team and more. 

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  5. Profile Photo Member
    Peter Robinson

    The Ivies will do anything at all to redress racial or ethnic imbalances.  What about giving the nation more Joel Malkins and Philip Backs?  What about redressing the gap between the culture of New York and New England and the culture of national defense?  What about taking just a step or two in that regard to promote–may I use the phrase?–national unity?   · · 16 hours ago

    National unity.  What a beautiful sentiment. 

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  6. Profile Photo Member

    Peter, my husband and I are from the midwest.  He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1971,after graduating with honors (ROTC) from Ohio State’s Engineering department.   He served six months in the Signal Corps (electronics communication)  before being moved into the reserves.   He is an American, though and though, he had a duty to serve, and didn’t duck.  Neither of us were fans of LBJ.  

    For work opportunities, we moved to the American south, where our two sons were born and raised.  Our oldest son enlisted in the Air Force after high school graduation, saying,Mom,  save your money, I don’t have the right attitude for college right now.  

    Sure enough, after six years, including deploymenbt after 9/11, he completed university  in Tokyo.     Due to the poor economy,he is now enrolled in a different USA land grant university in electrical engineering.  I worry about foreigners being imported by the tens of thousands to take engineering jobs  away from USA engineering graduates, but no one else in Washington DC seems to worry about hurting US students and military veterans. 

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  7. Profile Photo Thatcher

    Peter, I retired from active duty 5 years ago this past June (USAFA’88) and each new crop of Lt’s have never failed to impress me – regardless of the school they attended.  In my career I can point to a single Ivy League guy (and then only because we were co-pilots together and he attended school with Brooke Shields – the queries weren’t about Princeton, but rather her – go figure.)

    About the only scandalous behavior on the part of ROTC students were those who tried to duck out of their commitments just prior to the first Gulf War. 

    That being said, I enjoyed your post about those who had to endure such a “hostile school environment” in order to persevere through the ROTC program and commission. Just think, they could have paid for school themselves and then joined via Officer Training School and few would be the wiser.

    One of my co-workers did just that; she is a daughter of a single mom (who has 4 other children) worked her way through Troy State University, graduated with a math degree and then decided to join the USAF.

    The entire crop is impressive.

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  8. Profile Photo Inactive


    I wonder and dispair whether national unity is even possible anymore.  The most recent example was the short-lived unity in the wake of 911 but it soon dissolved into partisan bickering over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I suppose in one sense its a sign of security and prosperity that we find ourselves arguing more with each other than dealing with an existential threat outside our borders.  Part of the problem is the identity politics promoted by the left which has produced a balkanization of our society.  Technology has also produced so many entertainment choices that it seems we have fewer and fewer shared national experiences.  I’m not sure there’s a consensus anymore of what it really means to be an American.

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  9. Profile Photo Inactive

    I was fortunate in attending a lefty, though supportive Midwestern school for ROTC. Didn’t have to deal with any push back other than from a few annoying professors. “So you’re in the army, what do you think about gays?” There are a lot of dolts who commission, but by and large they are honorable and patriotic people. I walked a tight rope when I joined to assuage my parents fears. So I said not to worry since I would only be an Intel paper pusher in a uniform. 6 years later and I’m in a combat arms unit jumping from planes.

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  10. Profile Photo Member

    There have been a number of Harvard NROTC Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenants commissioned over the years.  They were accepted into the Boston Consortium, in which my son USMC 1st Lt. Dan was a midshipman (Boston University 2011).  Everyone in the Boston Semper Fi Society had to work hard, but the Harvard NROTC midshipman had more hurdles  – they were not eligible for NROTC scholarships and received no credits from the school for their NROTC studies.  By contrast, BU is very supportive of all of their ROTC students, in case any of Ricochet members are considering it for their sons and daughters.  FYI, William Kristol’s son commissioned as a Marine from Harvard a few years earlier.  My own bias notwithstanding, they are all great young men, and now making their marks in the USMC and elsewhere.

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