This fell sergeant, death,
Is strict in his arrest.
- Hamlet, Act v. Scene 2
We are a nation of words. Once we were a nation of deeds.
Words are easy: they flow forth like water, always on tap. With them, we honor the fallen, pay homage to the brave, occasionally marvel at some act of heroism beyond our ken. With words that sound heartfelt, we say "we support the troops".
And as we talk, and talk, and talk, half a world away there is little talk, but only the heavy quiet of a now-silent battlefield. Two days ago, it was anything but silent:
The explosion enveloped the armored vehicle in flames, sending orange balls of fire bubbling above the trees along the Euphrates River near the Syrian border.
Marines in surrounding vehicles threw open their hatches and took off running across the plowed fields, toward the already blackening metal of the destroyed vehicle. Shouting, they pulled to safety those they could, as the flames ignited the bullets, mortar rounds, flares and grenades inside, rocketing them into the sky and across pastures.
Gunnery Sgt. Chuck Hurley emerged from the smoke and turmoil around the vehicle, circling toward the spot where helicopters would later land to pick up casualties. As he passed one group of Marines, he uttered one sentence: "That was the same squad."
Among the four Marines killed and 10 wounded when an explosive device erupted under their Amtrac on Wednesday were the last battle-ready members of a squad that four days earlier had battled foreign fighters holed up in a house in the town of Ubaydi. In that fight, two squad members were killed and five were wounded.
In 96 hours of fighting and ambushes in far western Iraq, the squad had ceased to be.
Every member of the squad -- one of three that make up the 1st Platoon of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment -- had been killed or wounded, Marines here said. All told, the 1st Platoon -- which Hurley commands -- had sustained 60 percent casualties, demolishing it as a fighting force.
Miles away in the land of their birth, another hard-fought battle was being lost at Columbia University:
On Friday, the university senate voted by a 53-10 margin, with five abstentions, against a resolution to re-establish an ROTC program on campus. Prominent in this roll call of dishonor was President Lee Bollinger, who voted against, and Provost Alan Brinkley, who gave an impassioned speech comparing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to a campus organization that allowed "African-Americans to join . . . only if they pass for white." Oddly, Mr. Brinkley abstained from voting, suggesting he lacked even the courage of these convictions.
The university's decision was remarkable for two reasons. The first is that, though it has obviously escaped their notice, we are at war. Moreover, Columbia's student body had previously voted 2-to-1 to bring back ROTC. The second is a federal law called the Solomon Amendment, which prohibits schools from discriminating against military recruiters. If they refuse, they must forfeit federal funding.
America's elite universities have cloaked their hostility to our armed forces in the language of civil rights. They portray this as a principled stand against the military's legal policy of discharging homosexuals ("don't ask, don't tell"). It's an interesting stance, since these colleges booted ROTC off campus long before "don't ask, don't tell" became official policy:
As it is, the military's policy on gays wasn't the reason Columbia originally expelled ROTC in 1969. Rather, it was opposition to the Vietnam War and, once that was over, reflexive hostility to all things military. On other campuses, that hostility has abated in recent years, particularly after 9/11; Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania, among Ivy League schools, have ROTC programs, while Harvard University President Larry Summers has been outspoken in his advocacy for ROTC's return to Harvard.
Universities claim that this is a First Amendment issue: that by forcing them to grant access to military recruiters, Congress is forcing them to tacitly express approval for a policy they disagree with. As I argue here, this argument is preposterous:
Universities can and do sponsor a wide variety of speakers, some of whom (Ward Churchill comes to mind) advocate extreme and morally offensive points of view. Allowing or facilitating speech does not constitute official endorsement of a speaker's viewpoint. If it did, robust debate would be impossible as only one side of an argument can be 'endorsed' by an institution at a given moment in time.
This line of reasoning is made even more laughable when you consider that colleges vigorously resist any attempt by students, alumni, or tuition-paying parents to limit their freedom to hire speakers (an affirmative action that requires a school to first choose and then compensate a speaker for expressing a given viewpoint), yet see no hypocrisy in refusing to passively allow access to military recruiters; an act which, especially if compelled by federal law, can in no way be reasonably construed to imply approval or acceptance.
In a far away country, a company of Marine Reservists from Ohio, citizen-soldiers, have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms Columbia's professors now take for granted. They were very likely, like most Marines, plain-spoken men. Men of deeds, not words.
Their families and the few members of "Lucky Lima" who survived will never forget the awful price of freedom, even when it is purchased for someone else. They will never forget what it costs to keep us secure here in our comfortable homes. They do not need to be lectured about civil rights, they who paid the ultimate price to bring the most basic of rights to others.
Rep. Charles Rangel, a man I despise, has often complained that the burden of defending this country is shared unequally. He says that when this nation takes the field, it is a rich man's war and a poor man's fight. There is this much truth to what he says: the elite universities of this country are determined to keep their students out of the military. Some join anyway. How many more would join, if military recruiters were not barred from elite American campuses?
We live in an imperfect world. During World War II, blacks and Asians and yes, even homosexuals were discriminated against in ways we would find unthinkable today, yet they answered the call of their country and defended it bravely. Opinions on the wisdom or rightness of "don't ask, don't tell" will vary, yet one thing is for certain: America needs the best and brightest to secure her future. She needs officers of the highest caliber to lead and train and inspire. And that burden should not be born only by those unable to afford an Ivy League education.
In defying the law of the land and by their refusal to support her armed forces, America's colleges send a disturbing message to those who defend her borders: "Our support of the troops is but lip-service, for when it comes time to take up arms, we take refuge in freedoms paid for with your blood".
Words are expensive. Freedom is expensive. How long will America's elite universities talk, and talk, and refuse to pay the bill?
Cross posted at Villainous Company