Sun, 02 Dec 2001
Zev Zukerman knows that he's unusual.
ROTC gaining respect, recruits / War developing student interest in
Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks on his adopted country, the Russian
emigre joined his campus ROTC program at the University of California
at Berkeley. The 18-year-old likes the statement his uniform makes on
the campus, where small but organized student opposition to the war in
Afghanistan just makes him mad.
"Nothing feels better than walking through campus with an Army uniform
on," Zukerman said. "Nothing makes me more proud."
Reserve Officer Training Corps units on campuses across the country report
that they, like military recruiters, got a flurry of inquiries about joining
their program in the days immediately after the attacks. Unlike Zukerman,
most did not follow through - though some ROTC officials predict they
will see an increase in enrollment next fall.
But at Berkeley and countless other campuses, the sight of a cadet wearing
a military uniform is generating open curiosity, questions and even expressions
of admiration from students who never noticed them before.
Even at Harvard University, which banished its ROTC program from campus
during the turbulent protests of the Vietnam War era - and later killed
its funding - there is evidence of growing support for a return to university-sponsored
"In the days before Sept. 11, the amount of support and gratitude for
men and women in uniform on the campus was lukewarm at best," said Harvard
student and Army ROTC battalion commander Charlie Cromwell.
"Afterward, I saw a complete change in that many students who never
really had a voice on the matter spoke up in support of us."
More than 1,000 Harvard alumni are lobbying the administration to restore
ROTC as an officially sponsored university program. If successful, the
move would not return the training to campus, but would restore funding
and access to university facilities. Harvard's ROTC cadets cannot earn
college credit for the training they receive at MIT, nor can they set
up a booth on campus except on corporate recruiting days.
ROTC supporters are encouraged, too, that Harvard's new president, Lawrence
Summers, says the university has an obligation to support the war effort.
Summers suggested in an interview with the campus newspaper that patriotic
support from institutions like Harvard could help heal old wounds left
over from the Vietnam War.
Harvard cadets began traveling to the nearby Massachusetts Institute
of Technology for training when Harvard banished them from campus in 1969.
But then Harvard eliminated the off-campus program's funding a decade
ago after an openly gay cadet was forced out of the unit.
Harvard's ROTC program continues today only because the alumni provide
the annual subsidy of $135,000. David Clayman, who graduated from Harvard
in 1938, has been lobbying for more than a decade, first to return the
program to campus, and now to simply restore ROTC funding and status.
From 1988, it took 13 years for Clayman to cultivate a list of about
750 like-minded supporters. The list jumped to more than 1,000 in the
weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"People are still calling in," Clayman said. "The new president recognizes
and has set a pattern of respect for cadets."
The ROTC program was established in 1916 to help supply the U.S. military
with educated officers. Texas A&M, which began as an all-male military
college, still has the largest group of military cadets outside the service
academies. About 2,000 men and women are in "the Corps," and all of those
take basic ROTC training during their first two years.
Harvard, by contrast, has 20 cadets enrolled in the exiled Army ROTC's
Paul Revere battalion, which trains about a mile and a half from Harvard.
College students in Army and Air Force programs may sign up for two years
of ROTC training with no obligation, or can choose the participate in
a subsequent two-year program that will end in their commission as an
officer. Navy ROTC participants sign up for a four-year training program,
and all are obligated to service upon graduation. All branches of ROTC
Participation in ROTC programs dropped off sharply after the Vietnam
War and again at the end of the Cold War. For example, there were almost
178,000 Army ROTC cadets enrolled in colleges during the 1966-67 school
year. Last year, only about 28,500 were enrolled.
"The college kids today don't have a clue what was going on in Vietnam,
or on the college campuses during the Vietnam era," said Lt. Col. Jim
Wallace, executive officer for the Houston Consortium Naval ROTC detachment.
"I was in an ROTC unit during Vietnam - those were some interesting times,"
Wallace said. "But since that point, in my personal career, I've seen
a gradual increase in respect from the civilian community toward the military.
Obviously if we're successful in our campaign in Afghanistan, the military
will receive some benefits from that."
John Sibley Butler, University of Texas ROTC liaison officer, said he
thinks there's a lot of overall interest in the military that hasn't shown
up yet at the recruiting centers or as increased participation in ROTC.
Some ROTC programs are structured in a way that any increase in student
participation would not be measurable until the beginning of the next
"But if I were a betting man, I'd say there will be a lot more interest
in the officers corps in September," Butler said.
UC-Berkeley has about 170 students enrolled in the Army, Air Force and
Navy ROTC programs. Four people came to inquire about Army ROTC in the
days following the Sept. 11 attacks, said Army ROTC instructor John Katz,
but only Zukerman made the commitment to join.
At 18, Zukerman has only heard about the massive protests that rocked
the campus during the Vietnam War more than three decades ago. Berkeley
students were some of the most aggressive opponents of the Vietnam War.
In late November 1966, a large demonstration was organized against a
Navy ROTC recruiting table set up in the Student Union building, and eventually
led to a student strike against the university.
But while Harvard is a private institution, UC-Berkeley is a land-grant
college bound by congressional mandate to provide officer training. ROTC
stayed under the university's umbrella in spite of the pressure politics
of the late '60s and early '70s.
There have been pro-America rallies at Berkeley since the war in Afghanistan
began. And some protests have been directed against increased surveillance
of immigrant students in the wake of the attacks.
But Zukerman still bristles at the opposition he hears on campus.
"I'm originally from Russia," Zukerman explained. "We came here (in 1989)
when I was 5. My dad was in the Russian army."
A lot of Berkeley students take for granted the freedoms they've grown
up with, Zukerman said. He was furious the night of the attacks, he said,
when a vigil on campus began with a focus on the tragedy but evolved into
a political discussion.
"They were all talking about how the real evil lies in Washington, that
it was America's fault," Zukerman said.
Two days later, Zukerman joined the ROTC. He said he's unsure about a
commitment to military service after college, and concedes that his family
is still puzzled by his choice.
"I think the benefits in life come when you take the most unusual risks."