Our students are getting further and further away from Vietnam," said the teacher of military science. He was explaining one of the reasons for the increasing number of undergraduates enrolling in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). "They don't remember Westmoreland, Rusk or Calley."
That, to the military man, was pleasing. On this University of California campus, the students who were babies or children when the mistakes and horrors of the Vietnam War were in full view, are now saluting military values in such surges that the ROTC is back in fashion. Enrollment for Army, Air Force and Navy ROTC programs is up 25 percent from 1977. Nationally, the new glow is even rosier. For the Army ROTC, 1,315 schools are now on the rolls -- up from 679 in 1973. The student enrollment is 72,000, against 33,000 in 1973.
Unfamiliarity with Vietnam is only part of the ROTC resurgence. Another is economic need. With student loans and federal aid for higher education drying up, ROTC money is tempting for both undergraduates and administrators. To a student, ROTC means an untaxed $100 stipend a month on a tuition scholarship that can mean as much as$10,000 a year at some schools. On graduation, there is "a job." A college administration does well financially because the Pentagon provides and pays the instructors, while through the scholarships, the school can be assured of large sums in tuitions. This year, the Army is paying out $26 million in scholarships and $7.5 million in monthly stipends.
For both students and faculty, a final appeal is the aura of patriotism. With the Reagan administration pushing the dubiety that America is militarily weak, academia can take pride in doing its bit to supply the officers and gentlemen.
But America isn't weak and its armed services are in no manpower crisis. Instead, the ROTC revival means that once again the schools, instead of being centers of resistance against the war-preparation mentality, are centers of recruitment. The merger of the academe with the military contradicts one of the ideals of education, that the learned person knows better ways of both creating peace and effective self-defense than by relying on armed might.
With more money going to more military programs and less to the arts and sciences, the imbalance is likely to lead to still more ROTC growth. But it isn't a total rout for the military. On the Berkeley campus, classics professor Michael Nagler is organizing opposition to the ROTC by setting up a peace studies program. Nagler, author of "America Without Violence," believes that the new peace program "will in the long run -- if we have a long run -- erode the ideological basis for the ROTC and the pro-war, war-accepting framework. Rather than marching down the street and shouting to the ROTC, 'hell no, get out,' we're going to slowly help people understand what peace is and how to get it."
Teachers of nonviolence like Nagler find themselves confronted by opponents who see the presence of ROTC on campus as an academic freedom issue. No one is forced to join, it is said. And besides, it offers money and jobs to students so inclined.
One who has often heard this argument is Rev. Richard McSorely, a professor of theology and director of the Center for Peace Studies at Georgetown University. McSorely tells of the reply he once gave to a student. Suppose "an international prostitution ring offered me $500,000 provided I would help get a department of prostitution into the university. All the teachers would be chosen by the ring and the courses would be controlled by it . . . the courses would be taught by only recognized and certified pimps. What would you think of me, if I (endorsed) that as a course offering for students on the ground that the university needed the money, and after all, no one was forced to take it?"
The student replied that McSorely had turned an academic issue into a moral one. "I do consider it a moral question," he replied, "and if anyone thinks it is unfair to the military to compare them to prostitutes, I reply that it may be unfair to the prostitutes. Prostitution does not threaten the survival of the world. Prostitution is not supported by taxpayers' money and the power of the Pentagon."
Despite years of fine effort, McSorely has yet to rid Georgetown University of ROTC. And Nagler, just beginning at Berkeley, is likely to find similar frustration. But if their work persuades only a few students to think twice about the lures of campus militarism, they will be serving their schools well.