Saturday, September 13, 2008

Obama and McCain support ROTC return to Columbia University

Excerpts are from the September 11, 2008 ServiceNation event at Columbia University.


STENGEL: We have the greatest fighting army in the world, I think everyone would agree. But is there something about this picture that you think needs to change, this social imbalance?

MCCAIN: Well, I would remind you in the days of the draft that it was then most unfair because the lowest income Americans served and the wealthiest found ways of avoiding draft. I think the all- volunteer force is having difficulties recruiting and retaining because we're too small and we need to expand the size of our military and we need to do it as rapidly as possible.

And there are -- we have got to perhaps offer additional incentives. For a long time, years ago, the Navy and Air Force were losing pilots. So we paid them more and we had more of them stay in. Their first reason for serving is patriotism, but also, you have got to offer them incentives in order to do so.

And frankly, we're here in a wonderful institution. I'm proud that my daughter graduated from this school. But do you know that this school will not allow ROTC on this campus? I don't think that's right. Shouldn't the students here be exposed to the attractiveness of serving in the military, particularly as an officer?

So maybe -- maybe the -- I would hope that these universities would re-examine -- I would hope that these universities would re-examine that policy of not even allowing people who come here to represent the military and other Ivy League schools and then maybe they will be able to attract some more.


OBAMA: But it’s also important that a president speaks to military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many. You know, I traveled, obviously, a lot over the last 19 months. And if you go to small towns, throughout the Midwest or the Southwest or the South, every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s not always the case in other parts of the country, in more urban centers. And I think it’s important for the president to say, this is an important obligation. If we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some.

STENGEL: To that end, to get the best and brightest into the military, this university, your alma mater, invited President Ahmadinejad of Iran to be here last year, but they haven't invited ROTC to be on campus since 1969. Should Columbia and elite universities that have excluded ROTC invite them back on campus?

OBAMA: Yes. I think we've made a mistake on that.


I recognize that there are students here who have differences in terms of military policy. But the notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren't offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake.

That does not mean we disregard any potential differences in various issues that are raised by the students here, but it does mean that we should have an honest debate while still offering opportunities for everybody to serve, and that's something that I'm pretty clear about.
I am heartened by Senators McCain's and Obama's statements that support the restoration of ROTC at Columbia University. However, it is not a new sentiment from the two candidates; it stands out only because they stated it on campus. The key is to turn general principled support for ROTC-return into substantive nuts-and-bolts reform involving the university, government and military, and Columbia ROTC advocates.

There is already an active movement to restore ROTC at Columbia University, which has been active since 2002. Here is the Advocates for Columbia ROTC website.


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