Every once so often we detect complaints about ROTC bubbling up through the cadets' natural recitude. Officers candidates are sometimes forced to plunge themselves into the units' social functions, and naturally the compulsion is none too popular.
It is rare, this element of force, but an AROTC directive proves that it is not inconceivable. By regulations, all ROTC units must set up an officers club affair which presents several dances a year. The AROTC added a unique feature to this by more or less compelling membership, something not required by regulations or practised by other local units.
We say "more or less compelling" because those who don't join and pay the two dollar dues must explain why to the Colonel. Colonel Bostram is obviously no martinet, but the very necessity of explaining something to one's commanding officer, something he won't particularly like, is a substantial psychological block. "Why risk it for two bucks?" is the usual reaction, and the cadet joins.
It is not the enforced levy and membership themselves we decry as much as the possibility they raise of the ROTC ultimately packing half the college (the units' present enrollment) into a tight social mold, with common ideals, tastes, attitudes, and loyalties. No aim could be more foreign to a place like Harvard, where diversity is a vital part of education.
Ridiculous, you say. No unit could take over its cadets that way, and none of them want to. Though correct, this whitewashes the problem. By its very nature, the ROTC must create as much esprit de corps as it can. But by its nature as well, the University must resist this, for fear it will impair the spirit of questioning and debate so essential to creation of inquiring minds. The clash in purpose will remain so long as the United States is engaged in a cold war or hot peace. Obviously, then, miniature Eiscnhowers are needed to operate the local units, for men who can only run drills are not diplomats enough to know where the line should be drawn, the compromise made.
Harvard's ROTC commanders have managed their exasperating task very well on the whole, but in this case, we fear, one of them is on the wrong side of that vague but crucial line. If the AROTC could not mold officers without dances, then we could hardly object to coercion. This is not the case, though. Dances and other social functions are hardly essential to teach men discipline, to teach them military procedures, techniques, and the other qualities good officers possess. Social functions are just not important enough to justify the inroads they make on an undergraduate's normal interests, on the course of education in its widest sense. Even if the mis-step is petty, as in this case, it warrants protest.
This is the line we draw, then, Exhott them if you wish, chil them, teach them, and imbue them with as high morale as you can. But forcing undergraduates to center their lives on Shannon Hall, or any step toward that which isn't absolutely indispensable to producing competent officers, is blatantly improper. The least AROTC could do (and what probably would hardly dent the officers club membership, either) is to leave such things to the candidate himself. Only this way can the proper and preceations balance be kept.