Somehow Colman McCarthy included almost every leftist trope possible in his Washington Post op-ed opposing ROTC on campuses in the post–“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. Jonah has covered the main points, but the essay should be taught in schools as an example of the methodology of much of contemporary liberal argumentation.
1. Self-referencing narcissism? McCarthy in a brief essay references himself — I, me, my — in the first person 13 times. He has outdone even Justice Sotomayor and Barack Obama on that count. When I began the piece I wondered whether he would, as is the practice these days of an aging generation, actually reference life on the ramparts in the 1960s — as in, what I did in those days. And lo and behold, then it appeared: “To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s . . .”
2. Timing? Why not write this op-ed six months ago, deploring the fact that some might in the near future equate the impending end of DADT with a return of ROTC. Why post facto?
3. Historical ignorance? McCarthy seems to suggest that U.S. action in WWII, including and especially bombing, was a crime. One can enter into legitimate arguments over the morality and efficacy of leveling Hamburg and Tokyo, but it is just a faculty-lounge bull session without commensurate discussion of how else were the Allies, largely disarmed by the 1930s, to stop Hitler or the Japanese militarists who by 1944 were murdering off the battlefield several thousands a day in eastern Europe and Asia. I am not sure 1930s pacifism was going to appeal to Herr Hitler. Voting against the war after Pearl Harbor was not going to bring remorse from the Japanese for the several million butchered in China over a near decade (1931-41) of unopposed bloodletting. McCarthy does not seem to realize that organized murdering in the death camps, in the purges and collectivizations, in the Communist revolution and subsequent Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution — much of it far away from the battlefield — by Hitler, Stalin, and Mao accounted for perhaps 100 million dead in the 20th century: more than WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam combined.
4. Moral equivalence? Note McCarthy’s passing admiration for the spirit of the U.S. military as well as that of the Taliban (“I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s”). One force is trying to create consensual government, the other executes gays and non-believers, blows up cultural monuments, hangs and stones women, and on and on. For McCarthy, both are reduced to the same moral plane by virtue of similarly using arms. One could say the same abhorrent thing about the Waffen SS and those who landed at Normandy.
5. Special pleading? Colman invokes Martin Luther King. King certainly urged non-violent protests against Jim Crow and the Vietnam War; but was he a pacifist? Did he oppose in retrospect, say, the Civil War? That is, did he deplore Lincoln’s military decision to restore the Union without slavery? Perhaps non-violent protests might have won a secessionist South back into the Union by the 1920s or 1930s without slavery. After all, what is a mere 60 or 70 years more of slavery? Did King think that non-violent marching and protesting might have far better thwarted the racist dreams of a Hitler or Tojo?
6. Infantilism? We are lectured about “the impracticality of maintaining a military that has helped drive this country into record depths of debt. The defense budget has more than doubled since 2000, to over $700 billion.” The military still accounts for about 19-20 percent of the budget. Record depths of debt are far more attributable to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid expenditures that have grown astronomically and are unsustainable, despite steady increases in payroll tax rates. The recent military budgets of the last two decades fluctuated between 3.5 percent and 4.9 percent of GDP, far less than at any time since World War II. A graph of U.S. military spending both in budgetary percentages and as a share of GDP from 1940 to the present will show a general decline.
7. Self-serving self-righteousness? McCarthy deplores the dearth of peace-studies programs such as his own. In fact, there are hundreds nationwide in comparison to only a handful of military-history programs. And when he argues that a university’s “greatness” hinges on -studies programs (“Their pride in running programs in women’s studies, black studies, and gay and lesbian studies is well-founded, but schools have small claims to greatness so long as the study of peace is not equal to the other departments when it comes to size and funding”), should one laugh or cry?
But he enters the surreal with “I learned that the ROTC academics were laughably weak. They were softie courses.” I think most would accept that an ROTC graduate is more acquainted with history, sciences, and literature than a chicano-studies/black-studies or peace-studies major. As of yet, peace studies has not produced a single work of scholarship, narrative skill, or intellectual imagination anywhere on par with a William Prescott, Sir Charles Oman, or, more recently, a Gerhard Weinberg, Alistair Horne, or John Keegan.
8. Self-congratulation? What does “the intellectual purity of a school” mean in 2010? That was tragically lost a long time ago in the 1960s when “relevant” courses (particularly -studies courses) became deductive, with preconceived ends that justified biased means of teaching. Examine questions of free speech, intellectual diversity, and tolerance for minority opinion on an average campus, and the notion of “intellectual purity” is rendered Orwellian.