Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

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Go Be a Watchman

“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” -Isaiah 21:6, KJV

“Remember us better than we are.” -Vincent Brand to Caliban, Penny Dreadful

A few friends have asked about my thoughts on the latest “racially charged” national controversies—which is not terribly surprising; I’m a politically active black conservative who managed to turn even my own wedding into a controversy—and I’m going to dust off this old medium to gather my thoughts in one hopefully coherent place. 

For starters, I must confess it sometimes takes me a second to remember which outrage we’re even talking about. 

There was the infuriating abuse and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that directly triggered ongoing protests, riotous destruction, and curfews across the country. What’s especially salient about this misconduct is the video of an officer who is clearly unconcerned about being videotaped with his knee on a restrained man’s throat—and his law enforcement colleagues plainly finding nothing concerning enough about the situation to intervene. As many have put it, if this is how law enforcement behaves when they know they’re being recorded, how much more awful must they be when they know (or think) they’re not. This is what qualified immunity impunity looks like.

Speaking of qualified immunity unaccountably overzealous policing, there was the recent murder of Breonna Taylor. In case you missed it, she was an innocent woman whom Louisville police killed after her boyfriend understandably invoked his Second Amendment rights while calling the police for help (bless his heart) to defend the couple against an apparent home invasion by unannounced police who couldn’t be bothered to check the details of their no-knock warrant. If there were any substantive accountability for such things, they might have bothered. 

There was the earlier incident of white vigilantes (including a former law enforcement officer, because of course) in Coastal Georgia (a region where I have deep ancestral roots) chasing down and killing Ahmaud Arbery, allegedly because of months-old robberies to which no produced evidence connects him. It took national outrage to get anywhere with that prosecution, and the recused law enforcement officials who declined to prosecute their buddies, the McMichaels apparently still don’t see what all the fuss is about. Because of course.

And there was the thankfully nonlethal (talk about lowering the bar) but still troubling case of Amy Cooper. For viewers just tuning in, that woman stared down a camera and employed the classic “crying white lady” tactic to sic the police on a black man in New York City for having the audacity to ask her to follow clearly posted (and not unreasonable) rules that apply to everybody else.

After watching Minnesota police arrest a CNN crew live on air for lawfully reporting on protests against imperious police misconduct, I posted this comment on Facebook:

I hate violence. I’m repulsed by riots. I detest looting. I have every sympathy for the difficult task of restoring order amid violent chaos.

Having said that, I have some questions, which I ask sincerely and respectfully, and would appreciate a sincere and respectful answer to:

What is one to do when the progenitors of violent chaos are precisely the people charged with keeping the peace and protecting the innocent? What is one to do when the fearsome powers entrusted with the government monopoly on violence to protect us are fundamentally untrustworthy? What are we to do when the reasonable exercise of any core civil right–no matter how fundamental, no matter how well enshrined in the First, Second, or Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution–is met with violence from the very government ostensibly bound by and existing for the protection of our civil rights?

What are we to do? What will you do?

I would love and deeply appreciate a compelling answer to these questions. I’m no extremist, but watching this video makes me want to burn down everything those people ever loved.

I pose these questions now to everybody reading this (and thank you for staying with me this far), because they matter. Some of these issues really do transcend race. Police brutality and misconduct against black people are very much a product of a broken system that refuses to hold law enforcement responsible for its wrongdoing, which afflicts and terrorizes people of all races, even if unequally. If we could somehow fix the racial dynamics in policing, that would in no way mitigate the need to abjure qualified immunity, effect more reliable and present video recording, make crime labs independent of law enforcement officials who rely on them, and so on. At the same time, the need to fix problems that transcend race should not be an excuse to avoid addressing the issue of race where it remains a problem. 

The paroxysms of rage that have flowed from these incidents, and the narratives they feed, are as viscerally understandable as they are ineffably exhausting. In a very real sense, there’s almost nothing new to say, beyond the minute specifics of this or that incident, because we’ve all been here before. Well, we “all” in the sense that many of us lack the luxury of ignoring or “moving on” from these kinds of things because even when we think we can, we find that the way we interact with other people and the world has irreversibly changed somehow—and many others are now quite practiced in finding ways to make these things about anything other than larger issues that have a lot to do with race. 

A lot of folks like to think of themselves as not having “a racist bone” in their bodies, whatever that means. We all want to be the heroes in our stories, and being “colorblind” or “not caring” about [insert demographic trait] has a seductive appeal to the better angels of our nature that allow us to believe the best about ourselves, our peers, and the systems that have afforded us our (real and potential) successes, such as we know them. And anway, isn’t that what MLK was all about? (Spoiler alert: No.)

Bearing no ill will toward black people or other minorities—and not actively doing any harm that you recognize—is perfectly compatible with being an integral part of the profoundly evil dynamics that killed or threatened people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Christian Cooper. These things don’t happen in a vacuum, nor do they spring sui generis from the minds of peculiarly evil people who were inexplicably, just the day before yesterday, members in good standing of their (probably mostly white) communities. 

These things start small, but they are everywhere taught and enforced, often in subtle but persistent ways. People don’t “naturally,” “innocently,” or “accidentally,” cross the street when they see a black person on the sidewalk or tense up when a black couple strolls past them or find themselves in glaringly all-white (or nearly so) friend groups in ethnically diverse environments. They learn these habits from the same social conditioning that led Amy Cooper (no known relation to Christian) to understand that it would matter that she felt threatened by “an African American man” and was putting on a show of crying—and that the man she was threatening with this farce would know, without needing to be told, how and why it mattered. 

I’m angry—well enraged and exhausted, to be honest—about all of these incidents that are currently captivating the news cycle, and we could fill vast libraries with books explaining why. But in lieu of the time for all that, I’ll attempt the simpler project of explaining, as succinctly as I can (which is to say, not very), how I came to start noticing when I was one of, if not the only, black people in a space, what that has to do with these controversies, and what I think we can take from all that.

Although I experienced it on occasion, I didn’t understand racism all that well as a child, because I grew up in about as diverse and integrated (both are critical) an environment as probably exists on a large scale in America: the U.S. Army community. Perhaps unlike the leadership of any other major employers, the share of commissioned officers in the U.S. Army who are black or Asian American is roughly the same as each group’s share of the overall U.S. population, according to the Department of Defense. My father has been an Army officer for well over a decade, but for nearly all of my childhood, he was enlisted—a population that’s even more diverse than the officer corps. (Yes, this means nonwhite soldiers are more likely to be enlisted than officers, but I’ll hazard a guess that the disparity is weaker in the Army than just about any employer of comparable size.) The Army isn’t the most diverse overall of the Armed Forces (that would be the Navy), but its leadership (i.e., officers, especially generals, and senior NCOs) noticeably is.

This meant that I grew up in a world relatively divorced from many social “cues” that teach people the kinds of things Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper learned about race. Army bases largely lacked an obvious black or Hispanic underclass driving taxis, working drive-thrus, waiting tables, etc. There was no “ghetto” or “hood.” Kids largely got their clothes, food, and supplies from the same places—the Post Exchange (PX), Commissary, or malls near base—lived in the same neighborhoods, had parents working for the same employers, and had more or less the same contemporary cultural references. Multiracial kids were (and are) common, as were (and are) interracial relationships, like my own and a large number of my friends.

It’s not that race didn’t matter, or that we never saw or thought about it. It did, and we did. Certain incidents from that era (like a couple of racist middle-school teachers from the West Coast who apparently never learned how to “deal” with black people) still haunt me. I also want to make clear that I am not talking about the experience of being a soldier—which I only know vicariously and is profoundly different—but only an Army brat, i.e., a dependent child who grew up in the world the Army built for its soldiers and their families. But I didn’t experience, as an Army brat, a dynamic of persistent racial separation and antagonism (subtle and overt) that led me to believe that my friends of different racial backgrounds had any reason to see or experience the world fundamentally differently. 

This all changed in college and the civilian world I graduated into after. Before college, I seldom found myself as the only black guy in a crowd, and it was something I seldom thought about. In college and after, this was common, and it kept coming up until I began to notice it. Before college, I had little direct experience of a black working class overseen by a mostly white managerial class. At Yale and in New Haven, this was the norm. Before college, most of the black kids weren’t sitting together in the cafeteria, keeping largely to themselves (although some did). At Yale, many did, and it was enough of a thing to keep coming up across all four years of my time there. Before college, I thought the police were my friends and knew some military police personally. After college, I’ve come to distrust law enforcement viscerally and know that I should never talk to the police. Before college, I seldom had the sense or understood what folks meant when they said that “such and such” was a “white space.” By the time I left Yale, and certainly in the world after, I came to know exactly what folks mean by that. 

What is it that they mean? A black friend, whom I met when we were both Ivy League undergrads and recently got an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, put it this way, on the topic of the incident in Manhattan’s Central Park:

#AmyCooper was a “Head of” – level person at Franklin Templeton and she went to Chicago Booth for business school.

So when we say [we] can’t get ahead in our careers, it may be because there is an Amy running our department…

The “Amys running our department” are key (but not the only) progenitors of “white spaces.” They’re the aforementioned people crossing the street, tensing up in a space, clutching their wallet, or “just checking in” when a black person arrives on the scene—or even suggests he or she might be thinking about arriving anywhere that “Amy” thinks she (or he) might wish to belong and do as they will. They are the media and political elites who wax poetic about “justice,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Donald Trump, or public schools while living in mostly white neighborhoods, sending their kids to mostly white schools, and slipping fluently into “coded” and patronizing language (at best) when they encounter minorities whose political, cultural, social, or other views don’t align with what they find “typical.”

The “Amys running our department” are the white gays, from D.C. to San Francisco, whose social (and social media) presence is reliably a sea of white faces, but will have you know they would have voted for Barack Obama a third time. They are my effectively segregationist MBA peers at UVA Darden whom I can refer to in the vaguest terms and still find that just about any minority classmate knows exactly whom I’m talking about (as I expect is happening with any of them reading this right now). But amid their all-white (or nearly so) socializing, networking, dating, and, well, segregating, those peers would have you know they tutor black kids, donate to good causes, and care about the “real” injustices and diversity out there. Some of them might even have posted a status or two about the incidents we’re here discussing. They can also be relied upon never to lift a finger to make sure their black peers feel more welcome and included, if it involves any inconvenience for them. 

This is not to say they are all bad people. Were I socialized as they were, looking as they do, I might well think and behave as they do. There, but for the grace of God, go I. But again, people don’t just find themselves in reliably segregated spaces in diverse environments—whether socially, professionally, or otherwise—by accident. You get to such spaces by making choices. You choose to say hi to the white classmates sitting around you, and not the black ones. You choose to walk up to white people at the bar or in a party, but not the brown ones. You choose to take offense or ascribe more uncharitable motives to the comments or actions of black people in a given situation than you would have or do to white people. You choose to find reasons why people who don’t look or perhaps sound like you don’t “fit” into your office or church or social group, which just so happens to produce demographic homogeneity that makes minorities feel unwelcome. 

The general public may never know how the real Amy Cooper treated the black people in her life, but there are reasonable, little things we all can do to stop being or avoid becoming an “Amy running our department.” Among them: notice when the demographic dynamics around you are out of sync with your environment, and change it. Speaking only for me, I don’t care for “white guilt” or find much lasting value in apologies for crimes the person speaking didn’t commit. I don’t generally care what charities you donate to, politicians you vote for, or “causes” you support. (But we can and should talk about those in other contexts!) What matters to me, in this context, is what we do with our direct spheres of influence. 

Sometime after I started noticing the many forms of racial segregation that permeate “meritocratic” American life, I started periodically asking myself a series of questions to help maintain a sort of focus. Do I have genuinely good relationships with people of different racial and other backgrounds? Would they say so, if asked, and I wasn’t there? Am I reaching out to classmates or friends who aren’t professionally “useful” to me? Am I as generous and charitable with people I’m less attracted to? Am I holding people to standards I wouldn’t want held against me? Am I being deliberate about changing things I don’t like about my environment? Am I getting the kind of feedback I need to improve for real, rather than just in my own head (or in the eyes of people who might share in my contribution to underlying problems)? What am I willing to do to become the kind of person I want to be? What am I not? Why?

Perhaps others will find this type of periodic introspection helpful. Perhaps not. What I can say is that far too many of us have far more in common with Amy Cooper or those police officers than we like to admit. The better we are at recognizing and owning the banal, petty ways in which people like “us” become (or, indeed, already are) people like “them,” the better we may get at correcting for and even preventing such wrongs. That is, perhaps, the best we can hope for at this point. It’s either that, or the riots.

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Memento Mori

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” –General George S. Patton

“Someday, perhaps, it will be pleasing to remember these things.” –Virgil

How can anything be worth anything if it lasts forever?

Valar Morghulis. Valar Dohaeris.

My great-grandfather, Arthur, was a fatherless man. He was born black and Irish in the Deep South in the eleventh hour of the 19th Century. He married Elizabeth, an immigrant from the Bahamas, and she bore them 17 children, among whom is my maternal grandfather. Although Arthur died half a dozen years before I was born, I have always been aware of his nearly seven score years of life through the tales his great family still heartily recalls well into the 21st Century. Two ghosts of those tales seem particularly relevant today.

My great-grandfather’s father, the Irishman, died in a now century-old war before his son could ever know him. Arthur did get to know his own sons, however, and one of them was a man named Earl, who went to fight in Vietnam. Not unlike the grandfather he never met, Earl left a young family behind to serve his proud country. And also akin with that late grandfather, Earl never again saw his homeland, or the wife and young daughters he left there.

Today, most of Earl and Arthur’s American family remains in Florida and Georgia, where they have lived for more decades than hardly anybody can remember. The Army brought my parents to the D.C. metro area years ago, and, occasionally, some of our kin will make the long trek up the South Atlantic coast for a visit. When the weather is glorious, or at least tolerable, my parents will take them to the National Mall to stroll through the grandeur of the Capital of the American Republic our forebears built. Although our itinerary may vary, a sense of rooted wonder always carries us to the dark marble wall that commemorates the fallen of Vietnam. We always remember to scratch Earl’s name onto pieces of paper that we bring for this familiar ritual. Granny hates being in photographs, but she always submits to a few still-frames of time on these occasions.

We usually smile.

Growing up in the military, I learned that Veterans Day was meant to celebrate peace and those who returned from service to America and her values of liberty, justice, and honor. This November, I will celebrate my father, mother, sister, and brother for their service.

As a point of distinction, Memorial Day commemorates sacrifice and loss: the ultimate cost of freedom. In reflecting on the passing of warriors like Arthur’s father and son, we remember that all men and women are born to die, and what matters is the how and why of our ineluctable departure. We remember that our free Republic was built upon the ashes of dreamers and is maintained upon the hallowed dust of sacrifices honored. We remember that our lives are never solely ours, and our deaths are no more the bookend of our stories than our loved ones will allow.

For as long as I can remember, funeral days have always nurtured times of celebration in my family. The former homes of those gone to glory become sites where the living gather to eat, drink, and merrily recall halcyon days past and grievances overcome. By celebrating life—and all that has been done so that we might freely enjoy it—we consummate the purpose for which our loved ones lived and died, whether in far-flung wars or quietly at home after untold suffering. It is for this very purpose—the enduring happiness of those whom we shall someday leave—that we now live and remember.

Happy Memorial Day!

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The Future of Old Institutions

“There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people, and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help, by our own efforts, those who are unfortunate.” –Margaret Thatcher

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…” – Semisonic on my graduating to Yale from this dear high school.

It is a fascinating experience to play the unfamiliar role of “student ambassador” to twelfth-graders in one’s former high school. Although some of those students were considering the Ivy League, none had heard of how its “need-based” financial aid policy might offer middle-class kids a better value than a state school. In fact, most were broadly unaware of basic differences between the institutions they sought to attend. It was the oddest thing, returning to a perspective where even the brightest were simultaneously unaware of the range of opportunities before them and largely oblivious to that unawareness.

Later, while wandering the distantly familiar halls, I happened across a fellow ex-cadet from our school’s popular JROTC program. Immaculately poised in his Marine Corps dress blues, Alex sat across from the cafeteria at a table decorated with promotional material. We had a good laugh for old times’ sake. He asked me about the liberals in New England, and I asked him about the Corps and his wife Amanda, who had succeeded me years ago as the notoriously ruthless executive officer of our former battalion. The soft drawl in his voice beckoned a reflexive smile, as did his unaffected style of common-sense, “real world” politics. It all reminded me how far I was from the privileged, insular urbanity of Yale.

It is incredible how things change in four years.

The dynamics Claire Vaye Watkins, now an assistant professor at Bucknell, describes in her poor, rural Nevada high school have several points in common with my majority-minority alma mater in suburban Virginia. In particular, the cozy symbiosis between M.V.H.S. and the military had no parallels among private, elite universities. Local servicemembers—like my parents—sent their children to the school; JROTC facilitated easy access to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and warm relationships with recruiters and military alumni. Unsurprisingly, many old classmates are in the military, where many have been married parents since before they could legally drink. (Before you gasp, my yuppie friends, this is normal where I grew up.)

Of course, myriad former classmates did go off to college. My old friends from U.S. Army bases in Germany preferred schools in whatever states they happened to graduate or somewhere they had ties. In Virginia, top-achievers went to the University of Virginia. Other promising students opted for other in-state schools, including Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth. A handful departed for service academies. When it occurred to me to ask after their choices, most shrugged away the inquiry; they chased after their best interests within the realm of familiar networks.

Perhaps I am supposed to say, as Watkins suggests, that my community would be better served by more Ivy Plus attention. That may be true, and those elite institutions could certainly benefit from the infusion of more conservative, middle-class perspectives. Yet my friends seem generally to be doing well for themselves, which is more than I can say for me. So instead, I will make two observations about how the world may change—in the universities and in politics.

First: when the Supreme Court rules on marriage, it may also find race-based affirmative action unconstitutional. If so, there will be a panoply of didactic musings about post-racial mythology, insidious social trappings, blinding privilege, Asians, and so on. As a practical matter, institutions will face two options: (1) abandon diversity or (2) be more innovative in fostering it. Assuming most opt for the latter, they will have to get more creative in non-racial outreach to the underprivileged—as in, accounting for financial assets and concentrated poverty, rather than relying on income. But to get the applicants in the first place, elite universities will have to cultivate roots in places where for years the military and local schools have reaped uncontested from an enduring communal presence.

Second: Republicans for too long have been to poorer, browner, and younger Americans as Ivy League schools have been to middle-class public schools like mine: out of sight, out of mind. My being the third student in five years to matriculate from M.V.H.S. to New Haven was not enough to sustain a substantive connection between my alma maters. For that, Yale—or Harvard or MIT—would need to aggressively maintain relationships with faculty, two-way channels with administrators and parents, and a network of joint alumni who would shape the realm of possibilities for those who walk after them.

In the absence of anything resembling even an attempt at real connection with “Democratic” demographics, the GOP resembles little more than a distant collection of prejudices, most of them negative. Noises about broader inclusion are a fine start, but the game is a long one. Republicans will find limited returns in sudden “outreach” to minority neighborhoods a couple months before tough elections. A long-term investment in conversations with churches, college campuses, charitable organizations, and underprivileged career-seekers will bring conservatives into discussions where they were once despised or irrelevant. Never again should a sitting Republican congressman need to refer his unemployed kin to a functional subgroup of the Democratic caucus.

Resetting the conversation surrounding history, politics, and biases will not happen in a cycle. In the short-term, Republicans can expect rabid resistance from the Left against any attempts to expand the coalition of the Right. But poor, blue-collar, multicultural, and middle-class Americans are an abundant resource throughout this country. Any institutions that are to pass the test of time—politically, academically, or otherwise—are obliged to mine and develop that talent.

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Right Quick: Stronger than Frankenstorm

When I was born to a young soldier and his high-school sweetheart in the spring of 1989, the motto of the U.S. Army was, “Be All You Can Be.” It became something of a slogan for us young brats who dreamed of bright futures in a newly peaceful world. The Cold War was over, the economy was booming, bipartisanship was yielding results, and the 90s were a time of hortatory promise for American youth. All these years later, the motto is now “Army Strong”, and the American ethos it defends is one of resilience and spirited innovation in defiance of all forces of division. Amid ongoing war, recession, and profound uncertainty—as we yearn for the real and imagined glory of earlier times—we find our comfort in the Old Guard of Freedom, in the quiet dignity and faithful strength of those who defend a comfort we take as our inheritance.

We can merrily fret over storms at sea, with tempestuous cocktails and welcome reprieve from leaving the house, because soldiers remain at their posts, ever vigilant, come whatever darkness may. There is such pleasant insouciance in knowing that, of all possible fears, our greatest concern is not random terror, deranged tyrants, or martial crises, foreign or domestic, but a Category 1 hurricane. Our lady of wrath will certainly leave her mark, and there will  be brokenness to mend when she leaves. But Sandy, too, shall pass.

Thank you, fighting men and women of America, for leaving us to problems that we can be prepared for at home with batteries, whistles, and moist towelettes.

Some good-looking bayonets.

Stay safe.


The Pride of Yale

“When I see people in uniform, I think of fascism.” –Yale student, circa 2009

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight…is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” -John Stuart Mill

The Men of Yale who, true to her traditions, pledge their lives that freedom might not perish from the earth.

I loved my time at Yale. The brilliant people, abundant resources, and multifarious opportunities to learn about the world and my place in it were unlike anything I had ever known. Everybody seemed so worldly and studied. Sure, I had lived in Germany for three years, but these people could read dead languages, quote Shakespeare or Churchill at length, and wax poetic about the elegant truths of higher-order mathematics. I could hardly imagine anything I might understand better than most of them. And then, during a pleasant exchange, an avowedly thoughtful, intimidatingly mature, and all-around wonderful friend of mine compared the prospect of ROTC cadets on campus to fascism.

How was this possible?

Between 1969 and 1970, a period of profound social upheaval, a handful of elite schools moved to appease rabid hostility to the military Vietnam War by expelling ROTC from campus. Decades later, somebody decided the continued exclusion was about opposition to the ban on gay Americans serving openly. When I matriculated at Yale in 2007, the vast majority of my peers were functionally oblivious to the military—notwithstanding the occasional relative who fought in WWII and general indignation over the Iraq War. Among friends more given to pacifism, my military ID might as well have been Confederate currency: perhaps imagined to exist in a faraway place but never expected to be encountered in real life. (Incidentally, before Yale, this was my impression of vegetarians.)

By contrast, I was a natural-born Army brat and erstwhile JROTC cadet officer who had always expected to go to college in the South, where the military is right between God and football. Moreover, I was a distinguished student from a Naval Honor High School who had seriously considered Annapolis before the Ivy League came calling. (And many old friends are now serving.) Freshman year at Yale was nothing short of a culture shock. I was no more ready for a world impossibly ignorant—and proudly so— of the military than for classmates unfamiliar with minorities. (Army communities, unlike Ivy League schools, are among the most diverse and integrated places in the country, but I digress.)

Years before Congress brought DADT repeal up for a vote, the debate over whether to return ROTC to campus waged hotly at Yale and Columbia. As surprised nobody back home, I argued the need for more exceptional talent in the officer ranks, more understanding between the political and military elite, and the simple civic virtues of duty and patriotism. But above all, as a gay man, I had no patience for the yuppie exploitation of my political struggles to conveniently mask the anti-military bigotry of the day. DADT was a law from the civilian world that came 23 years—more than most of us had been alive at that time—after the purge of ROTC from the Ivory Tower. Politicians passed it, and politicians would have to fix it.

But what these debates laid bare was how much places like Yale and Columbia need the presence of the military. Apart from otherwise thoughtful people extrapolating totalitarianism from the patriotism of their peers, there was the public debate in which the student leader of a prominent liberal organization denigrated military officers as cowardly leeches on society. He was met with ovation from the left. That this particular gentleman—I was raised to be polite—could not imagine a war he or most of his friends would fight in perhaps goes without saying.

He was followed by students who declared that servicemembers are not heroes but dregs of society that had been exploited for their stupidity, poverty, and hopelessness. Others blamed the intrinsic evils of military culture—and the governing barbarians who enable it—for everything from My Lai to Abu Ghraib. For these safely distant gentry liberals, the military is an object of pity and contempt from which the world—and servicemembers—must be saved. Such were the asinine costumes of reason ad nauseam that I suffered for years.

I remember all too well the many stilted conversations, littered with mawkishly tendentious musings and didactic misconceptions, in which leftists expressed “enlightened” outrage at the very idea of the military. I also remember the people who obstinately held ROTC an affront to the integrity of the academy.  (Fortunately, the discipline I learned from my military parents empowered me to oppose my peers nonviolently, for a time, before abandoning them to their iniquity.) But of course, we were still to believe the opposition to ROTC on campus was just about DADT rather than a perverse failing of the culture of the Ivory Tower.

After the repeal, Connecticut’s only Navy ROTC program and a new Air Force ROTC unit finally began operating in New Haven. The official photos of the new NROTC midshipmen have reverberated around the world, broadcasting the pride of Yale—a place where the service of alumni fallen in the Great War is honored in the immortality of marble. But while much of the commentary has been positive, there have been those—including the aforementioned sometime liberal leader and the other one in every six students opposing ROTC regardless of DADT—who assure us that the U.S. military is still “despicable” and that the image of cadet uniforms in the rotunda still “freaks them out.”

The impregnability of such inanity is the real threat to the academy and the world it purports to serve. How on earth can we expect the “best and the brightest” to govern well while defiantly ignorant of and obdurately hostile to the Armed Forces? How fully could they consider our national interests while lacking even the obvious understanding that the enlisted and their officers never decide to start or end war, regardless of what they might think of such belligerence. What sort of world could endure governance by “leaders” who think soldiers analogous to demons and pacifism viable?

These people who oppose the very idea of the military are a remnant of the chaotic narcissism that saw a generation vomit out the dignity of its own defenders. They are a contemptibly spineless lot, afflicted with a nefarious defeatism, which would delight in entrusting the protection of the earth to crackpot organizations, two-bit dictators, and the French. Their beliefs and values—such as they are—are a cancer once thought to be in remission, that would compromise our entire body politic, if ever left to fester. And these are many of the people who want to “change” America by running her institutions.

While growing up on Army bases, I learned that freedom is a foundation built upon a shifting precipice. It must be ever maintained against the winds of the day. If the pacifists, isolationists, and other enemies of the military—and thus of freedom—ever get their way, the winds will keep howling. But there will be no brave hearts left to hold the fort. Nor will there be peace for the living.