The Frances Kaye – tdaxp Dialogue on ROTC

ROTC appreciated, but needs to respect civilians ,” by Frances Kaye, Daily Nebraskan, 31 October 2005,

Professor should respect the sacrifice of ROTC members,” by Dan, Daily Nebraskan, 1 November 2005,

Dr. Frances W. Kaye may be accustomed to reviewing books on Canada and displaying shock that the Homestead Act opened the frontier to people of all classes and hopes, but recently she extended her writings to include criticizing the collegiate-soldiers in the Big Red Battalion (UNL’s ). Her letter to the editor of the Daily Nebraskan, published on Halloween:

In the late fall afternoon, with an errand to run across campus, leaves and long shadows on the sidewalks, the “Hup, two, three, four” and the heavy boots slapping down under the camouflaged legs almost seemed like a game to me.

Their pennon blew stiffly in the wind. Then, more men in camouflage jumped up from the bushes and ran toward the marchers, and a little girl walking to the art museum pulled against her father in fear. One of the marchers explained to the little girl that they were just practicing and they wouldn’t hurt her.

Smartly, the marchers about-faced and began marching back toward me. I stepped off the sidewalk into the mulch around the shrubs. The marchers passed me, and the man who had spoken to the little girl told the man who was saying “Hup, two, three, four” to be more polite. “You ran that poor old lady right off the sidewalk.”

The hupper mumbled an “Excuse us.”

The most cogent argument for welcoming ROTC programs to campus is that they keep the military in contact with civilian society, force the student cadets to deal with the critical thinking and intellectual analysis that a university is chartered to provide.

So what are we to ask, then, about that sense of entitlement of the men in heavy boots and camouflage to frighten children and categorize a civilian professor as a “poor old lady”?

It is possible that before they launch themselves into the cauldrons of Iraq or Afghanistan UNL’s ROTC might want to think a little bit more carefully about empathy and respect, even if that meant pausing their exercise to avoid frightening a little American child, or moving their column to the center of the sidewalk so as not to need an “excuse me” that was more condescending than apologetic.

Of course, tdaxp could not let this stand. My response, published on All Saint’s Day:

I am sure Dr. Kaye’s responsibilities of teaching class, discussing native literature and avoiding paper cuts are difficult and dangerous, but I assure her that our professional citizen-soldiers sacrifice much more. Likewise, even if she was offended by the courtesy of those who remembered a “poor old lady,” she should remember that the Afghan and Iraqi women (and men!) who are able to vote for the first time in their lives because of the American war-fighter are not so dismissive.

So what are we to say, then, about the sense of entitlement of lecturers who call military discipline a “game”? Simply this: That the reason they can feel “entitled” to any right is that the American military fought for their liberty over, and over, and over again, whenever it has been asked.

While Dr. Kaye lauds the thinking skills of academia, I urge her to think of how much she owes to those “heavy boots slapping down under the camouflaged legs.”

I am not in the military, but I know those men and women in the military are sacrificing for the sake of Dr. Kaye, and myself, and the 300 million of us back home. Next time, before Dr. Kaye launches herself into the cauldron of our campus, she might want to think a little bit more carefully about empathy and respect for those who fought for us in the Revolution, the Civil War, the World Wars, the Wars on Communism and Terrorism and all the other places where they have given up their lives.

Update: France Key continues the discussion

Thanks to [tdaxp] for giving me an opportunity to repeat and extend what I said in my letter to the editor on Monday (“ROTC appreciated, but needs to respect civilians”). It is useful for ROTC to be on university campuses because, in that environment, they may be challenged. It is not true that all rights come from military force. Remember Rosa Parks. A civil society must be civil.

It is not true that everyone in Afghanistan and Iraq welcomes American troops.

If Americans are to bring democracy to that region, they must be truly sensitive to the “minds and hearts” of the people there. If soldiers-in-training unwittingly scare children and are graceless to women at home, in peaceful Lincoln, Nebraska, they are not likely to be learning the people skills that will keep them safe and effective wherever they are deployed.

Update 2: Jason A. Beineke enters the fray

In regards to the recent comments regarding our campus ROTC participants from Professor Kaye, I would like to offer a slightly different opinion from her comments.

Firstly, why does Professor Kaye feel the need to lecture these students? They are already some of the most dignified, mannered, respectful and among the highest academic achievers on our campus. I have never received anything other than respectful aplomb from these young men and women.

Yes, there are people in Afghanistan who do not like our servicemen and women; some of these people are called Taliban and Islamofascists. They would like to remove women such as Professor Kaye from their posts in education and force them into burkas.

Our servicemen have played soccer with children and passed out candy to children in Afghanistan and Iraq. In response, these Islamofascists have responded with bombs that kill women and children while targeting our servicemen and women.

Our ROTC students put a great deal on the line. They are held to higher standards on our campus and in our community than most other students. They know that they may well be asked to serve in countries far, far from home without the comforts and amenities that Professor Kaye enjoys.

Already these young men and women are restricted from their full freedoms of speech as they are not allowed to respond to Professor Kaye in the same way that she is able to castigate them in these pages. Allow me to say something on their behalf. When you see a group of these young men and women marching on campus, in formation and under the strict eyes of their superiors who are molding them into the exemplary men and women who defend our rights and freedoms, step aside and show them some respect. It might not hurt, as well, to tell them.

Update 3: Elizabeth Daugherty, a 2nd Lt in the Army ROTC, appreciates the defense of ROTC against professorial attacks.

Just wanted to thank Jason Beineke for his comments of support and gratitude to the Reserve Officer Training Corps students. I’m sure every ROTC cadet who read your response felt pride and motivation to continue working hard for those they serve. Your comments are appreciated more than you realize. Thank you.

2nd Lt. Elizabeth Daugherty

Additionally, over drinks tonight I was reminded that Dr. Kaye appeared as herself in the UNL-based reality show Tommy Lee Goes to College.

9 thoughts on “The Frances Kaye – tdaxp Dialogue on ROTC”

  1. Dan,

    Thanks for defending the ROTC program. There are enough ivy-league campuses working to undermine the program that seeing an attitude of disgust towards the ROTCs is horrible.

    University life is so far removed in most places from the real world (ie., 90%+ liberal professors, disdain for “free speech” that is not pre screened and approved by the PC crowd) that it is important to have ROTC be a reminder of the freedoms, even the educational elite enjoy.

    Thanks for the letter and post.

    Kind regards,

    Bill Rice

  2. “Dr. Frances W. Kaye may be accustomed to reviewing books on Canada and displaying shock that the Homestead Act opened the frontier to people of all classes and hopes”

    Her essay argues that it didn't… that this is an inaccurate account of what actually happened. Do you have evidence to refute her, or are you engaging in precisely the kind of knee-jerkery you regularly attack the campus left for displaying.

    I have no idea if she's right, but I care about uncovering historical facts, even if those facts are uncomfortable for (to paraphrase Max Weber) “party opinions.”

    I would've assumed that you felt the same way.

    Moreover, while her piece is a bit silly, your response

    (1) Totally misconstrues her argument as an attack on the military – which it is not;
    (2) Is needlessly ad hominem and, frankly, offensively so.

    On the other hand, she didn't take the bait and responds to you with grace and good humor.

    I'm surprised you thought it reflected well on you to publish this exchange. I am not surprised that you got a cheering section for it (the state of our political discourse is pretty appalling these days), but I am surprised at you.

  3. Dr. Nexon,

    I have not read Dr. Kaye's essay on the Homestead Act. Clearly, if what she said in the essay is different that what is being reported elsewhere, her essay is the better reflection of her views.

    Dr. Kaye calls our view of the Homestead Act a scam and a fraud because it was not narrowly targeted to poor people who would spend the rest of their working lives as farmers. Instead, it also helped the “middle class”, land speculators, &c.

    I criticized her for being shocked that the federal government modernized the Homesteaded land through this wide-spectrum approach, but not for her factual conclusions. I'm not presenting “evidence to refute her” because we largely agree on the events — just not their normative aspects.

    That said…

    I don't know what graceless “frankly, offensive” personal insults I used. Perhaps you could inform me?

    Catholicgauze, I agree completely.

    Bill, UNL is not an ivy league institution, but definitely has similar sympathies, I noted Dr. Kaye's letter particularly because it was in the same style of indirect criticism I have grown used to. I attended an extremely good brown-bag lecture today ( in which the professor was clearly uncomfortable on some subjects, and noted how some of it was un-PC. It is sad but not surprising to see this sort of left/academic self-censorship first-hand.

  4. “I am sure Dr. Kaye’s responsibilities of teaching class, discussing native literature and avoiding paper cuts are difficult and dangerous”

    This is absolutely gratuitous – much like the “chicken hawk” accusation leveled at advocates of military force who did not serve, or avoided serving, in the military.

    She said that the exercise “seeemed like a game” to her as she walked across campus. I agree that this is a silly and whiny letter, but that does not make it anti-military or dismissive of the sacrifices made by American troops. She might very well be a raving anti-military lefty, but the letter itself stops far short of articulating this sort of position.

    This is the relevant passage from the report on the lecture:

    “nstead, she said, the government was wildly successful in fulfilling its implicit underlying goal – to privatize land as quickly as possible and give ambitious entrepreneurs and middle-class families an opportunity to capitalize financially.

    “The ‘success’ of the Homestead and Allotment Acts has caused historians to take those acts at face value, rather than as the largest middle-class entitlement ever propagated by a federal government,” she said.

    Speculators, homesteaders and government officials often colluded to either quietly skirt or openly flout government laws, allowing them to squat on pieces of land and sell them for enormous profits before moving on.

    The U.S. government also emphasized “improving” the land, which often meant plowing up the plains’ native grasses and planting non-native crops, like corn and wheat, a move that continues to hurt the plains environmentally today, she said.

    “The Great Plains were (considered) a blank slate, which is why the tall-grass plains are the most degraded ecosystem in North America,” she said.”

    In fact, her argument is precisely that it did not open the great plains to people of “all classes.” She argues that it did not benefit the bulk of agrarian workers and farmers – particularly those who did not have their own land and would presumably be able to acquire cheap land through the Homestead Act, thus transforming themselves into land owners – but instead benefited the wealthy and middle classes at the expense of already existing inhabitants. Is this true? I don't know. Does it invalidate the Homestead Act? That's a matter of your own values.

    IIRC from my time at Ivy League institutions, the principle objection to ROTC stemmed from military policies on gays. I don't agree with the policy, but I don't consider it anti-military, particularly because students are free to participate in ROTC at neighboring institutions. Indeed, I can recall no stigma associated with participation in ROTC, at least from the mainstream student body. Both of the Ivy League institutions I hold degrees from are, arguably, the furthest left of the Ivy League.

    See, e.g.,

    On the lecture you attended: sounds interesting. Being careful about making sociobiological or EP arguments in political science is not, IMHO, a matter of being PC. Rather, it reflects a healthy recognition of the historical baggage associated with those arguments, which is not at all pretty.

    My own opinion is that they're never going to take us very far, and that most of the same insights can be derived from cognitive and social psychology without having to invoke tendentious stories about how the associated mechanisms evolved. I think I recommend some IR reading on the subject either here or on Coming Anarchy: in general, check out work by Thayer and Sterling-Folker. There have been occasional articles and forums in ISQ and JCR on the subject.

  5. The homosexual policy of the military which colleges claim is their reason being against ROTC is a smoke screen. My army friend “John” knew several openly homosexuals while he was in Iraq. He told me last year that no one cares as long as “they keep it in their pants”

  6. Dr. Nexon,

    Thank you for your quick and well-written responses.

    Throughout my response to Dr. Kaye, I parrelleled her own writing. Sometimes this was almost synoptic (compare “So what are we to ask, then, about that sense of entitlement of the men in heavy boots and camouflage” and “before they launch themselves into the cauldrons of Iraq or Afghanistan UNL’s ROTC might want to think a little bit more carefully about empathy and respect” to “So what are we to say, then, about the sense of entitlement of lecturers” and “before Dr. Kaye launches herself into the cauldron of our campus, she might want to think a little bit more carefully about empathy and respect”). Othertimes, it was thematic: she compared military discipline to a game, I compared academic life to a dangerous occupation.

    Your original comment surprised me because it appeared that you found little wrong with Dr. Kaye's remarks (except that it was “silly,” but found my thoughts, /which merely parrellled hers/, to be callous, graceless, &c. That an authority figure can 'gracefully' belittle student-soldiers is strange, at least. That pointing such behavior out is graceless is even more puzzling.

    Saying that the Homstead Act “did not benefit the bulk of agrarian workers and farmers” is strange, because it likewise did not benefit the bulk of “middle class” or land speculators. Now, the bulk of Homestead Act settlers may not have been impoverished workers, but this does not mean that none of the poor class benefited — that “it did not open the great plains to people of 'all classes.'”

    (One area I disagree with Dr. Kaye is that her use of “middle class” is almost certainly wrong. By “middle class” Dr. Kaye appears to mean “rich peasants.” But such is an argument for another time…)

    Saying anti-ROTC policies are not anti-soldier, because other ROTC centers are available further away is a (affiliation, not race) analog of saying segregated-schools policies are not racist, because other “black” schools are available further away. It makes it harder to recruit officers than it otherwise would be, it burdens future officers with academic and social burdens they otherwise would not have, it socializes/normalizes a view than the military is “other” from the particular campus, &c. One is free to support or criticize soldiers, of course, but to take action against student-soldiers and then deny it is hardly honest for schools!

    Dr. John Hibbing's lecture was indeed interesting. Dr. Hibbing, a terrific speaker, repeatedly waved off student or faculty questions, and often explicitly cited PC-concerns as one of the reasons for not answering directly. He also related that academic conferences in the field embargo journalists, so that participants may speak freely. He may be paranoid, but I doubt it.

    I will try to address Dr. Hibbing's presentation at length in a later post, but the reason it first caught my eye was the role of “genetic factors” in the “Orientation” aspect of John Boyd's OODA loop.

    Thank you again for your comments.

  7. Dan,

    I need to correct my earlier post. Harvard banned ROTC from its campus in 1969; in 1995 it stopped funding the program in protest against “don't ask, don't tell.” Most of the other bans also date from the Vietnam War. My sense is that anti-gay policies are the current barrier against these programs returning, but I suspect mounting anti-Iraq War sentiment might also be an issue.

    That being said, being in the military isn't an immutable characteristic with a long history of discrimination. Nor are ROTC members excluded in any way from full participation in campus life. In sum, the “separate but equal” analogy just isn't very persuasive . Going to MIT to train, moreover, is really not very onerous. I can imagine the situation might be more of a pain on other campuses.

    My own view is that ROTC should be allowed on campus; as the essay I pointed to suggests, Harvard, for example, hasn't exactly been consistent on the issue of groups that discriminate against gays and lesbians. Nor has the exclusion had any demonstrable impact on the issue.

    On her speech. Well, it is hard to tell from the context. In the absence of good information, why go after her scholarship rather than just eviscerate her argument about those thoughtless ROTC types training on campus? It sounds to me like they were actually concerned about the little girl and tried to make things right.

    Catholicgauze: it may be the case that “don't ask, don't tell” is a smokescreen, but you can't infer that from your friend's experience in Iraq. With respect to Harvard, the ban on funding coincided with increasing campus activism on the issue (I graduated from Harvard in 1995; I remember it well. An aside: it would be interesting to try to find out if homophobic paperings – and I mean homophobic, not merely 'no special rights' kind of stuff – by a right-wing group on campuses – in, I believe, 1991 – actually contributed to a pro-gay rights backlash on campus). I've seen similar reports that the Iraq War has led to relaxed enforcement of the policy (prompted by concern with maintaining troop levels or by a change in military culture? hard to say) but discharges continue.

  8. Dr. Nexon,

    I agree that homosexualism and hostility to the Iraq War are now the twin drivers of the anti-ROTC movement.

    Good rejection of the race analogy. While since the Vietnam War at least being in the military has met with discrimination (equal-opportunity protection for Vietnam Veterans isn't there for nothing), it is mutable — just like religion, political belief, etc.

    So instead of compariing the anti-ROTC rules to anti-Black rules, a comparison to since struck-down anti-Judaic or anti-Catholic laws would be better.

    Thank you again for the ongoing conversation.


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