BY RAFFI MELKONIAN
I briefly visited the anti-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rally on the steps of Langdell last Friday. Since I’m well aware of the arguments of both sides, I didn’t stay long – only long enough to see that there was a respectable turnout of good, earnest people, many of them my friends. As a Harvard Law School student, it’s natural to want to support your classmates, especially when they feel as slighted as our gay and lesbian students feel by the school’s recently amended policy towards military recruiting. But I can’t support them, not this time. Let me explain why.
On the substantive issue, I’m on the protestors’ side. To be completely frank, I’ve never really understood the argument against allowing gays in the military, so long as disciplinary rules are enforced equally against all soldiers. So a basic sense of fairness and equity stands firmly on the side of protest. Just as important to someone like me is the sheer symbolism of social change – I can think of nothing more humiliating for a terrorist enemy fueled by medieval fundamentalism than to be slaughtered by an American military full of women, and gays, and people of all colors and religions. The ironic hilarity at this time of world-wide struggle is just too powerful to turn aside.
And yet, I don’t support the Langdell protesters, for several reasons. First, even if the protesters succeed in convincing the school to exclude the military from OCI, that policy is almost certain to be ineffective in eliminating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I know it’s hard to believe, but people outside the few acres of our campus don’t really care what Harvard Law School thinks as a corporate entity. Even if some people care, furthermore, I’m reasonably sure that neither the President nor the military high command is among them. All a policy of specifically excluding the military from campus will do is give HLS a justly-deserved reputation for disdaining the military at the very moment when more than a thousand soldiers have died overseas in American arms. This is spectacularly unlikely to persuade those who matter. Indeed, even before 9/11, the very same policy the protesters want to restore now contributed precisely nothing towards the stated goal of equality. As to the symbolic effect of allowing a discriminatory military to recruit at Harvard, the Law School can continue to express its outrage however it pleases, and yet still allow the military to recruit.
Excluding the military, though ineffective, might still be acceptable if it only carried the costs of a diminished reputation. Unfortunately, the toll of such a policy is high. HLS has a duty to ease its students into the careers of their choice, in both the public and the private sectors. Our outlandish tuition fees, whether or not the school wants to admit it, are largely exchanged in return for precisely this support. As numerous voices continually point out in these pages, however, choosing the public path is often made difficult by the demands of loan service and by the pecuniary wiles of large law firms. I don’t support a policy of encouraging people to enter public service as opposed to private practice, but it does stand to reason that the school shouldn’t serve as an impediment to those willing to sacrifice in order to serve the public. This argument is even stronger when we’re talking about people who want to volunteer to place their bodies between our foreign enemy and ourselves, to defend our fleshy, pasty, civilians from a grim threat. Indeed, if HLS was serious about wanting to change military culture, it would make sure as many of our graduates as possible served in JAG and whatever other military law programs that exist. If HLS believes it’s adding any value to students at all, then it should follow that having more officers trained here would increase the amount of rational and reasoned debate within the armed forces, and might eventually lead to better policy from the ground up.
In my ideal world, Harvard would be strictly neutral in how it administered career services. The school itself might have a view one way or another, but students would be free to use OCI in pursuit of any job, no matter how distasteful or odious. I realize that this is unlikely to happen, and for some very good reasons. But I still oppose any attempts by Harvard to manipulate military recruiting. That unequivocally does not mean that opponents of the Presidential administration’s current policy should be silent. Those of us on the political right should try to persuade our allies that change in the direction of further liberty is needed, urgently and soon. Our opponents should campaign for politicians they think will change the policy in the desired way. All of us should discuss this issue in an atmosphere of civilized debate – nothing is more likely to entrench opposing positions than name-calling and anger. This is a delicate debate, involving the very nature of people’s being, and one of the most important institutions in America, especially at wartime. It’s an issue that deserves better than a policy guaranteed to reduce our influence with those who matter while doing nothing to help our students, and I hope we can find our way to it.
Raffi Melkonian is a 3L.