Education Opinion

In Defense of JROTC

By Walt Gardner — December 18, 2013 2 min read
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I thought the animosity toward the military had largely disappeared with the end of the Vietnam War. But apparently I was wrong when it comes to the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (“America’s Child Soldiers,” The Nation, Dec. 16). In what I consider to be a totally one-sided view, JROTC, which began as part of the National Defense Act of 1916, is lambasted for turning 15- and 16-year olds into trained killers.

There’s no question that the program overall has been successful in its recruiting efforts. There are now units in 3,402 high schools nationwide, with 65 percent of them in the South. They cost local school districts, where they are located, more than $222 million in personnel costs alone at last count. But depicting JROTC as a way of forcing young people into a career they will not be able to leave and leading them into committing “spirit-breaking atrocities” is overwrought.

JROTC is certainly not for everyone. It was never meant to be. But it offers many adolescents something that is lacking in their lives (“School’s military-style reboot aims to push students further,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 12). I see nothing at all wrong with developing self-esteem by mastering skills and leadership traits. These certainly can be acquired in academic courses, but that does not mean such courses have a monopoly.

Let’s not assume either that JROTC appeals only to blacks and Hispanics. It’s more than coincidence that 65 percent of schools offering the program are in the South. There is a long and cherished military tradition that is passed on from one generation to another. As a result, many white adolescents eagerly sign up. I had many students choose a career in the military. One white student was accepted at several marquee name schools but chose Annapolis, and then took a commission in the Marines.

Neither is it fair to criticize JROTC for presumably turning all students into robots who reflexively obey authority. Yes, the military relies on a chain of command and following orders. But so does corporate America. Try criticizing or defying your boss openly and see what happens. There are rules that govern our civilian lives, and there are consequences for not following them.

If I had children, I would understand if they decided on a career in the military. I would worry about their safety, but at the same time I would be proud that they wanted to serve their country. I think we need to do the same with JROTC.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.