"IN THE FIRST place God made idiots," observed Mark Twain. "This was for practice. Then he made school boards." The San Francisco Board of Education's 4-2 vote last week to abolish the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, which has been active in the city's high schools for 90 years, tends to support his view.
Why is JROTC being done away with? It isn't for lack of interest. More than 1,600 San Francisco students currently take part in its voluntary activities. "Kids love this program as if it's family," notes the San Francisco Chronicle. It is "a program that students and their parents wholeheartedly support."
Finances aren't the problem either. Operating JROTC costs the city less than $1 million out of an annual school budget of $356 million.
Nor is the problem bad management. The Chronicle reports that "no one has offered an alternative as coherent and well-run as JROTC."
Safety? Also not a problem. Though cadets have uniforms, they carry no weapons; the nonviolent programs emphasize leadership, self-discipline, citizenship, and teamwork. "This is where the kids feel safe," says one JROTC instructor, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert Powell.
And the problem certainly isn't an absence of diversity. In a story on JROTC cadets at Galileo High School, Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker writes: "These students are 4-foot-10 to 6-foot-4. Athletic and disabled. College-bound and barely graduating. Gay and straight. White, black, and brown. Some leave school for large homes with ocean views. Others board buses for Bayview-Hunters Point." Several of the students come from immigrant families. At least one is autistic.
So what is the problem with JROTC? There isn't one. The problem is with the anti military bigotry of the school board majority and the "peace" activists who lobbied against the program on the grounds that San Francisco's schools should not be sullied by an association with the US armed forces.
"We don't want the military ruining our civilian institutions," said Sandra Schwartz of the American Friends Service Committee, a far-left pacifist organization that routinely condemns American foreign policy and opposes JROTC nationwide. "In a healthy democracy . . . you contain the military." Board member Dan Kelly, who voted with the majority, called JROTC "basically a branding program or a recruiting program for the military." In fact, it is nothing of the kind: The great majority of cadets do not end up serving in the military.
But then, facts tend not to matter to smug ideologues like Schwartz and Kelly, who are free to parade their contempt for the military because they live in a nation that affords such freedom even to idiots and ingrates. It never seems to occur to them that the liberties and security they take for granted would vanish in a heartbeat if it weren't for the young men and women who do choose to wear the uniform, willingly risking life and limb in service to their country.
According to The Chronicle, scores of JROTC students were on hand when the school board met last week; many of them burst into tears after the vote. Sad to say, they should probably have seen this coming. For in its trendy anti military animus, the school board was hardly breaking new ground.
In 1995, San Francisco's board of supervisors wiped the city's famous Army Street from the map, renaming it Cesar Chavez Street. Last year, city supervisors refused to allow the retired USS Iowa, a historic World War II battleship, to be docked in the Port of San Francisco. Like the school board vote, the spurning of the Iowa was intended as a slap at the US military and the foreign policy it supports. Supervisor Chris Daly explained his vote against accepting the battleship by announcing: "I am not proud of the history of the United States of America since the 1940s."
In 2005, San Francisco voters handily approved Measure I, a nonbinding ballot question dubbed "College Not Combat," which called for the exclusion of military recruiters from public high schools and colleges. The prevailing political attitude was summed up in a Weekly Standard headline: "San Francisco to Army: Drop Dead."
Not everyone feels that way. To his credit, Mayor Gavin Newsom excoriated the school board last week for "disrespecting the sacrifice of men and women in uniform" and warned that killing JROTC would only accelerate the flight of city residents from the public schools. "You think this is going to help keep families in San Francisco?" he asked. "No. It's going to hurt."
Going to? For 1,600 kids now faced with the death of a program that infused their lives with purpose, camaraderie, and self-respect, the hurt has already begun.