There was a bit of déjà vu in the scene at Columbia University last week, as Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten noted.
On November 20, 1933, the New York Times reported that Columbia's president at that time, Nicholas Butler, had refused to cancel a lecture by Hitler's ambassador, as requested by the Columbia Social Problems Club. The Club had contended that inviting him meant "not only failing in our duty to oppose the Nazi onslaught on culture … but signifies, if not open endorsement of the Nazi actions, at least placing their principles on the same level with other viewpoints."
Butler had responded there was "no subject which a company of scholars such as that assembled on Morningside Heights is not prepared to have presented to it by a man or woman of high intelligence and good manners, and to hear fully discussed and debated."
Three years later, the university expelled the president-elect of the junior class after he led an anti-Nazi demonstration outside President Butler's home. That same year, Butler sent a delegation to celebrate the founding of the University of Heidelberg, notwithstanding the Nazi dismissal of more than 1,500 professors.
Lee Bollinger's harsh introduction of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may indicate he is less morally obtuse, or more concerned about alumni contributions, than Nicholas Butler, but Mr. Bollinger's words would have been more appropriate as a response to the original memo suggesting an Ahmadinejad invitation.
A "petty and cruel dictator" is not an appropriate person to be afforded a prominent university platform. Given Mr. Bollinger's words, it is hard to understand why he did not cancel the appearance, rather than introduce it.
Mr. Bollinger is now receiving criticism for his rudeness — not only for the perceived breach of etiquette, but for the boost Mr. Ahmadinejad received from it at home.
But there is another equally valid criticism of the rudeness: its essential ineffectiveness. In Eric Hoffer's observation, "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."
Mr. Bollinger's words were simply words, and they neither rectify the past nor change the future. For that, something more is required. The place to start is to consider a small but essential act that would ameliorate the politically correct, anti-war atmosphere that created the mindset in which an Ahmadinejad invitation was unobjectionable: bring back the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
ROTC currently is available at many American colleges, but not on campus at Columbia among other Ivy League schools, where faculties continue a ban put in place in the sixties. Professor at Columbia, Allan Silver, noted earlier this year that undergraduates at Ivy League colleges have repeatedly indicated their support for fellow-students who wish to serve in the military. But they are stymied by a faculty that hates the military and reveres free speech for fascist foreigners.
The issue came up last week in a meeting Secretary of State Rice held with the editorial board of Fox News. One of the editors asked whether an appropriate response to Mr. Ahmadinejad's appearance might be the return of ROTC. Ms. Rice answered as follows:
"Well, I will tell you I think the question about ROTC on campuses is coming to the floor again. I was quite surprised; one of my Stanford colleagues sent me a Stanford daily editorial, unsigned editorial by the Stanford Daily board saying it was time to consider the ROTC back on campus because the American military was fighting for our freedom and our survival and … it should be possible for people who go to Stanford to participate in that. It has ROTC, it's just that you have to go to San Jose State or over to Berkeley to take the classes. I was really quite surprised.
"So, you know, the good thing, and I see it everywhere that I go — the support for the American military in this country is so high and it's so terrific and it's so unlike what happened 30 years ago. It's … worth building."
The Stanford editorial was a response to the May 2007 commissioning ceremony President Bush held at the White House for top graduating members of the ROTC, where he said this:
"Every American citizen is entitled to his or her opinion about our military. But surely the concept of diversity is large enough to embrace one of the most diverse institutions in American life. It should not be hard for our great schools of learning to find room to honor the service of men and women who are standing up to defend the freedoms that make the work of our universities possible. To the cadets and midshipmen who are graduating from a college or university that believes ROTC is not worthy of a place on campus, here is my message: Your university may not honor your military service, but the United States of America does."
Part of what led to the Columbia invitation to Ahmadinejad was a politically correct culture that barely considered whether such an action was moral or wise. The first step in changing that culture is the restoration on elite campuses of military leadership as a pursuit at least as honored as athletics. Such an action would speak louder than words.
Mr. Richman is the editor of the blog Jewish Current Issues.