On Friday, I will attend the solemn ceremony at Northwestern University in which Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps students will take the oath to become members of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. As both a faculty member and graduate of Northwestern, I try to attend each year as these outstanding young people commit themselves to a life fraught with potential danger in service to our country. They have earned and deserve our solidarity and support.
Almost 50 years ago, as a Northwestern undergraduate, I was arrested for damaging the NROTC offices during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration. At the time, many of us believed that NROTC contributed to the war effort, and therefore had to be removed from campus.
As a leftist then and now, I have no qualms about admitting to my errors, one of which was a wholesale misunderstanding of the importance of the ROTC program — Army, Navy and Marine Corps and Air Force — on college campuses.
“On the strength of one link in the cable,” an old naval officer once wrote, “dependeth the might of the chain.” It’s a military maxim, but it contains plenty of truth for those of us in the news business, especially these days. In a time when the American citizenry’s distrust of media reaches ever new lows, we journalists know that any error of fact, any failure to do the due diligence on what we publish under our banner, is a gross disservice to the community we seek to entertain and enlighten. If people are to take us seriously, we must take seriously our power to tell and share true stories.