Our view: Human toll of war should be weighed

May 18, 2008

In a few days, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, President Freeman A. Hrabowski III will decide whether a permanent ROTC site should be established at the Catonsville campus. It's a question that has drawn protests, largely from gay rights activists, but one that he should be free to resolve, without outside interference.

Mr. Hrabowski appears likely to decide in favor of providing a home for his school's ROTC students for pragmatic reasons. The ROTC program would pay full tuition and other expenses for a growing number of students who might choose another school or possibly couldn't afford college at all.

While UMBC and the ROTC students could certainly gain from the Army's presence on campus, it's hard not to be concerned about where these newly minted young officers might end up if the next administration fails to find an early exit from Iraq. Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain predicted last week that most U.S. troops would be out by 2013 but offered no credible details on how that worthy goal might be achieved. More than 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died since the American invasion in 2003. Most Americans favor bringing that struggle to an early end. But protests are far more muted than events 40 years ago, when we were trapped in another unpopular struggle, in Vietnam. The circumstances are radically different now in one key respect: We are fighting in Iraq with a volunteer army, not draftees.

Last week the House passed legislation that would pay for a college education for thousands of long-serving Iraqi veterans. This bill should be passed by the Senate and become law but is in danger due to a squabble over how it would be paid for - and that the benefit be reserved for troops with more than four years of service. Denying this help to soldiers who have twice served in Iraq in a four-year enlistment is outrageous and unfair. From shoddy care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to crumbling housing at Fort Meade, the men and women of the armed forces, especially the war veterans, have been shortchanged enough.

If Mr. Hrabowski decides to welcome the Army, the school's ROTC students should be assured that their patriotism will be honored with earnest and active concern for their future well-being.

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