One hundred years ago this month, the United States was on the precipice of entry into the First World War. The war had been raging in Europe and around the globe for nearly three years, but the U.S. had remained neutral. Early in 1917, after Germany sank a number of American ships in the North Atlantic, and British intelligence intercepted a communication proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico—the infamous so-called Zimmerman Telegram—it became increasingly clear that the U.S. would enter the war.
Here on the Bloomington campus, as historian Thomas Clark wrote, IU students were nearly unanimous in their wish for some form of military organization on the campus. On March 5th, 1917, more than 2,000 people—a sizeable portion of the then university population—packed the Men’s Gymnasium (now part of the School of Public Health building) for a patriotic rally. IU’s 10th president, William Lowe Bryan, spoke on the importance of military training. Kenneth Williams, an IU professor of mathematics who would become one of IU’s first ROTC commanders, announced that the IU faculty had approved the addition of a program in military training. His announcement was greeted with wild cheers.1
An editorial in the Indiana Daily Student a few days later said: “A picture arises in the mind’s eye of a long line of well-trained, physically perfect college cadets marching up Kirkwood Drive, a sight to make proud the heart and create a deeper love for the Alma Mater. It means a greater university for Indiana, and a better army for the United States.”2
Just as Professor Williams was making arrangements to purchase uniforms at $6.60 apiece for his first recruits, President Bryan was notified that the War Department had approved the establishment of a senior Reserve Officers Training Corps at Indiana University.
While military training at IU has an even longer history, this was the official birth of a program that—for the past century—truly has contributed to a greater university for Indiana and a better Army for the United States: the IU Army ROTC.
ROTC and the Citizen-Soldier
As Michael Neiberg, a scholar at Army War College, has written, the creation of ROTC was rooted in a deeply held and enduring American belief in the importance of populating the military with nonprofessional officers produced outside the traditional military academies. “University administrators,” Nieberg writes, “believed that civilian-educated officers would bring to military service a wider and more rounded background (and) a value system more consistent with American society, by virtue of having lived in a civilian environment. These officers,” Nieberg continues, “were thus close to the ‘citizen-soldier’ tradition that Americans have idolized in the icon of the minuteman.”3 This is, of course, an older tradition that goes back to the early days of the Roman Republic.
As the IDS editor wrote a century ago, IU Army ROTC truly has strengthened both the university and the U.S. Army.
ROTC has given cadets the opportunity to experience and gain a better sense of military life before they are commissioned. It has also greatly enhanced diversity within the officer corps.
For universities like IU, ROTC has helped to bridge the gap between soldiers and civilians, giving civilian members of the university community opportunities to interact with and relate to members of the military. ROTC cadets serve as exemplary models of discipline and leadership for their fellow students. They are also symbolic reminders of all the men and women, past and present, who have served our country and sacrificed to defend our freedoms.
IU ROTC: A Long Tradition of Excellence
The 110 cadets who currently make up IU’s Army ROTC program truly represent the very best of IU, including our community values, our pride in serving our nation, and our commitment to excellence in all that we do.
The program has a long tradition of excellence.
IU Army ROTC has ranked among the nation’s best programs in the U.S. Army Cadet Command’s Leader Development and Assessment Course.
The battalion’s Pershing Rifles team—the second oldest in the nation—and its Ranger Challenge team regularly win or place highly in national and regional completion.
Through the Strategic Languages and Cultures Program, IU has trained ROTC cadets in a number of strategic languages, including Russian, Arabic, and seven Central Asian languages. This important program is supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, and IU is one of only four universities in the nation to host such a program.
On behalf of Indiana University, I want to thank the U.S. Army Cadet Command and the General Douglas MacArthur Foundation for selecting IU Army ROTC for the prestigious honor it receives today.
I know that our cadets, cadre, and staff are honored to receive this award named for one of the great military strategists of the 20th century, General Douglas MacArthur, who, together with Admiral Chester Nimitz, was responsible for the Allied victory in the Pacific in World War II. Then later, as military governor of Japan after WWII, Winston Churchill said of him that he “show(ed) a genius in peace equal to the high renown he gained in war.”4
I want to commend Lieutenant Colonel Todd Burkhart, the director of IU Army ROTC, and all the members of the battalion’s leadership and staff.
And, of course, I want to congratulate and commend all of IU’s outstanding cadets. Your service to our country is exemplary, and you—and your counterparts in ROTC programs at universities around the country—help to provide the United States military with well- and broadly-educated, highly analytical, and creative officers.
When reciting the Army Cadet’s Creed, you affirm your connection to the past, the present, and the future.
In receiving the 2016 General Douglas MacArthur Award, you honor the spirit of IU’s first 400 ROTC recruits who a century ago, as Thomas Clark wrote, “slogged through chilly March weather and marched on muddy Jordan Field.”5 Many of those students went on to serve in the Great War and their names are forever enshrined in the Golden Book in the Indiana Memorial Union, along with the names of military veterans connected to IU as far back as the War of 1812.
But above all, in the Cadet’s Creed, you affirm your connection to the future, as future leaders of the United States Army.
Your commitment to excellence in the present, recognized by the MacArthur Award, will also inspire many future generations of IU students to follow in your footsteps.
- Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, Volume II: In Mid-Passage, (Indiana University Press, 1973), 200-201.
- Ibid. 201.
- Michael Nieberg, Making Citizen-Soldiers: ROTC and the Ideology of American Military Service, (Harvard University Press, 2000), 2-3.
- Winston Churchill, speech at a dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, New York, March 25, 1949, in Randolph S. Churchill, ed. In the Balance: Speeches 1949 and 1950 by Winston Churchill, (Cassell, 1952), 35.
- Clark, 202-203.