I know why I joined the Marine Corps: the pay is low, the training could literally kill you, and some people call my peers a bunch of Neanderthals. I can look at a stranger, tell him or her that I was in the Marine Corps, and hear the predictable, "Wow, I bet you'd be handy during a bar fight."
I joined the Marine Corps relatively late in life. I was 26 when I commissioned in 2005, five years after I graduated from Columbia. Everyone told me that I was an idiot. I had a master's degree in electrical engineering and was giving up what many considered a great job.
My friends peppered me with questions and comments like "But you're so smart, why would you join the Marine Corps?" We discussed the benefits of becoming a Marine and couldn't think of many. It was a huge pay cut. I was committed for six years of active duty after learning to fly. I'd undoubtedly go to Iraq or Afghanistan.
But I knew from day one that I had made the right choice. Like a lot of us, I had deep questions about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that whatever it was that I was looking for I couldn't find between the walls of a cubicle.
Half a world away the war was waging—one could argue that it is the defining event of our generation—and I couldn't stand by and watch. I had become increasingly frustrated by our country's attitude toward the war. For too many the war is something that they only see on TV or read about in the paper.
I had friends who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but none had graduated from an Ivy League school. How could it be that so few Ivy graduates shared in our country's burden? Why was it that we had sent so many of America's youth to war and so few of its elite were there alongside them?
The last 40 years of anti-military opinion on Ivy campuses has led to a generation of military officers who are not Ivy League graduates. This means that Ivy League universities have had little to no influence in educating the very men and women who are responsible for the planning and execution of the most important political issue of our lives. How can it be that the universities who are entrusted with the responsibility of molding our country's future leaders have ignored what is arguably America's most influential foreign policy arm?
The effects of shunning the military will be felt long after the current conflicts are over. The experiences that these men and women bring back with them will continue to influence the American psyche for decades to come. It is from their ranks that our future congressmen, governors and presidential candidates will come. Several Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have already run for political office and were pivotal in the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress. Their experiences during the war will shape their views on international politics and lead the direction of the country. How can Columbia hope to produce the next generation of American leaders if it refuses to walk a mile in the shoes of those of whom we ask the most?
While it is difficult for me to agree with some of the views that Columbia has of the military, I have sworn to uphold and defend a Constitution that defends their right to express these opinions. For anyone else out there considering a career in the Marine Corps, let it be known: the Marine Corps requires that an individual give up many of the very rights that they have sworn to defend; it is not for the faint of heart, it requires that people die and kill—but in order for our country to remain free and great it must not, and cannot, be a responsibility shirked by Ivy League graduates.
The author is a Marine Corps officer who graduated from the Fu Foundation School of Engineering in 2000.