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ROTC on Catholic Campuses

Should Catholic campuses be training undergraduates to serve in what the Church has called an unjust war given that there is no such thing as selective conscientious objection? Is this akin to Georgetown or Notre Dame training students to become executioners when the Church has explicitly condemned the use of the death penalty in almost all cases? Katie Millar has more:



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Before the debate begins, I think it appropriate to note that "the Church" has not pronounced the Iraq War "unjust."I will admit that many in the Church, including in the curia, have given their considered judgment that the the war is not supported by Just War doctrine, but no where has this been held a matter of moral that all Catholics must hold.

First of all, let it be known that I am an honorably discharged veteran of the armed forces of the United States. I served during the Vietnam Era after graduating from a Catholic liberal arts college in 1970. After boot camp in Alameda, CA, I served 21 months as a riverboat deckhand on the Arkansas River. I fought the elements to help maintain a navigable "highway on the river" for commercial tows and pleasure craft. I then transferred to shore duty at a small riverside support depot on the banks of the Ohio River. This latter assignment lasted two years to the day before my RELAD and return to civilian life. (It was during this time I served six weeks with 59 other temps aboard the USCG's training barque EAGLE to help bring the ship back to her homeport at the USCG Academy in New London, CT from Kiel, Germany after the conclusion of the world Olympics in 1972.) I joined the Coast Guard because I preferred to serve in the smallest branch of the armed forces, and the enlistment period (4 years) was the same as that of the Air Force (which I was getting ready to join until I got a letter from the CG recruiter spelling out the variety of non-military functions :) A bunkmate of mine volunteered for Vietnam service and eventually went there after completing Navy SEER training in California. I last saw his name on the disability list in Navy Times but never learned what happened.I mention the above because even though I served in a non-combatant role and gradually came to see the Vietnam War for the dirty conflict it was, I was prepared to go to Vietnam if I'd been called to do so (an unlikely prospect, by the way, since the USCG had a waiting list of guys wanting to serve over there). I was not a conscientious objector back then, and I am not one today. Nonetheless, I have wondered recently whether I'd refuse to serve in Iraq in light of what Americans have learned about this unjustified and poorly planned and executed fiasco. Might I consider myself a selective conscientious objector if I were of draft age today and faced conscription? I truly don't know. Consider my response a luxury of age (I recently turned 59).That said, I think Katie Millar doth protesteth too much. Maybe her thinking might be contrasted with that of a stereotypical macho military guy complaining articulately about taxpayers funding programs for poor people abroad when it should be busy forcing welfare recipients to get off their lazy butts and become responsible members of society. Both of these views, of course, are extremes, and I suspect most reasonable folks would reject them --- and for good reasons.Where do I begin in responding to Millar's article? She displays so much "wetness behind the ears." Articulate and well written but lacking a balanced perspective. In other words, intellectual fluff.ROTC does not (to quote Millar) "tear at the fabric of Catholic schools." There is nothing wrong with military service per se. Indeed, it is an honorable profession. Indeed, most career military personnel would quickly tell Millar that combat should be used judiciously and only as a last resort. As for objecting to a particular war, anyone on active duty or in the Guard/Reserves is free to do so. Is it not honorable, after all, to "pay the penalty" for upholding one's convictions? Active duty "dissenters" during the Vietnam War played an important role in helping to end it! As for ROTC supposedly "Christianizing the military," this statement is so much bunk. Likewise, our schools are not somehow "militarized" by hosting ROTC programs and military recruiters. Not by a long shot!"Why is a Catholic university relying on the military, rather than upon itself, to provide tuition [support] to students from poorer families?" Let me count the reasons: a student wants to become a commissioned officer someday; the school wants to expand the available tuition assistance funding pool to accommodate more students than might otherwise be the case were DOD money not available; the school wants to thank our military --- morally questionable ventures notwithstanding --- for helping preserve the freedoms we take for granted both within and outside the academic realm; the school sees the value in staffing our armed forces with personnel capable of critical thinking (a value, by the way, very much appreciated by military leaders, "salute and obey" stereotypes notwithstanding). And, of course, there is the "freedom to choose" --- a school, a program, a financial aid package, etc. No student, contrary to Millar's assertion, is forced to enter an ROTC program. Let's not overlook the school here. Millar suggests that schools offer "peace scholarships." If schools want to do so, they can. "Where there's a will, there's a way." If I recall, the Congress even funds a national peace academy!As far as Defense research funding is concerned, a school can still offer programs that examine just war theory, roles of the military, etc. DOD does not prohibit such academic offerings as a condition of receiving research and related funding.Millar writes, "Not even ecclesial authority [read "Ex Corde Ecclesaie"] at a Catholic university escapes debate. Why, then, would a military authority at a Catholic university go unquestioned?" News to me. Indeed, Millar's article published on the internet by a respected Catholic journal of thought and opinion gives the lie to her concern. I find it hard to believe that universities do not have debate and discussion, formal and/or otherwise, about the military's presence on campus. In addition, juxtaposing the practical effects of a Vatican directive, on the one hand, with the practical effects of a "military authority," on the other, with respect to academic freedom is disingenuous. Even Rev. Richard McBrien has said, for example, that he will not seek a "mandate" from the bishop. Indeed, this controversy is a "sticky wicket" (AAUP, First Amendment protections, etc.), and I would guess (without knowing one way or the other) that compliance is mixed, to say the least. I'm certainly not aware of the U.S. military trying to restrict academic freedoms. Concern over ROTC instructors on campus? A red herring."But when soldiers and DA civilians take the oath, they enter an institution guided by Army values....These values are nonnegotiable." As a former DA civil service employee, I did not relinquish my core Christian values. I also did not give up or compromise such values while on active duty. As a former staffer with the U.S. Civil Service Commission and Office of Personnel Management, I can assure Ms. Millar that our government does not force or expect civilian or military personnel to compromise their "values." I speak from experience. It's interesting, by the way, that Millar does not specify the "values" espoused by the Army or DOD. Just an oversight, I suppose. Since Millar does not tell us what the military's values happen to be, one can only question her assertion that "[a] policy of 'nonnegotiable Army values' is antithetical to the Catholic university." Count me from Missouri on this one :)Millar cites various "unjust [military] actions" in support of her view that the U.S. military is unjust. I remind her that our armed forces do not make policy; they carry it out when called upon to do so. Indeed, all of us must take responsibility in one way or other for morally questionable policies made by the President and Congress that do (or do not) involve the military. I, for one, would not feel comfortable with the U.S. armed forces in a coup posture. Is it intentional or just a simple oversight that Millar does not list our military's participation in both world wars as "unjust?" Just a question here.Millar notes that there is "no empirical evidence" that "Catholic universities aid in Christianizing the military by hosting ROTC." I agree, but, of course, I alluded to this matter earlier. Do we want a "Christian" military? Are we not a pluralistic society whose diverse makeup should be reflected in our armed forces? Does a pilot who drops bombs, cluster or otherwise, violate his informed Catholic conscience? I say, "Likely not."Finally, if a Catholic school refuses to accomodate artificial birth control and pro-abortion campaigns because of the church's teaching in these areas, is such an action comparable with a school then refusing to accommodate the U.S. military on campus? I think not. Just as our church de facto accommodates Catholics who use artificial contraception and support a woman's so-called "right to choose" (I'm solidly pro-life, by the way), our church supports maintenance of armed forces. Witness, for example, the various military ordinariates/archdioceses around the world that provide chaplains to their respective countries' armed forces."The arguments for the presence of ROTC on a Catholic campus, then, are less than convincing." I don't think so. In fact, I don't think the arguments put forth by Ms. Millar are convincing.As a footnote, I don't care one iota for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld (while still head of DOD), or Wolfowitz, the supposed "architect" of our venture in Iraq.

Where to begin -Well, like Joseph, I am a veteran. 20 years in the US Air Force. I am the son of a career military officer and an ROTC trained officer myself. My oldest son is an ROTC cadet - on one of those nefarious scholarships - the same way I paid for college.This nonsense has been going on for years, and as in the linked article, misrepresents the nature of the military, the purpose of ROTC, and most importantly the teachings of the Catholic Church. Not only is this article mistaken, it is intentionally misleading. Ms Millar tries to create the impression that once in the steely and evil grasp of the military, these young people will be inculcated with alien "Army Values." She even quotes from an Army reserve web site to prove her point. What are the cruel and heartless "values" these young impressionables must adopt according to the same web site? Brace yourself -Loyalty Duty Respect Selfless-Service Honor Integrity Personal Courage Maybe these are alien to some of our young people, but they are not incompatible with Catholic Faith.

While Gandhi was not a Catholic, I imagine that he would be assumed to be on a side more akin to what Ms. Millar has in mind regarding Catholic values. But this might be an incorrect assumption. Gandhi argued that when no meaningful form of nonviolent resistance is possible, the only way to respond to violent injustice is with violence. I have no difficulty thinking of scenarios in which no meaningful nonviolent resistance is possible (e.g. terrorists flying airplanes into buildings). Were I in a position to have a meaningful opinion and someone told me were the guys behind the attacks were training, and that others were still training at these places, I would quickly reach what I think is a legitimately Christian and Gandhian conclusion; namely, reduce those camps and all in them to dust. Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.I used to be among those who were certain that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes. I then saw a documentary on the decision to drop the bombs that made two points; first, a major wing of the Japanese military and government were literally willing and wanting to fight until the complete destruction of Japan; second, a massive campaign of civilian education in guerilla warfare had already begun. Literally, women, children, and the elderly were being trained on how to attack tanks and soldiers. Often the idea of a mainland invasion is discussed in terms of how many U.S. soldiers would have been killed. This documentary made clear that the civilian death toll would have been beyond imagination, and not as a result of improper actions taken by soldiers.I try to put myself in the position of making decisions like dropping bombs or attacking terrorists. I confess that I do not always see black and white solutions, and I guess I AM glad that there are honest Christians helping to our military to think about them.

Last line: helping our military to think about them. Sorry.

Ms. Millar's perspective is as of someone who simply wishes to keep her hands clean. I assure her that the military could be worse, far worse, than she deems it to be now. The problems with our military actions in the mideast are not primarily (if at all) the fault of active duty military personnel, but of a civilian leadership that is misapplying military force. Assuming that we will always need a military, at some level, it seems decidedly unwise to remove from its ranks precisely those individuals who might bring to bear on military decisionmaking the perspective of those values that Ms. Millar endorses.

It is not surprising to me that the first ones to attack this article are mostly veterans. While I respect your views, and understand where you are coming from (it much not be easy to read this kind of thing if you're a veteran without making such a response), I am with Millar. To say that military life is an "honorable profession" is one thing. To say that Catholic universities should have ROTC programs is something else. I am of the mind that Catholics suffer a little too much from the tendency to baptize everything, or, as William Cavanaugh has noted, that Catholics schools like to talk an awful lot about values without saying which ones. The fact is, the military, as it exists in the United States right now, poses a literally impossible moral situation for Catholics because they do not allow anyone the choice of selective conscientious objection. As far as CO is concerned, it's all or nothing - you're with us and will fight any war, or you think all war is wrong and cannot fight. While I myself choose pacifism, the mainstream Catholic position is that most wars are unjust, some are possibly just. But a Catholic in the military really doesn't have the freedom to act according to his or her conscience and to decide that if a particular war is wrong he or she will not fight. Because this is the case, I think it's highly compromising for a Catholic to participate. And even more compromising for a Catholic institution to help fill the ranks with more Catholics who will be placed in this possible position.

Michael,You, like Ms Millar, seem to have to misstate Catholic Doctrine to arrive at your point.Nowhere in the teachings of the Church will you find a pronouncement that "most wars are unjust." Also, what exactly is a "mainstream" Catholic and where can I read up on their doctrine?The Catholic Church is a very "big tent" as they say. Indeed, both Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius were soldiers before they were priests. Our Lord and the apostles all dealt with soldiers, and nowhere in the New Testament is the profession of arms denegraded.Tell you what, I will support your call to eliminate ROTC from Catholic campuses if you agree the following are all good ideas -Law students at Catholic Universities would have to pledge -Not to represent any party in a claim based on a "right to choose"Never to work for a state as a prosecutor or judge if it has a death penaltyNever to promote through litigation or legislation same sex marriageNever to work for homosexual clients seeking to adopt childrenMedical and nursing schools should require their students to pledge never to work for institutions that perform abortions or promote artificial contraception.Moreover - shouldn't Catholic campuses, if they are going to remain pure - fire every law, social science, philosophy, and theology professor who doesn't accept and teach Catholic Doctrine?

I can imagine a military being structured to allow for some amount of selective conscientious objection, but it would of necessity always be limited and incomplete. I understand the problem that is characterized as "baptizing everything"; this "problem" was actually considered to be something of a necessity for Catholic assimilation. Imagine, if you will, if a large number of Catholics had been conscientious objectors during WWII. Imagine if that had happened what kind of influence Catholics would have over any kind of national discussion even to this day. It's a fine line, being "accepted" in the larger discussion and remaining true to your values. I continue to believe that the real problem is the civilian leadership, not the military, and that informed and ethical military personnel are often a bulwark against immoral civilian tendencies. It was civilians who tried to undercut the conventions against the use of torture in our treatment of prisoners, and an army lawyer who first raised red flags over that change.

Regarding Mr. Iafrate's comments, I offer the following clarifications:1. I did not "attack" the article. I expressed disagreement with Millar's arguments and conclusions, and I gave reasons based on experience, civilian and military, for same. In a very real sense, I am functioning here as a subject-matter specialist just as Father Imbelli and other writers, for instance, can offer theological and/or philosophical information and insights on various matters unfamiliar to me. They, too, function as subject-matter specialists. 2. "While I respect your views,...I am with Millar." I trust you respect my right to express my views, but I do not think you respect my views (and that's OK). If you did, you would not be "with Millar." I, for example, do not respect the author's views, but I do respect her right to share her views.3. Catholics tend "to baptize everything." In fact, I tend to do anything but. This is one reason I am attracted to this blogsite because folks do offer considered opinion with which I may agree or disagree.4. Mr. Iafrate says he "really doesn't have the freedom to act according to his...conscience." In fact, he does as does every other individual who finds himself/herself in Mr. Iafrate's shoes. He may have to suffer the consequences (jail time, employment discrimination, etc.), but he is free. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, active duty personnel as well as civilian protesters helped put the pressure on our government to end the Vietnam War. To put it another way, if one guy can take a bullet from the enemy, another guy can take a decision from our government. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, "Life is not fair. A fair is a fancy country picnic." Thank God that Mr. Iafrate lives in a free society. There are other nations, no doubt, where he might not be so blessed in standing up for his convictions.

I believe narrowing the base from which the officer corps is selected is not in the interest of democracy. We want the armed services to reflect the diversity of the population as a whole, not some narrow spectrum of society.The real task of the Catholic University is instilling the moral discernment needed to for each individual to behave in a manner that accords with Catholic beliefs.The better option is to insure that the ROTC program is integrated with the institution's teaching mission.

Back in the mid 1980s, Gordon Zahn and I staffed the Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War in Cambridge, MA. As two conscientious objectors -- Gordon in WWII who served in Civilian Public Service camps and I who became a C.O. after five years of U.S. Navy active duty and after visiting Nagasaki several times -- we were interested in those Catholic universities that hosted ROTC programs. Gordon had a series of conversations/correspondences with Frs. Hesburgh and Fr. Malloy at Notre Dame; as a result of those contacts, our Center did a survey of 38 Catholic colleges and universities with ROTC programs. Our conclusion and recommendations were the following:1) That all Catholic institutions of higher learning, but especially those hosting ROTC, should offer Peace Studies programs.2) Special courses of instruction, or a series of lectures and workshops on Catholic teaching on war and peace (from encyclicals, Vatican II, and episcopal statements) should be made a required part of ROTC programs on Catholic campuses. Such instruction should place particular emphasis upon the limits of obedience to military orders which depart from or violate the conditions set forth in traditional "just war" teachings.Attention should also be given to the Church's pacifist traditions, writings, and behavior from its early (pre-Constantinian) history to the present. Every effort should be made to assure that such special instructions are given to ROTC students before they are required to make any final commitment to post-graduation military service.3) Although our study predated Ex Corde Ecclesia and its focus on the Catholic identity of our universities, we anticipated its attention to the "Catholicness" of the faculty, and we called for the university's participation in the selection of officer/instructors assigned to ROTC programs, at least to the extent of reviewing all resumes and being given the opportunity for prior interview. Given the morally sensitive issues that could arise in the military training program, it should be incumbent upon the instructor to become familiar with Catholic theological principles relating to modern war and the limitations they could impose upon participation in such war. Just as instructors in a Catholic medical school would be expected not to extoll the social value and other benefits of abortion, so should ROTC instructors in a military course be expected not to justify the indiscriminate killing of non-combatants for reasons of "military necessity."4)Before approving arrangements with the Department of Defense providing access to its students and facilities for ROTC, the administrators of a Catholic higher education institution should insist upon a special and explicit understanding that a student will be permitted to withdraw from the program at any point for reasons of conscientious objection without payback obligation. In cases where the claim of conscientious objection is challenged and the student is charged with insincerity or bad faith, a special hearing should be convened and conducted under established academic governance procedures to decide the case. Another possibility would be to permit the student to pay expenses after sophomore year as if he/she were paying back a student loan.Gordon and I concluded that if one of the justifications offered for providing military training on a Catholic campus is the presumed benefit from the spiritual and religious setting it provides, it is reasonable to assume that these benefits are not acquired through some process of osmosis.

Sean - The presumption of Catholic teaching on war and peace is against war and for peace. The purpose of the just war teaching is to limit war, not justify it. I think it is clear that if just war teaching is taken seriously, then most modern wars would be judged unjust by the Church. As for the use of the word "mainsteam," when it comes to war, the Church affirms two options. 1) a "just war" approach, which is the "mainstream" position in that most American Catholics claim to ascribe to this position, and 2) a non-violent, perhaps even exclusively pacifist appraoch, which is the minority (yet consistently affirmed) position. Both positions are "orthodox." I am not sure I would agree with all of your concrete suggestions about other departments on Catholic campuses, but I certainly affirm your general intention, which is to ask some really difficult questions about what Catholic institutions actually do that is different than secular universities. I think if we ask these sorts of questions the result will be that most departments will need to change their actual practices. Including, I hope, dropping ROTC on Catholic campuses. Joseph - I do respect your views. I have two parents who are veterans and I also respect their views. It is certainly possible to respect someone's views and disagree with him at the same time.

Michael,The just war theory involves a fact specific inquiry. Additionally, just war theory has developed over centuries, and will continue to develop. You and I may differ on whether just war theory justifies any particular conflict. That's the point. In fact, the Church tells us what we must consider, but it does not drive a conclusion that is binding on every conscience in every case. For example, does just war theory require that a nation "take the first punch"? What level of certainty must a state have before taking action? What level of damage must it be willing to sustain? Are nations that affirm the value of individuals more justified in using force than totalitarian ones? In fact, do totalitarian states even have a right to defend themselves? How are nations suppposed to respond to other nations sponsoring non-state entities (terrorists)? May they respond only when they can prove a connection? When the sponsor takes action? Never? What level of proof is required? Is it just for a nation to defend peoples within an oppressed state? To intercede to stop genocide? If so, how many people need to be killed over what period of time? We hear a lot about Darfur, why doesn't the same rationale apply to the hundreds of thousands killed by Saddam?Finally, I am suspicious of this because it frankly smells of politics. Where was the movement to do this when we were bombing Sarajevo? I was there - in the Balkans - and I can tell you a lot of military people had serious misgivings about that operation. Should they have selectively invoked conscientious objections? I don't remember protests then. In fact, the Vatican wasn't thrilled about that one either. Oh yes - George Bush wasn't president. That's why.

Michael Hovey, thank you for your ideas. They are very much worth consideration by our military services and our Catholic colleges/universities. These suggestions certainly offer a platform that may or may not need "tweaking" by the parties concerned. I find them very constructive.Michael Iafrate, I see a communication problem here with respect to the word 'respect.' I was taught, rightly or wrongly by Boston religious sisters, that the word 'respect' in this context means 'agree.' Otherwise, your comments are well taken.As a followup to my earlier comments, I want to state unequivocaly that I am not opposed to conscientious objection to military service per se. No doubt the armed services put themselves in the middle of this debate by even considering CO claims from active duty personnel: "damned if DOD does, damned if it doesn't" consider claims, much less render formal decisions in any particular case. It doesn't require a PhD to know there are many people "out there" who disapprove of this whole process.Although I am not against SCO claims per se, I see this area as one needing further development by the military and, more important, by the larger civilian society. I think Vietnam "turned the page" here, so to speak, and I suspect our ill-conceived, ill-planned, and ill-executed venture in Iraq will get even more people discussing this issue. All the more reason for folks to stay informed, be willing to consider opposition arguments, communicate their thoughts and feelings to our elected officials, and --- most important --- VOTE!

Hello All,While I don't teach at a Catholic institution myself, I've followed the discussions both here and elsewhere on how Catholic universities can and should be run differently from other universities. I find a number of the considerations raised here interesting and stimulating. I would be interested in your opinions regarding the following:I regularly teach what in my profession are called courses in applied ethics. Every time I teach applied ethics I include a unit on the morality of abortion for several reasons. University students are at least as interested as those from any other social group in the issue of abortion. They find the philosophical discussion of abortion quite interesting. They are also frequently surprised by how little they know about the practice of abortion in the United States. (The members of one particularly fine class I led three years ago were amazed to learn that well over a million induced abortions occur each year in the United States. When I asked the group what they thought the average number was each year, the only one who wanted to venture a guess replied "40,000?".) And it happens that I am quite familiar with the philosophical literature on abortion though this topic is well out of my research areas.When I teach abortion in my classes, I am careful to consistently follow certain practices. I teach what I consider to be readings representative of the best of both the pro-abortion (moral) rights literature and the anti-abortion (moral) rights literature. (You may find it interesting that all of the philosophical literature I know defends one of two extreme positions, namely, that abortion is never immoral or that abortion is always immoral. I know of no quality work by philosophers that takes a more "middle of the road" position, even though this is what nearly all my students and most others I know who aren't philosophers adopt.) I do my utmost to avoid the use of the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" and I tell my students why. I think each term suggests that one who does not agree with the position referred to by the term is obviously immoral or stupid or both. (For the same reason I avoid using the term "reproductive freedom".) I do not volunteer my own position to my students (which is anti-abortion moral rights) but I will tell them if they ask me (which they often do), making it clear that they are free to disagree with me for purposes of the course. My students are secure in the knowledge that I will not try to indoctrinate them into adopting an anti-abortion moral rights position and that I will evaluate them solely upon their philosophical analysis of the issue, not their favored position.Here's my question: Were I working at a Catholic institution, do you think I would be obligated to change some of my practices? Would I be obligated to avoid teaching the pro-abortion rights literature? Would I be obligated to indoctrinate my students to some extent? I'd be interested to know what all here think. (One quick final anecdote: Four years ago the students in my applied ethics class trouped in one morning and one of them announced "Peter V., you've convinced us. None of us think abortion is immoral anymore." They were amazed when they later learned I am anti-abortion rights. Apparently I taught the arguments of the side I oppose rather effectively.)

Professor Vanderschraaf, I hereby notify you on behalf of Ave Maria/Franciscan University that your professional employment as a member of our faculty will be terminated at the conclusion of the current academic term.It has been determined that you teach positions on induced abortion at odds with the official teaching of the Magisterium. We cannot inculcate our students with an appreciation for the sanctity of human life if we expose them to the erroneous views of the pro-abortion movement.We trust you understand the necessity of terminating your affiliation with this institution so as to protect orthodox teaching.Sincerely,The Owner

Hello Joseph (and all),Thank you for your response. I suppose any answers to my questions are going to be somewhat institution specific. And in fact, it would take quite an unbelievable fluke to get me on the faculty of Ave Maria in the first place. My graduate training in philosophy is in what is called the analytic tradition, the predominant philosophical tradition represented in North American secular universities. For reasons I've never been fully clear about, a number of philosophy departments in Roman Catholic institutions are quite hostile to the analytic tradition. (Some notable exceptions include Notre Dame and Georgetown.) Ave Maria is a brand new institution, but given what I know of it I am sure you are right. They would never find an instructor like me acceptable.

"They would never find an instructor like me acceptable." But I would :)

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