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THE COMMON GOOD

As a theology professor and former Marine, I took great interest in Paul Lauritzen’s “Student Soldiers” (September 28). Lauritzen argues that ROTC provides well-educated leaders for the Army and is not incompatible with the vision that informs a modern Catholic university. I would add only that the substantial majority of ROTC students do not become career officers but return to civilian life, bringing the leadership and service ideals learned in ROTC to the greater community. I was pleased to see that Lauritzen actually bothered to find out what ROTC is about. His desire for the truth led him to participate in the Army’s Leadership Development Assessment Course. If only all those who are opposed to ROTC or the military would be so open-minded. People are astounded that I would go from a military career to being a theology professor. They seem to assume that these two careers are diametrically opposed. In truth, there is a common thread that runs through both. I have spent my adult life in the service of my fellow man and in service to a larger ideal. Service in the military can be viewed as a willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s fellow man; it is certainly a commitment to serve the common good.

DAN McGUIRE
Great Falls, Mont.

 

A RIGHT TO CONSCIENCE

Paul Lauritzen makes the all-too-common mistake of saying that pacifism is the only reason to oppose ROTC on Catholic campuses. Not so. Catholics who are not pacifists can believe either in the just-war theory or in the blank-check theory, according to which the government gets to decide which wars are justified and which are not. Lauritzen is clearly a just-war thinker. He decries “imperialist uses” of armed force but says that “the common good sometimes requires the military to protect the innocent.” The question is: Who gets to decide which category a war is in? We know who does not get to decide: service members, including those who prepared for service on Catholic college campuses. The church teaches that soldiers, even sworn officers, have the right to refuse participation in a particular war or a particular action in war. This is called selective conscientious objection (SCO). Without it, the just-war theory becomes meaningless. The problem is that, although the church supports SCO, it is illegal. The military will allow a member to leave if he becomes a full conscientious objector, but will not let soldiers “pick and choose” when they will kill. This means that when a young eighteen-year-old enlists or begins officer training, he effectively hands over his conscience to the military. So the issue is this: How can we, as moral educators, teach our students about the inviolability of conscience and the need to exercise critical judgment, while allowing another institution that denies this basic right to form our students too? It is schizophrenic and wrong. The just-war tradition would dictate another path: Saying to the military that unless they show respect for a principle at the core of our moral tradition-the right to discern when one is or is not participating in moral evil-they are not welcome to run formation programs on our campuses.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN
Notre Dame, Ind.

 

CONTRADICTING TRADITIONS

If one slides uncritically over Paul Lauritzen’s assertion that “Catholic tradition... [affirms] the right and responsibility of governments to defend their citizens,” his argument for ROTC appears solid. But the tradition Lauritzen cites (the just-war tradition) is essentially incompatible with the ancient Christian tradition that prevented Christians from taking up arms—that is, unless the state could find enough non-Christians to fill its military ranks. The U.S. bishops’ acknowledgment of the gospel nonviolence tradition in their 1984 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace, makes clear that “just war” has not superseded that tradition: the contradiction remains. The military, the bishops wrote, should “primarily serve a peacekeeping and defensive function,” but the U.S. military has not served a defensive function since World War II. And since then, only the Korean, Balkan, and 1994 Haitian interventions were actually peacekeeping missions. The ROTC is, in fact, almost entirely a preparation for aggression and service of empire: we have killed, either directly or through proxies, 4 million innocent people since the Korean conflict. A military is “needed,” St. Francis demonstrated, only to defend possessions; war appeared on the human scene only with agriculture and rival claims to land or resources. More troubling is Lauritzen’s argument that the commitment of ROTC students to public service, “to making the world a better place,” earns ROTC a place on campus. This reminds me of the argument that ROTC gives future officers a strong moral and ethical foundation. But I have not heard of a Notre Dame or John Carroll ROTC graduate refusing to be deployed to Iraq on moral grounds, despite condemnations of that war by John Paul II and the U.S. bishops and the evidence that removing Saddam Hussein failed the just-war proportionality test.

WILLIAM H. SLAVICK
Portland, Maine

 

MORE THAN REASON

Paul Lauritzen’s article brought to mind an old story that floated among the theology students at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, more than fifty years ago: “If you lose your wallet, pray that a moral theologian never finds it. He will come up with a dozen good reasons to keep it.” Lauritzen’s arguments for the presence of ROTC on Catholic campuses are robustly rational, and in that sense, very cogent. Still, at Catholic universities, there must be something more than reason at work: faith, the gospel, Christian witness. To paraphrase St. Paul, something may be legitimate but not edifying. Lauritzen is right in saying that we cannot blame young and patriotic citizens who serve our country in the military. Rather, the fault lies in the militaristic mentality that is all too eager to sacrifice them to the war machine. A Catholic campus can be a powerful witness for peace and justice, a voice for faith and reason in the face of a culture constantly beating the drums of war.

DAVID L. SMITH, CSSP
Pittsburgh, Pa.

 

THE BODY QUESTION

I do think that Charles Taylor has properly defined the complexity of our current situation (“Sex & Christianity,” September 28). But it seems to have escaped his notice that the Vatican naysayers jettisoned Counter-Reformation Puritanism long ago and are now animated by the same “post-Romantic” affirmation of the body that animates the sexual revolution. A quick perusal of the writings of, say, Karol Wojtyla or Dietrich von Hildebrand will show how deeply they are imbued with the continental idealist tradition and how opposed they are to any Cartesian divorce between mind and body. The problem is that these two forms of overcoming Puritanism lead to opposite conclusions about what constitutes proper sexual fulfillment. The question is not now “How do we suppress the body?” but “What do we owe the body?” It is not an easy question to answer, but the first step is getting clear on the terms of the debate.

BERNARD WILLS
St. John’s, Newfoundland

 

THOU SHALT NOT SWEAR

Anthony Wiggins tells of a bishop who took the Oath against Modernism on three occasions, and a group of priests who all said they had taken the oath (Letters, October 12). It’s important to realize that the experience of each of these sources is more than forty years old: Rome eliminated the oath in 1967. Alas, Scott Appleby’s “American Idol” (September 14), which talks of the oath but not its end, suggests that attitudes embodied in the oath still prevail in Rome.

SUSANNE WASHBURN
Dorset, Vt.

Published in the 2007-10-26 issue: 
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