Opinions & Editorials

Seeking moral ground: regarding ROTC

By: Taylor Fulkerson

The social memory of American Catholics has always seemed to be lacking on the Catholic side; that is to say, most American Catholics are thoroughly assimilated into American culture.

In that light, I want to honor the memory of one particular American Jesuit, Father James Guadalupe Carney, S. J.

Carney entered the Jesuits of the Missouri Province and, following a deep desire to do mission work, found his way to Honduras to work with the rural poor and form cooperatives. His work there eventually led to his expulsion from Honduras. He was killed in 1983 by a joint operation of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Honduran army shortly after accompanying Honduran revolutionaries back into the country as an unarmed chaplain.

He is traditionally remembered on Sept. 16, although this date is only an approximation. This week marks 30 years since his death.

In the 30 years that have passed, American Jesuit higher education has certainly emphasized the role of social engagement and immersion. I do not believe, however, that Jesuit universities in the United States have followed an honest examination of conscience.

Father Ignacio Ellacuría, S. J. proposed this examination of conscience during the heightened political violence in El Salvador during the 1980s, and I believe we should be asking the same questions he and Carney asked: Who are the crucified people of today? How are we complicit or culpable in their crucifixion? How can we help to take them down from the cross?

There is no doubt that many people in this world are continually oppressed and crucified by the actions of the U. S. military. Hundreds of thousands of persons (the majority of whom are civilians) are negatively impacted by U. S. military action every year, and it would be many more if we were to include those who have been historically besieged and still live in a sea of trauma and loss.

It is the moral responsibility of Xavier University — administration, faculty and students — to recognize and denounce this force of evil in the world, particularly by being self-critical. In short, it is the moral responsibility of this community to end the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Xavier.

To be perfectly clear, this is no condemnation of any individual: no administrator can be held accountable as an individual, nor is any ROTC cadet any less a member of this community for being in the program.

Xavier has historically maintained strong connections to the military, to be certain. It has been ranked as one of the most militaryfriendly universities in the country since 2010 by Victory Media.

However, neither this nor our personal relationships to the U. S. Armed Services or military personnel should obscure the fact that the military is an inherently violent institution.

Nor should we forget that the Catholic tradition is ripe with this critical spirit. In pre-Constantine Christian communities, serving in the military was a grave sin, one that was antithetical to a life in Christ. And as late as the Cold War, there was doubt over whether Catholics should be charged with duties involving nuclear weapons since Catholic social teaching condemned nuclear weapons altogether.

Pope Francis recently enunciated this point of view in reference to the conflict in Syria, and in very clear language said: “Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.” In such a cycle of destruction, the quantity of human lives is the focus, effectively ignoring the qualitative nature of the human person, a direct contradiction of Catholic belief in human dignity.

It’s time to get honest, and not just by studying some tidy encyclicals for tomorrow’s lecture. The bottom line is this: we’re told that our patriotic duty and American identity comes first. We are Catholics only after we do service to the country and the military- industrial complex. Moral obligations become an afterthought, if that.

It is, then, our responsibility as American Catholics to affirm the Jesuits of recent decades, especially those who have died as a result of American imperialism and militarism. As Xavier students, faculty and administrators, we are called to say no.

No to war. No to violence. No to institutional oppression and complacency. Yes to life for all people, everywhere.

Taylor Fulkerson is the Opinion & Editorials Editor at the Newswire. He is from Lanesville, Ind, and is majoring in Philosophy and Spanish.

14 replies »

  1. Taylor, you make some very good points, and the article is well written. Good job on that front.

    However, some of your points about early Christianity are fundamentally misguided. The act of participating in military service was never seen as inherently evil in any early Christian community. War was considered something to be avoided whenever possible, but sometimes necessary for defense of innocent humans. (Nowhere in the Bible is war directly and definitively condemned as a “grave sin,” nor was military service considered as such.) If there was a problem with pre-Constantinian Christians enlisting in the armed forces, it was because those very forces were often used to *persecute Christians.* Again, not a “grave sin,” or even inherently a “sin,” for that matter.

    The Church always has held a rational understanding that war is not desirable but is sometimes necessary, especially in the case of defense. (Hence the “just war” theory.) The entire premise of Christianity, in fact, is centered upon cosmic war between God and Satan–and you can bet that God isn’t sitting that one out. In fact, you can thank God he isn’t.

  2. “this force of evil” or “the actions of the U. S. military” If this is the issue you are attempting to address, discontinuing Xavier ROTC is the wrong thing to do.

    The U.S. Military and the people in it are subordinate to the elected leaders of our country; who are elected by the American people. The Military does not choose its fights. What the military does do is plan how to fight.

    If what you are trying to address are “the actions of the U.S. military” then Xavier discontinuing its ROTC program would not solve this problem at all. Xavier teaches its students Jesuit values and and the Xavier ROTC programs commission some of the best, brightest, and most moral Officers in the Military today. These are the kind of future leaders you want leading our Military forces, not the kind you want to keep out of it.

    Outside of of sending the best kind of officers into the U.S. Military, the only other thing the Xavier community can do to address the actions of the Military is to vote for leaders that best represent the kind of values we believe to be just and virtuous and to inform those leaders who are elected just how you want to be represented.

    Your Freshman and Sophomore year at Xavier you can take the Leadership and Development classes in Army ROTC, I encourage everyone to take them and learn the Army Values before you suggest that the U.S. Military is a “force of evil”.

  3. This article is ridiculous. At least America fights for humanity. Enlighten me on what the purpose of the holy wars were? Oh because the catholics were so innocent! psh

  4. First off, Taylor, let’s get your timeline straight. Xavier University first began the tradition of strong military service to the United States when, in 1877, when students were able to take after school courses learning basic officer leadership knowledge. This is before ROTC was ever created. Next the War Department (now the Department of Defense) authorized a Field Artillery ROTC detachment to be officially created in 1935. It’s first semester started in September of 1936 and it was required by the school, not the government, for all physically fit Freshmen and Sophomoeres to attend. It was briefly deactivated during World War II, however the school helped to train over 1,800 Army Air Corps pilots for the fight against the Axis powers. The ROTC program as reactive tend in 1946 and has remained active ever since.

    Second, your comment about our school being military friendly since 2010 holds a significant amount of weight to it. I doubt that you are aware that in June of 2010 an alumni of Xavier University was killed in Iraq. His name was Second Lieutenant Michael Runyan, and I personally know an uncountable number of people who would say that he lived his life based off of the Jesuit teachings.

    I think that before you start rambling about politics, religion, and your own personal views that it might behoove you to open up a history book and do a bit of learning. I find it rather odd that you chose to ignore the strong military background of my alma mater.

  5. Would you rather have Soldiers without a background of Catholic education? While violence is obviously never the ideal outcome of a situation, you write that it is never the answer – with what do you think Nazism was met? The oppression of foreign citizens by their own leaders? Furthermore, I’d love to hear your opinion on how Syria should handled – I’m sure the beliefs you hold on that are totally consistent with this opinion, since Assad is using chemical weapons against children. How do you think those atrocities are combatted?

    Furthermore, how do you think your right to publish such an offensive piece is protected? Your right to practice Catholicism freely? Since you think ROTC is so inconsistent with Catholic beliefs, why do they pray for the Armed Forces in nearly every prayer intention each Sunday? Perhaps you should take a look at this: http://ethics.sandiego.edu/Books/Texts/Aquinas/JustWar.html – you may have heard of him.

    Before you form such a narrow opinion, I invite you to explore the institution that you’re condemning. Learn of the Army Values that are instilled in every Soldier starting on their first day of ROTC, the countless humanitarian executed by the military to achieve good in the world, the close-knit bonds stemming from the vow to never leave a fallen comrade, and the compassion and loyalty shown by every member of the Army family. You may be pleasantly surprised.

  6. I did not attend Xavier, but two of my daughters have. And my only son is a product of another Jesuit institution. I comment here based on this, and on my own Catholic higher education courtesy of the Norbertines. Out of their sole U.S. college, by way of ROTC, I was commissioned an Army officer back in 1969.

    Those old enough to remember 1969 will sense an all-too-familiar ring in the “seeking moral ground” editorial. The writer’s every theme was quite popular in the Sixties. Campus protest signs and video of returning Vietnam veterans being spit upon and verbally assaulted in airports captured the same sentiments. While I never served in Vietnam, I have very good friends who did.

    Fortunately, perhaps as a result of the 911 mass murders, Americans’ views toward the military have shifted. We have come to see our citizen-soldiers as the small group of men and women who stand between us and a world often bent on wantonly usurping human rights, taking human life without conscience. Only a fool would conclude that without our military, peace would suddenly blossom worldwide. And unless I’m mistaken, Jesuits are not fools.

    Sadly, the editorial writer will never know what it feels like to have a complete stranger look him in the eye and say “Thank you.” He’ll never taste a beer bought for him simply because he’s in uniform. He’ll never hug a fellow veteran who served with dignity, honor and courage. He’ll never see a kid in some far away place kiss an American soldier in gratitude.

    So he’ll probably never experience that higher “moral ground” he says he’s looking for.

  7. Taylor,
    If you bothered to ask anyone who serves in the military they would tell you our least desire is to ever have to go fight our nations wars but when called upon to do so we go willingly. As someone with an intimate knowledge of the quality and morality of the Officers the All For One Battalion produces I can tell you that the Army is well served by these well rounded, morally grounded leaders. The inherent nature of a Jesuit education only benefits the core Army values inculcated into each and every Cadet as they progress through training towards earning their commissions. Is the Army perfect and full of nothing but kind, benevolent people, of course not, neither is any Catholic organization. I am sure you have heard the saying the best way to change an institution is from the inside. If you think the military is inherently evil and violent then I invite you to walk across Victory Parkway and see what the ROTC curriculum teaches and take the challenge and join up. I also invite you to research the Officers that XU ROTC has produced and see the difference they have made in the Army and in your community. People like Major General Mike Garret, Commander of US Army Alaska and one of the finest most morally conscince leaders I have ever met. People like CPT Matt Mattingly and 1LT Mike Runyan who paid the ultimate sacrifice in combat while leading their Soldiers in missions that our civilian leaders deemed worthy. People like Col Paul Fellinger who lead a cavalry regiment in combat and people like 1LT Shaina Cales, the fiancé of 1LT Runyan, who chose to complete her ROTC training in an act of selfless service unrivaled in my eyes and over 25 years of service. Take a walk out to the Our Lady monument and look at the names on that wall of the XU alumni who sacrificed their lives so we all could live ours. Tell me how all these people do not demonstrate the Catholic ideal of human dignity. For Xavier to call for the abolishment of the “All For One” battalion would be a tragic loss for the military, our country and the Catholic faith. I am glad you wrote this piece however as it reinforces to me the tremendous job XU does in encouraging its students to be creative thinkers and to challenge injustices as they see them. I can only tell you to refocus your injustice goggles because the military is not an inherently violent institution. Do the actual math we have spent way more time conducting humanitarian relief and freeing oppressed peoples than “continually oppressing and crucifying” by our actions. Just look at the nickname of the Army ROTC battalion and it speaks the truth…”All For One”.

  8. So tell me, how does it feel to have the freedom to write such an insanely moronic article? Freedom of speech, freedom of the press….freedoms that the US military give you. You probably sat in your nice comfortable bedroom and wrote this article on your Mac book while at this very second there are kids (yes I said kids, because you’re a kid and have no clue what real life is) your age sitting on a mountain top in Afghanistan fighting insurgents that would love to tear your body to pieces simply because you’re American. So enjoy that silver spoon, and maybe think about all the freedoms you enjoy on a daily basis. Freedoms that the military defend for you.

    • Matt Ryan, you nailed it!

  9. Member of the XU 2008 graduating class here. I can say beyond a shadow of doubt and without agenda that the finest men and women I have ever known were members and graduates of the ROTC program at XU. They are men and women for others that I can only hope that my children one day grow up to be like. Whether it is an unparalleled recruiting program or the most outstanding leadership team ever put together, every person that I know that has graduated from the ROTC program has been a great leader in every sense of the word. A Xavier without ROTC is unfathomable to me.

  10. The “evil” military you preach against, makes sure that you are safe and able to write such ridiculously misguided articles.

    I am proud of all my ROTC friends and military family. Its amazing that you can say that ROTC goes against everything Jesuit, when the Jesuits were founded by a Soldier (St. Ignatius.) When you write such a inflammatory article about Xavier’s ROTC program and the military in general, make sure you have your facts straight.

  11. Taylor, it appears that your self-vaunted “examination of conscience” can transpire only when someone agrees with you. You have ignored the fact that someone can engage in such an examination and come to a different conclusion. Do not think, for one second, that my Xavier education had no bearing on how I conducted myself as an officer in a career that approached almost three decades. From the day I started in the Army, it was obvious that a Xavier education set someone apart from their peers – for the better.

    Do yourself a favor, junior. Next time you make a statement like, “There is no doubt that many people in this world are continually oppressed and crucified by the actions of the U. S. military. Hundreds of thousands of persons (the majority of whom are civilians) are negatively impacted by U. S. military action every year, and it would be many more if we were to include those who have been historically besieged and still live in a sea of trauma and loss,” try backing it up with some facts. You would do yourself well to further examine the hundreds of humanitarian and refugee relief operations, some of which I participated in, as part of your data set.

  12. I’m sure Chaplain Meyer, former professor at XU ad currently a MAJ in the US Army, would have a few different things to say. He may even cuss you out. You didn’t accomplish anything with your rant except advertise your agenda, and offend most veterans who are XU graduates. Your inflammatory comments are completely misguided and grossly misinformed. You might want to stop your BS rants about the “force of evil” we are and start learning about the millions of people we have positively affected, saved, and freed throughout our history. I dare you to say that in front of my route clearance company after a tour of C-IED operations in eastern Afghanistan. In fact, how about preaching that to the local Afghans who served beside us and the civilians who begged us not to go. The only swine who share your opinion are the enemies we fight who enslave their own kind, degrade and disfigure their women, and rape their children. I’d love to take you to the Peche Ricer valley so you can share your opinions and see if they agree. It took a lot more than force to right a lot of wrongs in that area, and is love for you to look at the young girls in a new women’s school that was built and tell them how evil we are since we built it and trained their military to protect it against the Taliban who want to destroy it, rape and execute the girls who attend it. They’d probably stone you. Coward.