December 2011 Letters to the Editor

November 16, 2011

CATHOLIC + ROTC

Our youngest son, Andy, is now Lieutenant Commander Creel, J-5 of 18th ABN Corps serving his third tour in Iraq. He was an ROTC graduate of Loyola in 1994.

The August 2011 commentary by Loyola’s president is an excellent piece on the relations between the military and a Catholic university. Some of the ‘liberation theology’ and ‘pacifism at any price’ people of the ’60s should read it and pray for a similar gift of wisdom.

George Creel
Davidsonville, Md.

ROTC AND JUST WAR

One of my most vivid Loyola memories is the first time I shouldered an M16 assault rifle. It was the spring of 1997 and I was an Army ROTC cadet in the Greyhound Battalion at Loyola. I remember being issued the weapon. I remember the procedure we were taught to clear a jam and the acronym we were given (SPORTS) to remember that procedure. I remember squeezing off my first rounds. I remember my elation as a tight shot group appeared in the center of the target. I remember looking at that target with great pride later that night in my dorm room as I anticipated showing it to my brothers and to my dad, who is a decorated combat veteran and Army warrant officer. And I remember a moment later when, as I studied that skillfully pierced silhouette outline of a man, it dawned on me that I had been practicing killing another human being.

That was a turning point for me. I would go on that year to be given the Superior Cadet Award for the MS-1 (first year) class and offered a three-year ROTC scholarship that would have paid for the rest of my education at Loyola. I was told by the head of the department of military science that he thought it likely that I would be the cadet battalion commander by the time I was a senior. But at the end of my freshman year, I declined the scholarship and withdrew from ROTC.

The problem was not PT (Physical Training) at 0600 or the struggles of balancing ROTC with a full course load and other extracurriculars. I loved all of that. The problem was the oath. When one is commissioned as a U.S. Army officer, one swears an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The oath ends with the affirmation “that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.” But I did have mental reservations about discharging my duties. An army officer is sworn to obey all lawful orders, and I knew that there were lawful orders that I could not obey in good conscience as a Christian. As I thought about that rifle target, and reflected on my father’s war experiences, and imagined different scenarios in which I might be asked to kill, I realized that there were many in which I could not do so with a clear conscience. At that time I assumed the chances of being put in such a situation were small. It was the heyday of post-Cold War military downsizing, and many ROTC graduates didn’t even go on active duty, much less see combat. Yet, it was a matter of principal for me. I wasn’t willing to take the Army’s money and swear an oath to do something, betting on the likelihood that they wouldn’t actually ask me to do it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was discovering for myself aspects of the Catholic Church’s teaching on war. As I have learned in much subsequent study, the Church says that any Christian who is not called by God to the special prophetic role of total pacifism is to practice selective conscientious objection. We are to fight only in wars that meet the stringent criteria of the just war doctrine. To my mind this is incompatible with an oath that binds one to obey all lawful orders, because throughout its history the United States has repeatedly engaged in military actions that were legal by constitutional standards but which failed to fulfill the Catholic criteria for just war.

While my moral concerns seemed highly theoretical at the time, little did I know just how relevant they would become. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, came less than a year and a half after I would have been commissioned an officer. The military policies and actions pursued by the United States since that day have confirmed my reservations about the conflicts of conscience I would have faced as a Catholic military officer. Since 2001 our nation has asked our soldiers to engage in preemptive war, targeted assassinations, detainee abuse and torture, routine attacks that involve disproportionate collateral damage to noncombatants, and it has approved a nuclear posture that threatens use of tactical nuclear warheads in a preemptive first strike against nations like Iran and North Korea. All of these actions and policies violate the Catholic Church’s teaching on just war. For that reason I cannot concur with Fr. Linnane’s statement that “it is perhaps particularly fitting that we hold [the ROTC commissioning] ceremony in a chapel of the Roman Catholic Church.” Fr. Linnane correctly notes that “the position of the Catholic Church has never been one of unqualified pacifism.” While that is certainly true, at least of post-Constantinian Christianity, it is also true that the Church has always maintained strict criteria circumscribing the use of force and that those criteria are not identical with American law or national interest. Thus there is an inherent conflict of conscience for a Catholic who swears to obey all lawful orders as a member of the U.S. military.

I maintain a deep respect for those who choose to be part of the military. I often think of and pray for my former ROTC brethren who have gone on to serve many dangerous tours of duty in our country’s current wars. To my mind they are more than a cut above the average American citizen. They are examples of service, integrity, self-sacrifice, and other-centeredness in the midst of a culture that too often glorifies self-centeredness and self-gratification. I applaud their selflessness and pray for their safety. Having grown up in a family with many military members, there is much I admire in those who wear our country’s uniform. Still, I cannot help but perceive a certain confusion when Christians directly link the self-sacrifice of our military members to the gospel of Jesus. The self-sacrifice to which Jesus calls us is not a self-sacrifice on behalf of our families and countrymen so that we may defeat our enemies, but rather a self-sacrifice that embraces enemies in love so that we may defeat hatred, violence, and evil themselves. This radical form of self-sacrificial love, much to the consternation of many Jesus encountered in his ministry, even at times relativizes commitment to family and nation. As noble as the self-sacrifice of our military men and women is, Jesus calls us to something even higher.

In his reflection on the ROTC program at Loyola, Fr. Linnane stated that if students leave Loyola “with a sense of self-sacrifice, a commitment to service, and an education that that has prepared them to face these challenges with pragmatism and courage, we can know we are succeeding.” While prudence and fortitude are two of the cardinal virtues, we must recall that the highest virtue Christians are called to is love. To paraphrase St. Paul, if Loyola students graduate with pragmatism and courage, but do not have love, they are nothing. And this love to which we are called is not just the kind that calls us to sacrifice for family, friends and country, but is one that knows no national borders and encompasses even enemies. As Christian musician Derek Webb has put it, “my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man [or] to democracy or blood; it’s to a king and a kingdom.”

I pray that there is deep reflection at Loyola, and at all Catholic colleges and universities, about the place of an ROTC program on a Catholic campus given the tension, even conflict, between American military policy and the Church’s teaching on the just use of force. St. Ignatius was indeed a soldier, as was noted by one of the cadets quoted in the magazine. But he was a soldier who laid down his weapons and took up the cause of Christ ad majorem dei gloriam.

David Tenney, ’00
Laurel, Md.

HIGHEST CALLING

Congratulations on the excellent story about the Loyola ROTC graduates in the August issue.

The University should be proud of its role in providing officers for the United States Army, especially during a time of war. The recent graduates, and those who came before them, are a true credit to the school and to our country.

At a time when other colleges and universities are faced with opposition to ROTC on their campuses for political reasons, it is good to see that Loyola continues to recognize the importance of developing leaders for our military. Those in the ROTC are to be commended for choosing this highest of callings.

It is appropriate that the same issue featured my fellow 1987 graduate, retired Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr. Agent Parr is credited with saving the life of President Ronald Reagan, who rebuilt our nation’s defenses and maintained such a high regard for the United States military.

In his 1985 commencement address at the United States Naval Academy, President Reagan noted the moral force of our military: “Since the end of the Second World War, American military might has been an immensely positive force in the world. We used our economic resources to help rebuild the devastated homelands of our allies and of our former enemies as well.

Those people, wherever they are in this world, who’ve enjoyed the rights to speak and to pray and to direct the course of their government through democratic elections owe their freedom to one degree or another to the protection of the United States military.”

Loyola’s ROTC graduates are following in a fine tradition of which all alumni should be proud.

Steve Wiseman, ’87
Bel Air, Md.

ESSENCE CAPTURED

Thank you so much for the wonderful article on Sr. M. Kenneth McGuire, RSM!
Although the author conducted the interviews by phone, Linda Strowbridge caught the true essence of Sr. Kenneth’s life and produced a charming and beautifully informative article.

My compliments to her and to the editorial staff!

Sally Riley, MSA ’68
Timonium, Md.

FAITH IS THE ANSWER

Very interesting approach (described in the story on spirituality research conducted by Fr. Peter Chen, Psy.D. ’11). I am also a student of spirituality and the various religions. I see many commonalities.

I believe that faith is the only answer to the problems we are facing in this world today. Faith gives people hope and rescues them from the pit of despair, inspiring in us the positive belief that things can and will be better and that there is indeed a power greater than ourselves who loves us.

Thanks for your work in this area, Fr. Chen, and keep us posted.

Pattie Gomez Likakis, ’88
Hunt Valley, Md.

BOYS OF SUMMER

Thanks so much for your article on Loyola baseball. I was a member of the 1974, ’75, and ’76 teams and am pictured in the far right of the 1976 team picture. I had a color copy of that picture and recently looked for it in my Loyola box.

I took the picture to a team reunion when we played the club team 15 years ago at Camden Yards, thanks to Peter Angelos, owner of the O’s. It was a great day—seeing old ball friends from 20 years ago. The club team got a kick out of our “long hair” in the pictures! I played left field and “tried” to hit and was sore for two weeks thereafter. I have album pictures of a great Saturday morning!

The 1976 team was one of the best baseball clubs Loyola had. We were 14-6 and came within two wins of an NCAA Division II tourney spot! We lost to George Mason 1-0 in the four-team Mason Dixon tourney, and we wanted a championship game with highly regarded Salisbury State who had embarrassed us in an opening doubleheader. (They had played 20-25 games in Florida at the time and we had hardly got out of the gym due to bad weather.)

Kevin Kavanaugh was our only coach, with the help of an occasional volunteer alumni assistant and player coach Jim McGuire. Kevin was also the athletic director at the time. He did some job!

I could go on, but I won’t. I can name all the players in the picture, and have many funny and interesting stories, as do all the players.

Paul Lawless, ’77
Drexel Hill, Pa.

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