ETHICS AND LEADERSHIP
Within the nation’s Jesuit schools, the connection to the military has remained strong. More than three-quarters of the nation’s Jesuit colleges offer ROTC, including SCU, the University of San Francisco, Loyola Marymount University, Gonzaga University, and Georgetown University. But some in these broader Jesuit environs claim that the long relationship can’t be reconciled with a focus on forgiveness, nonviolence, and social justice. At College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, protests against the Naval ROTC program have become an annual ritual. Peace activist John Dear, S.J., wrote a scathing piece for the National Catholic Reporter in September 2011, after reading a glowing feature on ROTC in the alumni magazine of Loyola University Maryland. Dear’s column garnered plenty of reader support, but it also drew criticism from those who pointed out that the military has been the guarantor of the rights and freedoms that allow Dear to make his arguments. Moreover, so long as the country needs a military, shouldn’t it have the most capable, liberally educated leaders?
As a matter of course, a sovereign nation has a right to defend itself, says James Felt, S.J., professor emeritus of philosophy at SCU. Felt began teaching at Santa Clara in 1965, and he served briefly on a board that convened hearings for students trying to get out of ROTC in the 1960s. Indeed, military strength can be essential for good, he says. Had the British and French not let their militaries wane in exhaustion after the First World War, they may well have prevented Nazi aggression.
“I can’t think that there is any moral fault in the United States maintaining suitable armed forces,” he says matter-of-factly. “If so, then it’s okay for SCU to offer ROTC, just as we need to train local police. It would be fatuous to pretend that there’s no evil or evil-doers in the world, and countries, as well as individuals, have a right to self-defense. But this is not to condone a culture of killing.”
Thomas Buckley, S.J., agrees that the campus embrace of ROTC is a sensible one. Buckley, a professor of American religious history at SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology, has a unique historical and familial perspective on the matter: His father, Col. Michael Buckley Jr., was a West Point graduate who briefly led Santa Clara’s ROTC program in the 1950s, when all students had to take ROTC their first two years. Fr. Buckley, meanwhile, has studied and taught about pacifism, believing “the anti-war tradition is a long and honorable one in the United States.”
But at least in the United States, it’s politicians who decide to go to war, he says, not top officers, who are often averse to initiating conflicts of which they better know the price. “You want a professional Army. You want a trained officer corps,” Buckley observes. “But you also want them to have a background in ethics and philosophical training. That’s where a university like Santa Clara does a great service for the military and, therefore, for the country. It’s just as reasonable to have Army officers who graduated from Santa Clara as to have Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63 sitting in the cabinet leading them.”