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ROTC regarded in positive light

Eileen Duffy | Thursday, February 24, 2005

Editor’s note: This article is the second in a two-part series exploring the perceptions and realities of the ROTC program at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

Despite the Catholic Church’s opposition to the war in Iraq, Notre Dame has maintained a strong commitment to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and students and faculty say they hold the program and its participants in high regard.

Professor David Cortright, a research fellow for the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said he believes Notre Dame is the ideal place for members of the armed forces to be educated. For example, he said, many students in ROTC take a course called “War, Law, and Ethics” in the theology department, teaching them about ethical principles that apply to avoiding and minimizing harm to non-combatants, as well as the Church’s just war principles.

“I think we want an armed forces imbued with the best moral values and best education on critical and ethical issues,” Cortright said. “We want our officers to be able to think critically – to not be robots in responding to crisis, but to apply independent critical thinking.”

While ROTC students do participate in regular activities, freshman Caitlin Regan of Pangborn said she has noticed something extra in her ROTC classmates.

“I admire them; it requires a lot of dedication,” she said. “Also, they always present themselves officially and respectfully.”

Sophomore Michael Crowley said he was impressed by those in ROTC, noting that he didn’t quite have their stamina.

“It’s hard. They don’t go out much and they have to get up early,” he said. “They have to join the [armed forces] after graduation. I would never want to do it.”

Other students commended the ROTC program as a whole. Stanford Hall sophomore Patrick Cain said he liked ROTC since it “provid[es] an added incentive” for those interested in defending the country.

Sophomore Dan Sportiello said he admired the economics of the program, calling it a “simple exchange of tuition for military service,” but also said he believes some “are only in the program because they have no choice,” due to financial constraints.

According to Cortright, there has been an ongoing dialogue of monthly meetings between ROTC commanders and Peace Studies staff members since the Peace Studies program was established in 1986. During these “informal” dialogues, Cortright said, discussion has surrounded concerns relating to contemporary peace and security issues.

“We often find we don’t differ that much in opinions … a number of the officers share the same skepticism and concerns about U.S. policy as we the Peace Studies professors,” Cortright said. “We definitely feel there are ways in which we share perspectives and ways in which we can learn from each other.”

Sophomore Andrew Yi said that despite his anti-war sentiments, he has “great respect” for the program and its participants.

“I am grateful for their sacrifice and courage,” he said.

Cortright, though, stressed the need for such a program, even on – or especially on – a Catholic campus.

“Unless we are advocating an absolutely pacifist position, as long as there is an army, it’s better for it to be led by officers trained in ethical principles, who have a broader understanding of civilian values,” Cortright said, “and who therefore will be more reflective of the society from which they come when they are out in military service.”