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Catholic conscience and war

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, May 3, 2006

In an April 26 Viewpoint article, Clare Feeney wrote on the decision of Notre Dame Catholic Peace Fellowship (NDPF) to refrain from protesting this year’s ROTC Pass in Review. Instead, Feeney offered a forum for dialogue between with ROTC proposed for next year. Already, NDPF has worked with ROTC in past semesters to host several of the thought provoking dialogue sessions.

However, I think many aspects of the article regarding ROTC need to be clarified, and many other questions need to be asked.

First off, NDPF does not seek to “alienate” or “offend” any members of the ROTC program. In years past, the protests may have unfortunately caused offense, but this was never their intent. While wishing to question the appropriateness of ROTC on our campus, we never argue that the students enrolled in ROTC are bad people. That must be understood.

Secondly, the Catholic view of warfare has two responses – either “just war” or total non-violence. Participating in any war the U.S. government dictates does not coincide with the Catholic principles of either view. Indeed, the approach of “just war” (the most popular among Catholics in America) is actually illegal when in military service. If you do not declare yourself a pacifist, you are required to fight in any and all wars as a soldier. This is the current system in place – one endorsed by the ROTC program.

Members of ROTC have little say in where they go upon graduation, as military contracts (binding for most ROTC students after their freshman year) leave the deciding up to military command. But what if, like the majority of our military, they end up in Iraq? Will they participate, with the training given to them on our campus, in a conflict condemned by the Catholic Church? Or will they refuse to be an instrument of an unjust war?

Many argue that it is far better to have soldiers trained at Notre Dame, where they will receive some type of philosophy and theology before graduation. But, with the ROTC curriculum standardized by the Department of Defense, can the ideas of just war and Catholic thought be required in the ROTC curriculum? If not, are we truly giving soldiers every tool they will need to face the hard questions of conscience that they will inevitably face? Will a soldier trained at Notre Dame be any less likely to partake in unjust war because of the education we have provided them?

Finally, it is no secret that many students in ROTC enlist in the program to pay for their college education. The scholarships offered are tempting and the government provides stipends and health care coverage for most ROTC members. But, with an endowment hovering around three billion dollars, can we not provide another option for these students? Scholarships must be created to ensure all that wish to attend Notre Dame have the funds necessary. However, that is an issue – like many others dealing with ROTC on our campus – that the Notre Dame administration has yet to address.

In writing this article, I hope that all members of the Notre Dame community begin to think about our identity as a Catholic university and the presence of ROTC. I hope that you will be part of the dialogues that will take place next semester. I challenge you to think about the hard issues of conscience posed by the Catholic teaching on war. Now, more than ever, we need to be thinking about the issues of war and peace.

Michael AngulofreshmanAlumni HallMay 2