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Marquette ROTC Student

Many years ago when I started to question the military training programs at a local Catholic Jesuit university a friend, close to the Society of Jesus, told me that it was better for military officers to be trained at a Catholic Jesuit university since then we would have military officers with a good Catholic Jesuit education. At the time, thinking it sounded like a case of “end justifies the means”, I dismissed it.
However, a few years ago the past president of the local Jesuit University, in an email to me, brought up the same reasoning: “To my thinking, it is tremendously beneficial for our military to have amongst its leader’s men and women who have the benefit of a Catholic, Jesuit education. In other words, Marquette ROTC alums provide a leaven for good in our military.” 1

Two Victims of War

I tried to communicate to him and other officials of the University the many academic, ethical and moral reasons, like Army teaching military values supersede religious values or conscience; 2 and the teaching of what the military calls ‘reflexive killing’, killing without conscience.3 An ethics professor at West Point described this new way of killing as conditioning “soldiers to act reflexively to stimuli—such as fire commands, enemy contact, or the sudden appearance of a “target”—and this maximizes soldiers’ lethality, but it does so by bypassing their moral autonomy.” 4 Soldiers are conditioned to act without considering the moral repercussions of their actions; they are enabled to kill without making the conscious decision to do so.

Our Gospel and moral arguments like the ‘priority of conscience’ and not justifying ‘reflexive killing’ have been ignored by the local administration. Finally by sitting in the new President’s office we were able to get a brief meeting with the new president of the University. We came prepared with our moral and Gospel arguments against teaching war at the university in the three departments of military sciences the university hosts. However, before we could present our case the new President, a Jesuit, brought up the tired old argument that it was better that military officers be trained at the school because they would get the benefit of Catholic, Jesuit education. We had some questions based on Christian moral and Gospel values 5 which he refused to give a clear answer on.

After the meeting, I decided it was time, once and for all, to retire this tired question of “is it better for military officers to be trained at a Catholic University?” This argument is false, invalid and should not be used for teaching war at a Catholic Jesuit university or any Christian university. In other writings I have pointed out how this is ‘Not Your Father’s or Mother’s Military’ but I had never directly dealt with this reason for military training on a Catholic Jesuit university.

Since World War II the military has changed its training, introducing things like “reflexive killing” which changed the number of soldiers firing their weapons from 25% in War World II to 95% in today’s wars. After the selective service draft system ended in the early seventies, the military was forced to make more adjustments in recruiting and training military officers, using money, honor, educational opportunities, and patriotism.

Sign of Contradiction

At the end of the draft in the 70’s many colleges and universities abandoned ROTC programs. The military decided to redesign its officer training program establishing Departments of Military Science at selected universities who freely choose to be host schools of the Army, as well as Navy/Marines and Air Force. All the other colleges and universities in the country, except ones of pacifist traditions, were forced by law, in the Solomon Act of 1996,6 to make available military recruiting on campus and to send interested students to host colleges and universities for accredited military training. If a college or university violates the law they can lose all Federal funding in all departments. Parts of the Solomon Act, the part of recruiting being available on campus, was upheld by the Robert’s Supreme Court in 2006. The other part, forcing universities to have ROTC to get federal funding is being appealed. Presently 80% of all military officers are trained at host universities. Our local Jesuit Catholic University is the host military school for all colleges and universities in five surrounding counties.

There are 29 Catholic Jesuit Universities in the United States. A few years ago, 26 hosted military training on campus, now there are only 13 host Catholic Jesuit Universities in the country. 7 The rest are partner schools Those in ROTC programs at all the Catholic Jesuit Universities, host and partner schools, receive the good Catholic education that is being talked about and receive the military training for Army, Navy/Marines and Air Force. The trend of public and private colleges and universities dropping military training programs on campus is on the rise all over the country. They have dropped ROTC on campus for academic, ethical and moral reasons. They remain partner schools to qualify for Federal funding.

Simply said, a Jesuit Catholic University student could get the full advantage of being at a Catholic University while taking his military training at a nearby college, university or military facility. They would get the financial benefits of ROTC, a good Catholic Jesuit education, academic credits for military training. The Catholic Jesuit university could keep all its federal funding under the Solomon Act; thereby, the Catholic Jesuits would not have to teach values contrary to Christianity and be faithful to the Gospel. It would be a win, win situation for all.

But, maybe there are more financial benefits for Catholic Jesuit Universities then they will admit to for hosting military bases on campus. Do they get extra money for being a base School of Army, Navy/Marines and Air Force? There is no evidence of significant funds for being a “host military school” but, then again, the files and contracts with the Department of Defense are sealed and off grounds to public view.

When we were asking the president our two questions 8 on Christian morality and military training on campus, he said there is no direct teaching in the Church about not having ROTC on campus. That is true, I guess, but the tradition of the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus has a lot to say about the ‘priority of conscience’ and killing. However, the excuse of getting a good Jesuit Catholic education for military officers is no longer valid.


1 Letter of Fr. Wild S.J. Feb. 9, 2005 (↑)

2 Military Values vs. Gospel Values (↑)

3 ‘reflexive killing’ (↑)

4 “Military Leaders’ Obligation to Justify Killing in War” (↑)

5 Is it moral for the US Army to teach that military values take priority over Christian values and conscience? Is it moral and according to Gospel for military to teach at Marquette University to teach reflexive killing? (↑)

6 (↑)

7 List of Catholic Universities hosting military (↑)

8 Is it moral for the US Army to teach that military values take priority over Christian values and conscience? Is it moral and according to Gospel for military to teach at Marquette University to teach reflexive killing? (↑)

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