September 3, 2003
¶ Stopping idiocy in its tracks: If not me, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not ham, then no cheese. I throw eggs at a UP professor's scrambled take on morality, Christianity, and the military. Humpty Dumpty had a big fall.
The following nonsense appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of Portland Magazine, a University of Portland publication:
The Spring issues editorial, about the late Army Sgt. Keith Robbins and his granddaughter, Air Force cadet Tiffany Anderson 04, prompted University philosophy professor Thom Faller to share some remarks he offered at the annual commissioning ceremony on The Bluff for new Air Force cadet lieutenants.
There are many ways to look at military officers. Some regard them as robotic projects devoid of human values; some regard them as hired assassins. They have been described as mournful, sweet-tempered, and doomed. They have been romanticized and abused, esteemed and ridiculed. All these views are mistaken, of course, and generally held by people who do not know a single officer.
The officer lives an ordered life. It is the sort of life that has been admired by many over the centuries. Its orderliness is liberating rather than oppressive. It is not incompatible with Christianity; the biblical accounts of Jesus Christ show Him patient with soldiers, even kind to them. (The same Christ was rough with politicians, lawyers, financers, clergymen, and even professors, I note.)
A person can be selfish, cowardly, disloyal, false, fleeting, and morally corrupt in a wide variety of other ways and still be outstanding in some of lifes pursuits. That is, a person can be a superb creative artist, or a scientist of the highest caliber, and still be a bad person. But what the bad person can not be is a good officer. Military institutions form a treasury of moral wealth that should always be a source of strength within a country. One of the major services of the military to the community it serves may well lie in the moral realm. The military is certainly a mirror of its parent society, reflecting strengths and weaknesses; but it can also be, and perhaps should be, a well from which to draw needed moral refreshment.
In a trying world darkened by hate and misunderstanding, newly commissioned military officers like these are a symbol of the virtues in which people of all nations and creeds find gallant faith. They are representative of the good from which a person might distill a well-lived life. May God bless them and watch over them, as they watch over their fellow citizens.
My response, which follows, will be published in the Fall 2003 issue of Portland Magazine:
Perhaps the speech simply didn't translate well to the printed page or maybe the text was too severely edited to maintain coherence, but the pile of assertions that was philosophy professor Thom Faller's note on "Military Morals" (Letters, Summer 2003) made for painful reading.
Although there can and probably should be a healthy debate in your pages about whether "military morals" is as oxymoronic as human history would make it seem, the most crucial point for a Catholic university particularly one with ROTC programs concerns the compatibility of Christianity and the military.
Faller asserts that soldiering is not incompatible with Christianity. His contention would be disputed by a number of Christian denominations including the Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish as well as a sizable membership of the Catholic Church. As justification for his view, Faller offers the idea that because Jesus was patient with soldiers while giving rougher treatment to "politicians, lawyers, financiers, clergymen, and even professors," this supposedly implies divine approval of a military career.
It does no such thing, of course. Jesus was also kind to prostitutes and rough on His disciples. Are any Christians in doubt as to which of these career paths He would wish us to take?
I think it telling that in the 300 years closest to the life of Christ, it was impossible to be both a Christian and a soldier. The two were seen as wholly incongruent. Only after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire was this restriction lifted and, some would argue, Christianity mutated: It became impossible to be a Roman soldier and not be a Christian.
Even if one can somehow reconcile the nonviolent Jesus of the scriptures not to mention His teachings with a life of military service, surely the committed Christian soldier would refuse any order which was illegal or immoral. (One of the larger points of the post-World War II Nuremberg trials being that "I was just following orders" provides no excuse for immoral conduct.) Yet how many Catholics in the US military refused to participate in the blatantly illegal invasion of Iraq even when the Holy Father himself stood in opposition?
Indeed, when faith and nationalism collide, which does Faller's "good officer" follow? I ask because the officers of the German military during World Wars I & II meet perfectly Faller's standards for a "good officer" and many were Christians. I intend no comparison between Nazis and today's U.S. armed forces, but I submit that Faller may want to rethink, among other things, his notion of military morals as they relate to Christianity and his definition of a "good officer."