A ‘Special Grace’

Supporting the ROTC

All over the country, America’s colleges and universities are petitioning the Supreme Court. They are doing so in support of the University of Michigan law school’s admissions program, which takes race into account. The petitions all say essentially the same thing: We need diversity; diversity is good for schools and for the country.

But — as is often the case on campuses — diversity is a code word for ideological conformity, including conformity in professions.

This becomes glaringly obvious in the blacklisting of ROTC programs on many campuses. Even where they are allowed to exist, ROTC students are often treated with disdain and disrespect. It’s a matter that deserves our attention — not only because of what we owe soldiers of the past, but also because of what we owe soldiers of the present: soldiers who recently left the neatly manicured lawns of their schools for the gritty battlefields of Iraq.

One of them is Lt. Dustin Ferrell, whose story is told by William McGurn in the Wall Street Journal. Just three years ago, McGurn writes, Dustin was an undergraduate of the University of Notre Dame. As Dustin told McGurn, ROTC helped him prepare for “a calling,” that is, leading Marines. “And that’s exactly what he was doing in southern Iraq in the early days of the war when his Humvee crashed,” McGurn writes. Badly wounded, Dustin needed a battlefield tracheotomy to save his life. His jaw was shattered, and most of his teeth were knocked out. His driver was killed.

All of this means Dustin knows a good deal more about the reality of war than campus critics who can’t stand the sight of a uniform on the quadrangle. As Dustin told McGurn, “It always troubled me that the critics [of ROTC] would go on and on about how they despised war — as though we don’t despise war.” And he adds: “I don’t have a problem with people who choose pacifism. But we’re idealists, too. And the officers I know believe that in choosing to serve we’re living up to our ideals, not putting them aside.”

Dustin is right. The Scriptures teach that government was ordained by God to promote good and restrain evil. It’s His instrument for maintaining order in the world, whether it be through kings, judges — or soldiers. In fact, the military — because of the sacrifice soldiers make for others — may be just the highest of callings.

Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Dustin’s alma mater, put it this way: As long as we live in a world stained by original sin, nations will need armies. And as long as we need armies, it should be part of any school’s mission to ensure that their ranks are filled with the likes of Lt. Dustin Ferrell.

Other schools just might be getting the message. Another university president, Harvard’s Larry Summers, said in the wake of September 11 that colleges ought to examine what duty academia owes to the country, recalling the “special grace” attached to those willing to sacrifice their lives on America’s behalf.

That’s an important lesson for Memorial Day. We need to help our neighbors understand why a broken world needs armies and navies — and why we should demand that our universities not blacklist their members, but create an honored place for them: a place that recognizes the “special grace” of their profession.


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