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Another reason peace activists are not taken seriously

January 2, 2011

So, the awful policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is finally ending – and Harvard is rightly allowing the ROTC back onto its campus. While opponents of repeal might be unhappy happy about the former, surely they must be pleased about the latter. So who’s opposed to the Ivy League allowing America’s best and brightest to begin their training in college? Exactly the kind of person you’d think, Colman McCarthy. Were he not a real peace activist and former columnist, I would have assumed McCarthy was an agent in a WaPo-endorsed false-flag attack on the peace movement in particular and the left in general.

His piece begins with an explanation of his opposition to the ROTC at Notre Dame:

Notre Dame was a model of patriotism, he [the former President of Notre Dame] said, by training future officers who were churchgoers, who had taken courses in ethics, and who loved God and country. Notre Dame’s ROTC program was a way to “Christianize the military,” he stated firmly.

I asked if he actually believed there could be a Christian method of slaughtering people in combat, or a Christian way of firebombing cities, or a way to kill civilians in the name of Jesus. Did he think that if enough Notre Dame graduates became soldiers that the military would eventually embrace Christ’s teaching of loving one’s enemies?

The interview quickly slid downhill.

First off, regardless of my objections to the idea that the military needs to be Christianized, the notion that there is no Christian tradition of grappling with the problems of war and its evils is completely ridiculous. Augustine, Aquinas, Vitoria, and Niebuhr all make intellectually serious attempts to reconcile Christian principles with an imperfect, and yes, violent world. What’s most telling about this passage is the willful disregard McCarthy shows for the opinions or principles for others. His interview at Notre Dame sets the tone for the rest of the piece: complete ignorance of opposing viewpoints and sanctimonious moral disgust without any attempt at persuasion.

ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace. If a school such as Harvard does sell out to the military, let it at least be honest and add a sign at its Cambridge front portal: Harvard, a Pentagon Annex.

I do not think anyone means that by purity. Perhaps what more schools would mean by purity would be a devotion to the pursuit of knowledge and a respect for the diversity of thought that this entails, as well as some degree of willingness to extend the benefits of education to those who merit a place at the institution. Refusal to educate women or minorities taints intellectual purity. Censorship of political viewpoints in the classroom taints intellectual purity. Letting soldiers wear the uniform and receive an education at the same time? Not so.

By this standard of intellectual purity, any institution founded on the lines McCarthy advocates would clearly fail. To McCarthy, anything which might espouse a “warrior ethic,” or endorse and enable violence in any form is a threat to knowledge and education. McCarthy devalues those historians, philosophers, writers, and artists who do not share his idea in what intellectual pursuits mean. That vast majority of contributors to the body of human knowledge are no less pure or serious for their shocking refusal to share McCarthy’s opinions about war or violence. Intellectual impurity is assuming that what constitutes intellect must actually be pure – unwilling to countenance any opposing worldviews about the most serious and grave issues, including war, that the thinking person must confront.

That blinkered sanctimony, more than anything else, is what disturbs me about McCarthy and his view of the peace movement’s place in the intellectual community.

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