National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
May 2, 2003

LettersThreatening Syria

The Bush administration sharply scolded Syria, alleging that it has chemical weapons and that it is harboring fleeing Iraqi leaders. It should be noted that Syria is a sovereign nation and is accountable to no one. As a sovereign nation, it is entitled to have chemical weapons just as Israel has chemical weapons and it is entitled to give refuge to anyone it so wishes without accounting to anyone. The tactics of the Bush administration are arrogant, swaggering, bullying and ill mannered. The more it throws its weight around, the more likely that terrorist attacks will occur. The blood of the victims of these attacks will be on the hands of this Bush administration. The tragedy is that it does not care.

Dubuque, Iowa

The fall of freedom

The president claims our enemies are jealous of our freedom. If that is true, then I believe collapsing the Twin Towers in New York was the perfect response because freedom in the United States collapsed with the towers.

We now have a government of, by and for the Pentagon with an enthusiastic puppet presider in George W. Bush. Perpetual warfare will become a way of life as we hunt down rogue states and Axis of Evil members and prepare to strike them preemptively.

A spineless Congress will obediently appropriate money we don’t have to allegedly make us more secure. The United States already spends as much on defense as the next 15 nations combined and still we’re not secure.

It’s time we learned that security cannot be bought with military hardware because it’s a product of a loving God and we are secure only to the degree that we promote justice and peace here at home and around the world.

Devil’s Lake, N.D.

War and the male death wish

Much as I love Tom Merton, I doubt that fear explains the ferocity of the violence from Sri Lanka, to Northern Ireland, to Rwanda, to the Middle East. Over and over our experts deplore war and ignore the historical fact: the male love affair with violence, suffering and death. (Read Josephus’ account of the sack of Jerusalem.) As Chris Hedges has pointed out in his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (NCR, Nov. 29, 2002), it is a narcotic that exalts us beyond our boring, everyday lives; it is the ultimate test of “manhood”; it unleashes huge reserves of selfless courage and taps into deep reservoirs of cruelty and hatred as it blunts the civilizing defenses of compassion and generosity. Feminists have long pointed out the link between war and sports, war and pornography. Aggressive sports like football socialize boys to the joy of aggression; the language of sports and war are interchangeable -- hence the sports analogies of military briefers. Indeed, Hedges has pointed out that some networks covered the Persian Gulf War I as if it were the Super Bowl. “To the victors belong the spoils” has always meant the gang rape of “enemy women.” Beyond the terror rape practiced in Bangladesh and Bosnia (where it was finally recognized as a violation of human rights), conquering and occupying armies must be provided with thousands of indigenous women to meet the soldiers’ sexual needs, i.e. institutionalized rape, which results in thousands of unwanted bastard children. This was true of Korean women used as sexual slaves by the Japanese army but also exists in the blighted areas around every military base.

There has always been the hope that if we eliminated poverty, ignorance, nationalism and religious fanaticism one might come close to eradicating war. But what if these are only rationalizations for overactive testosterone? How to thwart the male death wish? Certainly, it wouldn’t hurt to have more women in the corridors of power. I counted exactly one lone woman on the U.N. Security Council, and she was carefully chosen to echo the pro-war message. Women have one great advantage: They don’t have to kill to prove their womanhood.

Winsted, Conn.

Feeding the military machine

In reading the recent “Feeding the Military Machine” series of articles, I noted a substantial number of factual errors relating to the Army Junior ROTC program. While it is evident that the author of these articles is no fan of the program, I believe that the readers of this publication should have all the facts -- not just the ones selected by one who so clearly opposes the program.

The basic assertion that Junior ROTC programs are just a recruiting tool is inaccurate and clearly not supported by the facts. Only 3 percent of the 79,604 young men and women who enlisted in our Army in 2002 were from Junior ROTC. In light of that statistic, I think that the central premise of the article -- that Junior ROTC is just a recruiting tool -- is highly suspect.

I was very troubled by the inaccurate portrayal of the number of Army Junior ROTC graduates who continue on to college. The article cites a 9 percent figure. In point of fact, 54 percent of Army Junior ROTC graduates continue on to college -- and a substantial number more pursue vocational/technical training. Nine percent continue on to college-level ROTC. I leave it to the individual reader to decide if the erroneous information presented in the article was an unintentional mistake or a calculated distortion.

While presenting the case against Junior ROTC the author elected to ignore the demonstrated benefits of the program. And the fact that the program only comes to schools that take action to request it seems to have been lost in the anti-military rhetoric of the article. I would submit that the school officials clamor for these programs for a reason. Junior ROTC works. It promotes positive values of patriotism, duty, respect and loyalty. In other words, the Army Junior ROTC program lives up to its mission statement -- to help young people become better Americans.

Another error contained within the article is also worth mentioning. The author notes that the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the Junior ROTC headquarters are co-located at Fort Knox, Ky. I can only assume this statement is offered as evidence of the linkage between recruiting and Junior ROTC. In point of fact, the national headquarters for the Junior ROTC program is several hundred miles away at Fort Monroe, Va.

I hope that this information allows readers to form a more accurate picture of the Army Junior ROTC program. It is a program with a proven record of excellence. Here in Cleveland we anticipate opening four new Junior ROTC programs in the next two school years. This expansion is not the result of any covert conspiracy undertaken by the military to populate its ranks. Junior ROTC continues to grow because it is a cost-effective way to help young people reach their potential.

Concord, Ohio

William H. Willoughby is a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army (Ohio-North).

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy responds:

My premise that Junior ROTC is an extremely effective recruitment program is substantiated by information from the military. The Offices of Public Affairs for Army, Navy and Air Force Junior ROTC report that 39 percent to 43 percent of their graduating cadets either enlist or express interest in careers in the military. That number becomes 50 percent or higher when one factors in graduating cadets who pursue college with a military scholarship, which of course entails a commitment of at least two to four years in the military.

To point out that only a small percentage of Army recruits are Junior ROTC cadets does not clarify whether or not the program effectively recruits American youth. If only 100 students signed up for Junior ROTC nationwide and 39 enlisted, comprising a fraction of all Army recruits, Junior ROTC would still receive a positive rating for its ability to attract students to the military. To win over 39 percent of participants in any program can only be interpreted as a good return.

Even advocates of Junior ROTC recognize its recruiting value. Speaking before a House Armed Services Committee in February 2000, the secretary of defense, a proponent of Junior ROTC, referred to the program “as one of the best recruiting devices that we could have.”

The Public Affairs Office for Army Junior ROTC provided my information about the number of Junior ROTC cadets who continue on to college. During my initial calls (and there were several) this figure was not readily available as a percentage. Instead the number of cadets who planned to attend college was given. My notes list a total well under what Mr. Willoughby’s figure suggests. The office now tells me that Mr. Willoughby’s total is correct. Fifty-five percent of Army Junior ROTC cadets continue on to college and of that total 9 percent attend on a military scholarship, which would include ROTC.

When questioned about the post-graduation plans of Chicago’s cadets, most of whom are in Army Junior ROTC, Lt. Col. Rick Mills, director for the city’s Department of Junior ROTC, said, “Our goal is that 55 percent will attend post-secondary education.”

As for the popularity of Junior ROTC, I don’t believe my article suggested that Junior ROTC is anything but extremely popular with parents, educators and school administrators. Students give it a more mixed review. I am aware that Junior ROTC’s stated mission is to “help young people become better Americans.” But critics of the program who have scrutinized its curriculum (something few educators have done) say that Junior ROTC teaches citizenship, as it is defined by the U.S. military. In her review of Leadership Education and Training (LET 1) the Army Junior ROTC curriculum for 9th and 10th grade, Catherine Lutz, associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that the text continues to present joining the military as a citizen’s obligation. “It explicitly equates military service to voting as a form of service to the county.”

My article did not claim that Junior ROTC headquarters are located at Fort Knox, home to U.S. Army Recruiting Command. I wrote that Fort Knox is “where JROTC instructors receive their certification.” Again, my source for this piece of information was an Army Junior ROTC instructor. Any inference of linkage is up to the reader to decide.

Private devotions

I have a high regard for Fr. Richard P. McBrien’s many accomplishments and contributions to the theological academy and to the church at large. But I am dismayed by his recent column about waning devotions being a sign of liturgical health (NCR, April 4).

I presume his remarks refer to both the Euro/American and Latino communities. I think he is off the mark with regard to how popular religious expressions may be understood in the case of both groups. This is not to say that there are not important differences among the various groups that make up today’s U.S. Catholic church. Much less do I want to say that there is no truth to the point McBrien makes. He repeats long-standing criticisms of popular devotions. We’ve been there before in the spirit of Western theologies biased by the Enlightenment. The issue is precisely how today one is to understand the role of popular religion in the process of liturgical renewal in terms of contextual theology.

As a Latino theologian and pastoralist, I think his way of speaking and perspective reinforce an either/or, dialectical way of thinking about liturgy versus devotions that is not well-grounded anthropologically. He uses the term “private” with regard to devotions, but never tells us if there are “public” ones. Perhaps the official liturgy exhausts all “public” devotions. Most of the so-called private devotions I know of are quite public. This dichotomy is generally foreign to Latino experience.

What’s the problem here? Too much emphasis is given to liturgical orthodoxy and not enough to how symbol and ritual really function. Fr. Mark Francis, an outstanding liturgical scholar, pointed out long ago that the best way to proceed in liturgical renewal in the spirit of Vatican II is to approach the peoples’ devotional life with a positive attitude and familiarize oneself with it as completely as possible well before promoting any changes. Francis was talking about Latinos/as, but his suggestion, if followed, would have saved the church a lot of grief in the post-Vatican II era. Indeed, the substantive, growing discussion about popular religiosity in U.S. Latino theology shows that liturgical health can indeed be advanced by more attention to and respect for popular expressions of devotion.

McBrien begins with a reference to Fr. James Martin’s recent series of short articles in America titled “Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions.” Is not one of the points of this series that traditional devotions are alive and well and still have a positive role to play in people’s lives? I would simply suggest that those devotions need to be lived more and more in dialogue with the church’s official liturgy. Instead of detracting from it, why can’t they contribute to it?

In my years in Hispanic ministry I have personally seen the damage done by well-meaning clergy or lay ecclesial ministers who, armed with the latest wisdom of graduate schools, wreak havoc on the religious lives of God’s people. With all due respect, I plan to use Fr. McBrien’s piece as an example of how some of the Vatican II generation of mainstream theologians may have ironically become today’s theological dinosaurs or, even worse, fellow travelers with those now legendary “liturgical terrorists.”

Garden Grove, Calif.

* * *

Fr. McBrien’s logic goes awry. His reasoning:

1) In the past Catholics turned to private devotions (the rosary, benediction) when liturgy was deficient, poorly understood or failed to satisfy spiritual needs.

2) There is increased interest today in private devotions.

3) Therefore (à la McBrien) the church is spiritually healthier now than in times past.


Fr. McBrien’s implied premise is that the liturgy of today is not deficient in the ways that the pre-Vatican II Mass was.

McBrien admits that a surprising number of Catholics today are engaging in private devotions like the rosary. On his logic, the correct conclusion is that today’s “Eucharistic meal” (with a mere “presider” and a “community” celebrating themselves in a secular circular arena in the absence of a tabernacle and without a crucifix with Christ’s corpus) is deficient compared to a holy sacrifice of the Mass worshipfully offered by a priest who alone acts in persona Christi in effecting the re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father. Today’s “Eucharistic Meal” is often rah-rah mush with zero appeal to the people yearning for a sacred place, a sacred sacrifice, and sacred worship of God.

No doubt Our Lady will heed Fr. McBrien’s personal magisterum and she will never again (as she has in the past) encourage recitation of the rosary.

Spring, Texas

Ave Maria University

Thank you for Eugene Kennedy’s article on Ave Maria University (NCR, March 21). It was not, in my opinion, “silly commentary” as reader Frank Monaghan states. Ave Maria University cannot serve as a model for other Catholic institutions as its philosophy and curriculum are pre-Vatican II. Catholic college students need an all-inclusive college where they will be exposed to a variety of cultures and ideas under the guidance of a strong responsible faculty and post Vatican II religious center.

Bonita Springs, Fla.

* * *

In response to “Serpent in pizza king’s swanky Eden”: Let’s see, a devout Catholic of considerable means, Thomas Monaghan, decides to fund a university based on Catholic principles. For this, the author of the article, Eugene Kennedy, considers Mr. Monaghan to be:

a) an elitist

b) a sly opportunist

c) a capitalist (that is, a bad person to a liberal)

From reading his murky article, I consider Mr. Kennedy to be:

a) envious

b) mean-spirited

c) a fuzzy thinker

Therefore, I’ll go with the university builder with my modest pledge and leave the sideline spectator to wallow in his self-righteousness.

Ormond Beach, Fla.

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 2003