A Fisking

Hey, kids! Lookit here — the world’s first self-fisking newspaper column! It’s a real juicy one by Colman McCarthy in today’s Washington Post. Now, McCarthy used to be a Post columnist, but that job was a little bit too rough and tumble for his untainted hands. These days, he finds work at the Center for Teaching Peace. But McCarthy was kind enough to take the time out of his busy schedule to throw up on your breakfast table, and so I thought I’d return the favor.


Sure, I know I told you it was a self-fisking model, but you’ve got to let a pundit have some fun now and then.

Let’s begin:

Now that asking and telling has ceased to be problematic in military circles, ROTC has resurfaced as a national issue: Will universities such as Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League schools be opened to Reserve Officers’ Training Corps since colleges can no longer can argue that the military is biased against gays and therefore not welcome?

Yes, we’re going to find out if our Ivy League schools are merely anti-military, or anti-military and hypocritical. I can hardly wait.

McCarthy describes an interview he conducted with Notre Dame’s Theodore Hesburgh, concluding thusly:

When I suggested that Notre Dame’s hosting of ROTC was a large negative among the school’s many positives, Hesburgh disagreed. Notre Dame was a model of patriotism, he 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.

So far, so good, I suppose — although Hesburgh might be shocked at just how many men and women of faith already serve. Even in the Seventies. But I digress, so let’s get to McCarthy’s point:


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?

Well. That mask came off rather quickly, didn’t it? According to McCarthy, the United States military is all hoo-rah for slaughtering people and firebombing cities and stacking up civilian skulls into mighty pyramids to Jesus. Never minding, of course, that after the American military is done doing all those nasty things, it then prefers to pack up and go home and lets the foreign survivors — if any! — go back to running their own countries.

OK, so Germany and Japan were special cases, occupied for years. But since those countries actually invented modern city-smashing and civilian-slaughtering, they were very special cases, indeed. Besides, Germany and Japan became much more civilized — thanks in no small part to that hootin’, hollerin’, and killin’ American military.

But again I digress. Back to McCarthy:

The interview quickly slid downhill.

You don’t say.

Marching on:

These days, the academic senates of the Ivies and other schools are no doubt pondering the return of military recruiters to their campuses. Meanwhile, the Pentagon, which oversees ROTC programs on more than 300 campuses, has to be asking if it wants to expand to the elite campuses, where old antipathies are remembered on both sides.


Both sides? Really? Ask an Army officer what he thinks of Harvard, and the answer you’ll hear is most likely something along the lines of “Good school.” Ask a Harvard professor what he thinks of the typical Army officer, and … well … how about we let McCarthy speak for the Great Washed? Here’s the view from the Harvard Quad:

It should not be forgotten that schools have legitimate and moral reasons for keeping the military at bay, regardless of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They can stand with those who for reasons of conscience reject military solutions to conflicts.

Such as?

They can stand with Martin Luther King Jr. and his view of America’s penchant for war-making: “This madness must cease,” he said from a pulpit in April 1967.

Actually, King was speaking quite specifically about the Vietnam War, not about any “penchant” America might have for all the firebombing and whatnot for Jesus.

Even well short of the pacifist positions, they can argue the impracticality of maintaining a military that has helped drive this country into record depths of debt. The defense budget has more than doubled since 2000, to over $700 billion.

If the Navy had the power to tax, we’d have fifty or sixty aircraft carriers — which would actually be kinda cool. No, Congress has the power to tax and spend and borrow, and Obama’s stimulus act cost more than the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, combined. This, despite all that mindless slaughtering.


They can align themselves with colleges such as Hobart, Earlham, Goshen, Guilford, Hampshire, George Fox and a long list of others that teach alternatives to violence.

And to that list, we can add … the United States military. Ann Marlowe reports:

In 15 months, from January 2007 to the end of March 2008, the U.S. Army built 53 schools just in one eastern Afghan province, Khost. (It has since broken ground on 25 more.) School attendance in the million-population province has risen from just 38,000 in 2002 with 3,000 girls attending, to 210,000 at the beginning of the 2008 school year in March, 21% of whom are girls. (Yes, in this deeply conservative, remote province, that percentage represents a step forward.)

But McCarthy can still feel all superior, reminding readers: “Serve your country after college, these schools say, but consider the Peace Corps as well as the Marine Corps.”

I’m not sure anyone is telling kids not to join the Peace Corps. But while the Army can build schools just as well as the Peace Corps can, can the Peace Corps defend those schools from vicious predators? Surely, there’s a role for everybody — even “peace studies” majors.

Read McCarthy’s next graf:

Will the Ivies have the courage for such stands? I’m doubtful. Only one of the eight Ivy League schools — Cornell — offers a degree in peace studies. Their pride in running programs in women’s studies, black studies, and gay and lesbian studies is well-founded, but schools have small claims to greatness so long as the study of peace is not equal to the other departments when it comes to size and funding.


Now would be the perfect time to remind you that McCarthy “teaches courses on nonviolence at four area universities,” and I’m sure his job prospects would be even brighter if more of those Ivy League schools offered degrees in what McCarthy is peddling. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a columnist pimp himself out quite so blatantly on the op-ed page of a great metropolitan newspaper.

But wait until you read his next graf. I have to take it one small bit at a time — our military butchers would find it “a target-rich environment.” Onward:

At Notre Dame, on that 1989 visit and several following, I learned that the ROTC academics were laughably weak. They were softie courses.

As opposed to the academic rigors of “peace studies.”

The many students I interviewed were candid about their reasons for signing up: free tuition and monthly stipends, plus the guarantee of a job in the military after college.

You mean they didn’t sign up to kill darkies for Jesus?

With some exceptions, they were mainly from families that couldn’t afford ever-rising college tabs.

Mercenaries! While I can’t find any data for ROTC cadets in 1989, McCarthy might want to update his anecdata. These days, your typical Army recruit is richer and better educated than his civilian counterpart. And retired military officers tend to do better in the private sector than civilians. Surely then your average ROTC cadet must lie somewhere above “Knuckle-Dragging Neanderthal” on the evolutionary ladder.


On then to McCarthy’s penultimate paragraph, in which he expresses his admiration for soldiers everywhere:

To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home.

See there, Mr. U.S. Marine Captain — McCarthy doesn’t hate you. Why, he thinks you’re every bit as respectable as a Taliban.

McCarthy concludes with this:

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.

And I’ll conclude with this.

That is the warrior ethic, Mr. McCarthy — and Harvard could stand a good deal more of it.

UPDATE: More from Ace.


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