Panel asks if program displays values of character or contradicts religious values
November 9, 2017
Mere days before Veteran’s Day, a panel of differing viewpoints was held to discuss the role of ROTC on a Catholic, Jesuit campus.
The Rev. Dr. Diana Gibson of the Religious Studies department introduced the panelists, but not before reaffirming that the evening’s event was not a debate, rather a way to expand discussion and probe the perspectives of others with honesty and respect.
“We are not here to water down anyone’s understanding, but to enrich it,” Gibson said.
The panelists included Tom Massaro, S.J. of the Jesuit School of Theology; Fumi Tosu from Casa de Clara, the local Catholic Worker (CW) house; and Cpt. Dan Fisher, a training officer and professor from the department of Military Science at Santa Clara.
Each had roughly 10 minutes to explain their stance on the subject.
Thomas Massaro, S.J., is a Jesuit of the Northeast Province who came to JST in 2012. After serving a four-year term as Dean, he will begin full-time classroom teaching in September 2017.
Massaro went first. As a professor of moral theology for 20 years and the author of “Catholic Perspectives on Peace and War,” he had a lot to say about how “the devil is in the details.”
“I firmly believe in the good intentions of people who have different conclusions—they all want peace, they all want to build a more peaceful world. Whether it’s a person more on the pacifist or non-violent end of the spectrum, or someone who can justify a sizable army and the use of military force on occasion, they’re both aiming on peace, but they have different means to get there,” Massaro said.
“We live in a complicated world. If there were no evil-doers in the world, if there were no people that wanted to take advantage of other people, then we wouldn’t even have questions about the use of force,” he said.
Massaro also explained that although the Bible portrays violence, it does not condone it, for “blessed are the peacemakers” and as one of the Ten Commandments states, “thou shalt not kill.”
Next was Fisher, a graduate of West Point who served 10 years in the U.S. Army. He said that ROTC produces over 70 percent of officers for the Army and the bulk of them come from universities.
According to Fisher, 75 percent of nation’s Jesuit colleges and universities have ROTC programs, and Santa Clara’s is the oldest on the west coast—1856 was the first year of military training on Santa Clara’s campus.
During the Vietnam era, there was a heated debate about the justification of the program, in which the faculty and the students “overwhelming voted in support” of keeping ROTC on campus.
Fisher spoke of how Santa Clara students embody the ideals of a military leader.
“Why would we not want graduates from this university to be in our army?” Fisher said. “This is a great university, diverse viewpoints is expressed here. These students are well-equipped to be leaders, not only in industry, but in the military as well, if they so choose that,” Fisher said.
“In the military, we really want well rounded people. We want the whole person, which is keeping with the Jesuit tradition.”
Fisher spoke of how he was a senior in high school in New Jersey during 9/11, which spurred his decision to attend West Point and join the military.
He also noted how the military is involved in activities besides war, such as the Army engineers currently restoring power in Puerto Rico to those who have been in the dark for several weeks.
“In any humanitarian disaster on our planet, the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, we’re there,” Fisher said. “We are oftentimes the only thing capable of offering support in those periods.”
Then came Tosu’s turn to speak. He represented the position of “principled non-violence” that is adhered to as part of the CW movement.
Casa de Clara shelters homeless women and children, distributes groceries to people in their neighborhood and offers mobile showers to those living on the streets.
He was arrested by SCPD in Oct. 2016 in front of the Mission Church for an unsanctioned, nonviolent protest calling for an end of the ROTC program at Santa Clara.
He read part of the Soldier’s Creed from the Santa Clara Army ROTC Cadet handbook aloud, quoting “I am an American Soldier … I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States in close combat.”
He questioned how a Catholic school can reconcile those words with the words of Jesus, who said, “love your enemies.”
After the three men spoke, they had time to respond to each other’s statements. They agreed that war is a constant throughout history and sometimes diplomacy fails. The question remaining is whether war can bring peace.
The last 10 minutes were reserved for questions and brief comments. Gibson reminded the audience that they were all gathered to “deepen and critique our own perspectives and to learn together.”
One questioned Fisher’s use of the word “patriotism,” whereas another commented how Santa Clara is an “amazing” place to train people to go to war and produces leaders with high moral character.
The hour-long panel began at 5:30 p.m. in the Unity Commons and was sponsored by the Religious Studies Department, Unity RLC and Casa de Clara Catholic Worker.
The event was wellattended by 40 people, though several students admitted they were present in order to receive extra credit. Six Campus Safety officers manned the doors.
The talk was part of the “Living with Purpose: What do local faith communities teach us about Discernment, Service and Resistance in Challenging Times?” series, which aims to engage the Santa Clara community by learning what faith-related organizations are doing in Silicon Valley.
According to professor Philip Riley, the series grew out of meetings between him, Gibson and individuals associated with CW, chiefly Tosu.
The three started meeting last spring after Tosu’s arrest to explore ways the university and Casa de Clara could collaborate. According to Riley, they each had different interests that brought them together.
Riley described the Tuesday panel as “something of a pilot” to see if Santa Clara students are interested in local activist organizations and nonviolence.
“We will probably do something similar in the spring, and we are also exploring a course that engages local organizations like Catholic Worker in justice and related issues,” Riley said.
Related to the panel, there is a peace vigil and protest scheduled on-campus for Nov. 16 at 4:30 p.m. Activists including students, alumni and Catholic Workers are planning to gather in front of the Mission.
“We have contacted the Office of the President, and we hope that we will be permitted this peaceful prayer vigil, and that the situation will not escalate as it did last year when the SCPD arrested me in the Mission Church,” Tosu said.
Contact Erin Fox at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.