Friday, September 28, 2007

Parenthood at VMI

The Virginia Military Institute is one of those places that holds onto tradition like it's going out of style (which, in most places, it is). One of the most famous features of VMI is their honor code: "A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do." For those who violate the code, there is only one punishment: a midnight expulsion ceremony known as a 'drum out.' The entire student body assembles on the parade ground and it is announced that the offender has chosen personal gain over the good of the institution and its honor. They then depart, never to return, their name never to be uttered in its halls again. Serious business...

While poking around on the internet about the Honor Code, I discovered an intriguing article written last year. A certain Nicholas Provenzo complained that VMI's throwbackishness is even more pervasive than previously thought. As the Student Handbook explains:
All VMI cadets must live in Barracks and participate in a demanding and rigorous military program that does not permit attention to the duties implicated by marriage or parenthood. Pursuant to the policy adopted by the Board of Visitors, any cadet who marries or becomes a parent is expected to resign from the Corps. Absent voluntary resignation, should the Institute confirm that a cadet is married or the parent of a child, such cadet shall be separated from the Corps for failure of eligibility at the end of the semester in which the information is received and confirmed. For the purpose of the policy, the responsibilities of parenthood are deemed to begin upon a cadet’s learning that a child has been conceived as a result of his or her conduct.

Yes, that's right. It is official VMI policy that marriage and parenthood involve duties. What's more, parenthood - and by extension, life itself - begins at conception. The tone of Mr. Provenzo's article is livid:
VMI’s policy is nothing more then a cheap way of smuggling anti-abortion policy into the Institute.
He goes on to complain,
I think VMI’s current anti-abortion policy is even worse that its previous refusal to grant admission to women. At least that policy could be defended, however benightedly, on the grounds of long-held tradition.
And belief in life from conception is not traditional? The way St. Luke writes at the beginning of his gospel you sort of get the suggestion that maybe John the Baptist and Our Lord were persons even before they were born...

In any case, props to the Virginia Military Institute for getting this one right.

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  • I'm not surprised to see something like this at "throwback" VMI. The Marine Corps (rightly, in my estimation) tried to ban recruitment of married personnel back in '93, but was overruled by the PC police. Military service on the one hand, and parenthood & married life on the other, both impose great demands upon an individual. That they might perhaps be incompatible is not at all surprising.

    In reservist units that (ought to) mobilize & deploy only when faced with a war of national survival (ala WWII), recruitment of married men is probably acceptable, and perhaps even laudatory, since it helps anchor the military with society. Indeed, if such a citizen-soldier military were raised via universal manhood conscription (as I favor), leniency WRT married men would probably be necessary in order to avoid widespread noncompliance. But a frequently deployed, professional standing military - where (as Fehrenbach puts it) "your home becomes the service, and war, any war, your profession" - is probably better off sticking with, "If the Army (or the Corps, or the Fleet) wanted you to have a wife, it would've issued you one", at least with regard to junior personnel. Even in peacetime, from lengthy (and frequent) deployments, to long nights out on guard duty or training exercises, military life really is a single man's game.

    By Blogger Avenging Sword, at 1:11 PM, September 29, 2007  

  • i'm not too hot on the idea of sinners getting drummed out of society like that... maybe it works for the military, but even within the academy, you'd think you'd get a second chance.

    By Anonymous S, at 12:59 PM, October 02, 2007  

  • I'm not necessarily sold on the wisdom of the "drum out" even at VMI; I'm definitely not advocating that the Church adopt the practice.

    But what I found striking (as did Mr. Provenzo, in his own way) was that embedded in this military code is an unmistakable insistence that life begins at conception. Period.

    By Blogger Aaron, at 6:41 PM, October 02, 2007  

  • I don't think that the regulations mentioned necessitate an assumption that life begins at conception. Another reading could be simply a woman's dependence on a man to provide begins with conception, and in that way perhaps a "family" begins then. Whether the "fetus" is alive or not the woman is undergoing physiological changes, and her place within societal convention also takes a shift.

    So, while I love to be optimistic about life, I think that this might be a misplaced optimism.

    By Blogger Nathan, at 8:08 AM, October 03, 2007  

  • Regarding the "drum out" practice, I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, zero-tolerance can be bad for risk-takers, misfits, & overly-aggressive individuals, i.e., people who are likely to run afoul of the rules from time to time, but whom you probably want to keep in the military. Punishment details I can see; but "drumming out" might seem excessive at least for a first offense.

    OTOH, consider an intelligence officer who shades the truth when analyzing the possible costs of an offensive; when the offensive gets approved, largely on the basis of his analysis, whole divisions end up in a meat-grinder, and thousands of telegrams get sent to families across America. The military is one of those professions where the consequences of error (whether accidental or deliberate) can be both grave & irrevocable. You train how you fight, so it therefore stands to reason that, even in training, the consequences of one's mistakes should be equally irrevocable (at least for some offenses).

    As for the applicability of "drumming out" to non-military contexts...recall that the military exists for a particular purpose: to fight & win wars - to break things & kill people - in defense of our country & its interests. It is not intended to be a model society, and should not be viewed as such. If the military adopts a particular rule, tradition, etc., it's probably because - in the judgment of its leaders, past & present - the practice in question is viewed as increasing the military's ability to obtain victory on the battlefield. As such, just because the military finds a particular practice useful, that doesn't necessarily mean that the same practice will prove equally useful in non-military contexts.

    By Blogger Avenging Sword, at 10:21 AM, October 09, 2007  

  • I think the policy states responsibility begins upon conception. It doesn't state life begins then. It is about holding one accountable for their actions, not a statement for or against abortion. The author of the article had a mindset and agenda going into his writing and drew his conclusions to fit his opinion.

    By Blogger Joshua, at 4:57 AM, May 07, 2010  

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