ROTC Commissioning Ceremony
Remarks by President Ronald J. Daniels
“Patriotism, Valor, Fidelity and Ability”
May 29, 2009
(Introduction by Blue Jays Brigade Commander Lt. Col. Steve Pomper)
Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel Pomper.
I am truly delighted to be here today.
As you know, tomorrow I will have the privilege as Johns Hopkins’ 14th President to officiate at several different Commencement-related events on our campus. Each of these events will be suffused with meaning and solemnity. Of challenges met, of aspirations honored, and of possibilities realized. It is an exhilarating time.
But as important as these events are, there is something uniquely special, something deeply moving about this Commissioning Ceremony. Perhaps it is because the Blue Jay Battalion is among the first and longest-serving ROTC programs in the nation. Perhaps it is because of the considerable distinction that members of this Battalion have earned over the years. It is my understanding that this Battalion has produced more than 50 generals and admirals among the 2,245 commissions that have been granted since 1916. But most likely, the significance of this event reflects the noble call to service and to leadership that you, the newest members of the Battalion, are honoring.
As our corps of cadets knows so well, leadership in the military is defined by the idea of service. Our commissionees today are not taking a job where they will be in charge of others. They will be responsible for others. There is a world of difference between those two notions.
It is the seriousness of your choice, and the significance of your chosen vocation, that we recognize today.
It is this purposefulness that makes you uniquely different from many of your classmates. Most of the students on a college campus are engaged, while they are here, in a process of discovering themselves. You will no doubt have done that. But your process of self-discovery has been animated by a special cause – that of service to others — in particular, to the nation and to the soldiers who will be placed in your command.
That you have committed to military service at this time in the nation’s and, indeed, world’s history is a mark of your courage and idealism. It is trite to say that we live in a time of tremendous promise but also of tremendous peril. The country is currently engaged in two difficult wars in the world’s least stable region. There is every prospect that these conflicts, if not suppressed, will affect neighboring states that possess a lethal brew of fragmented state authority, indigenous terrorist movements, and nuclear capability. And there is also the challenge of ascending global rivals who do not share our commitment to democratic institutions and liberal values.
Given this backdrop, there is an urgent call for maturity on the part of all of us to acknowledge that we live in a world where the prospects of another 9-11 event cannot be dismissed as fanciful or far-fetched. The challenge is determining how protect our core institutions and remain faithful to our core principles. However this challenge is addressed, there is no gainsaying that a strong, capable and smart military is part of that solution.
Sun Tzu, one of the first recorded military strategists, wrote over 2,500 years ago – “know yourself and know your enemy, and in a hundred battles you will never lose.” You are about to become young leaders in one of this nation’s great institutions, at a time when the struggle to know ourselves, to understand who we are, has never been greater than any time since Vietnam.
Knowing who we are is crucial on so many levels, not least of which is on the field of battle. I would suggest to all of you that the place to begin looking for answers is the Constitution of the United States — the system of values that you are will soon be swearing to support and protect.
Today, in the presence of your classmates and families you will swear an oath of office. The language in that oath is derived directly from the oath of office of the President of the United States, dictated in Article 2 of the Constitution.
We often hear in the popular press the notion that you are here to defend the United States. In fact, as you all know, the oath you are about to take commits you to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The difference may sound trivial, but it is not.
Today you are pledging to uphold the system of laws by which we agree to be governed. This is not an oath to defend any specific territory or persons or property. And while enlisted soldiers have a somewhat different pledge, by which they swear to obey all lawful orders, by taking this oath officers in the service of the United States are bound to disobey any order that violates the Constitution of the United States. It is not your guns, not your weapons, but your unstinting devotion to this sacred vow that forms the best and most durable bulwark in defense of our liberties.
It is so important for all of us to remember that the army in a democracy wields not just military force, but moral force as well.
Fifty years ago, when African Americans were, in the words of Martin Luther King, “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination,” President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 that marked the end of segregation and racial discrimination in the armed services. Years before the March on Washington, years before the Civil Rights Act, and a universe away from imagining an African-American Commander-in-Chief, the American military was told by its civilian command that justice and fairness and equality were the paramount virtues of American society.
Not everyone in the military was pleased with the order and some, no doubt, were deeply opposed. The tenets of leadership were tested, and in the end the professionalism and fealty of the American military prevailed.
I am one of those who believe a similar day will soon arrive when the military is instructed by its civilian leadership that we will no longer discharge soldiers who have served honorably but are unwilling to abide the onerous restrictions imposed on an integral and non-negotiable part of their lives under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And this is as it should be. And, when that day arrives, it too may test your leadership or the leadership of your fellow officers — just as the Truman Order tested the leadership of the military to implement a policy which was not welcomed by all.
But in this, as in all the tests you will face, I have no doubt you will fare honorably and well, and display leadership worthy to the occasion.
It is for this reason your senior officers place special confidence in your patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities.
Johns Hopkins has a long history of singling out young people of exceptional promise. Rarely have we been disappointed, and I have every confidence that our faith in these soon-to-be second lieutenants will be fully and completely confirmed.
This afternoon we have gathered to applaud the newest members of the Blue Jay Battalion. All of you are to be congratulated for having completed rigorous academic studies at Johns Hopkins or other neighboring schools while fulfilling the requirements of the ROTC program. This was not an easy task. These achievements were not lightly won. But having made them, you have earned a special mark of distinction among all our graduates, and can claim not only our admiration, but also our enduring respect.
Congratulations graduates. You have achieved much. We are enormously proud of you, of your courage and convictions, and of the commitment you have made to your country.