The University of Virginia erred mightily when it decided to eliminate the ROTC’s traditional 21-gun salute, along with other changes, as part of its Veterans Day program.
The decision sends an insulting message to veterans and other patriots.
It also, ironically, sends an unfortunate message about students: That they are too fragile, too delicate, too distractible to deal with the “interruption” of the salute. That they are too insular, too wrapped up in their own worlds to comprehend and accept this longstanding practice. That they must be protected from the reality that exists outside academia.
The reality is that men and women have died, and others have suffered grievous injury, in order to ensure that students can freely study at this university and others, to ensure that faculty can freely teach.
The reality is that this nation has a long and respected tradition of honoring veterans in public displays, including the 21-gun salute, the highest of honors.
The reality is that UVa is out of step with many in this community, which it aspires to lead, by its decision to downplay the Veterans Day program.
UVa announced that it would eliminate the 21-gun salute “in order to avoid class disruptions due to noise,” according to a university spokesman.
It also rejected the use of amplified music.
Cadets graciously say that the changes will not detract from the solemnity and purpose of their program, which includes a 24-hour vigil, ending at 4 p.m. Nov. 12. The vigil occurs at UVa’s McIntire Amphitheater.
The cadets of Air Force ROTC Detachment 890 choose to honor a specific cadre of veterans — those who remain missing in action. There are 82,000 MIAs, from World War II on, according to a Department of Defense agency.
Detachment 890 is made up of students from UVa, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Liberty University and James Madison University.
The salute usually performed by the color guard from local American Legion Post 74.
Noise disruption to nearby classes is the only reason offered by UVa for canceling the 21-gun salute and the amplified music.
We actually might have more respect for the university if it had said that the sound or appearance of rifles might be too upsetting to students who have grown up in a world of classroom shootings; who experienced — either in person or indirectly — the trauma of violence in Charlottesville and on Grounds in 2017, and who in general have been emotionally conditioned by a constant undercurrent of fear and potential danger.
But eliminating the salute because it disrupts classes strikes us as a flimsy justification.
A few moments of distraction is of infinitesimal importance compared to the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform.
It’s a small, simple sacrifice that students, faculty and staff can make to honor the fallen, the missing and all veterans who have preserved this country’s freedom — and fought and died for freedom in other lands, as well.
In fact, UVa could use this as a teaching moment. Instead of eliminating the 21-gun salute, it should allow the program to proceed as in the past — and make sure students know why.
An explanation of the ceremony, a history of the 21-gun salute, a discussion of the importance of Veterans Day, even just a moment of reverent silence — any of these could be incorporated into the university’s classes.
And any of these would be an improvement over the university’s recent decision.