The Citadel is not for everyone.
South Carolina’s military college in Charleston cannot be all things to all people.
In fact, its essence is that it is one thing to a few people.
As an outsider who has never passed through Lesesne Gate, much less worn the ring of a Citadel graduate, that essence seems to be creating a corps. And, in doing so, leadership emerges that can help in all walks of life.
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Citadel cadets learn that life inside those walls is not about “I.” Or “me.” Or “my.” It is about a corps.
This is why The Citadel was right to tell an admitted student that an exception would not be made for her to wear a hijab, or headcover different from the corps. She requested the exception in keeping with her faith.
But this is not about faith. It is about a corps. It is not about freedom of expression or constitutional rights. It’s about a corps. It is not about “an outdated tradition,” as defenders of the student claim. It is about a corps.
In a corps, people give up themselves for something larger.
During World War II, individuals gave up a lot for something larger. Mothers gave up their sons. Citizens gave up sugar and tires and gasoline, and a nation of individuals formed a corps that defeated sick dictators who would have quashed our cherished individual rights.
Those rights are so dear to us that people now claim rights that never existed.
Like the so-called right to wear whatever you want to wear at a military college.
A drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island told me his job is to break down the individual and then build him back up. A lot of so-called rights get trampled in there. Hair styles and dress come to mind. How about the right to pipe off at the military leader or engage in an intellectual discussion on the pluses and minuses of an order from a superior?
Apparently, uniformity is key to the tricky job of knocking down individuals so they can be rebuilt as a corps.
So now The Citadel is portrayed as insensitive, at best, for sticking to its mission of building a corps.
The student involved said it was not fair. She always wanted to go to The Citadel, and now she must give up one thing if she wants to get another.
And why is this The Citadel’s problem? It shouldn’t be. It is The Citadel that is being treated unfairly.
Perhaps the courts will be called on to sort this out. So be it.
But the bigger problem is that we have become a nation with individual rights on steroids. And our greatest moments as a nation, and as individuals, have always been when we give up ourselves for the person on our left and the person on our right.
It’s the kind of thing military schools teach very well.