AP Photo/Steve Helber
Last week, citing fears of “gun violence”, the University of Virginia dropped a a 21-gun salute to veterans that’s been a part of the university’s Veterans Day celebrations for a decade. Now, after days of backlash from veterans, alumni, and students, the university is reversing the decision for next year’s commemoration.
University President Jim Ryan announced the change Saturday. In a Facebook post, Ryan wrote, “Sometimes you make mistakes.”
The salute has been part of ROTC ceremonies for at least a decade. It normally occurs at the end of cadets’ 24-hour vigil on Veterans Day,
University officials had said the decision to nix the salute was made to avoid disrupting classes. Ryan also cited concerns about national gun violence and firing weapons on campus.
President Ryan got an earful from those who were ticked off that the 21-gun salute to veterans had been cancelled for what appeared to be reasons of political correctness. In his Facebook post over the weekend, Ryan said that the intentions behind the cancellation were good, but it was still a mistake.
Although motivated by good intentions, I believe we made a mistake this year in excluding the 21-gun salute from our Veterans Day ceremony. Having attended the ceremony, and having consulted with the Commander in charge, I am confident that we can accommodate a 21-gun salute, which had been a meaningful feature of the ceremony in years past. We will therefore reinstate the 21-gun salute next year, and we will make sure to minimize any disruptions to classes and communicate the details of the ceremony in advance.
Thanks to all who shared their views about this topic, and my sincere apologies to any who may have doubted our commitment to honoring our veterans, whom we hold in the highest esteem and who deserve our gratitude.
Personally, I didn’t see the move by the university as an insult to veterans as much as it was an insult to students, who the university decided to treat as children who couldn’t handle the sound of a rifle volley without freaking out. There were still ceremonies on campus on Veterans Day celebrating and acknowledging those who’ve served, even without the 21-gun salute. In fact, Ryan and the other backers of the ban on the rifle salute made it clear that this wasn’t a move aimed at veterans. I think the university president is being a little disingenuous by now casting this move as something that was seen as anti-veteran, when most of the objections that I saw were from folks angry and upset that the university was taking a reflexively anti-gun position.
Still, as one faculty members at UVA noted, at least the mistake has been acknowledged and corrected.
“The 21-gun salute in our Veterans Day ceremony is a treasured part of the University’s demonstration of its gratitude to America’s veterans,” Sabato wrote. “We all make mistakes, and we all need wisdom and humility to correct our errors. Thank you to President Jim Ryan for doing the right thing. Now let’s move forward together without rancor or second-guessing to focus on the big challenges ahead.”
The second guessing will likely continue, and I imagine that Ryan has lost the trust of some in the UVA community because of the bad instincts on display in banning the 21-gun salute to veterans. Doing the right thing belatedly is better than not doing the right thing at all, but Ryan and the University of Virginia caused this controversy by not simply sticking with the tradition. They decided to fix what wasn’t broken, in other words, and ended up doing more damage of their own than the 21-gun salute ever did.