A new Tennessee-based, all-male military school hopes to bring back the traditions of the original Virginia Military Institute by focusing on Christian principles and teaching the history and heritage of the Deep South.

Flag of the Southern Military Institute.

The Southern Military Institute – founded Aug. 20, 1997, by Dr. Michael J. Guthrie, a 1977 VMI graduate – is still in the planning and organizational stages, but officials say they are seeking qualified student applicants and will break ground on a new campus as soon as land can be procured.

“Realistically, it will probably be fall 2004 before we begin classes,” he told WorldNetDaily. He says he expects 30 students to be enrolled initially; more than 100 have applied, he said.

Guthrie, a lieutenant colonel in charge of a field artillery battalion in the U.S. Army Reserve, said board members are negotiating for a 450-acre plot of land in Shelbyville, Tenn., south of Nashville. He said construction would begin immediately after land had been procured.

According to a published description, the school will offer students degrees in engineering and sciences that will emphasize “the foundations of Christian faith and morality.” Classes will also focus on “the history of Western Civilization, American politics, Constitutional studies and military history.”

“SMI will be steeped in Southern tradition and will re-establish the all-male Corps of Cadets, the Gentleman’s Honor System, the ‘Brother-Rat’ Class System and the traditional ‘Ratline’ basic-training system,” says the description. “SMI will sponsor programs that advance the knowledge and awareness of Southern history and culture, including the honoring of Confederate Memorial Day and New Market Day, which celebrates the valor of the VMI cadets at the Battle of New Market, Va., on the 15th of May, 1864.”

An account of the ratline posted at VMI’s website says it is “an indoctrination experience that is designed to instill and reinforce personal character traits that will serve you throughout your life.”

“Rats,” a term given to first-year students, endure a program “specifically tailored to foster self-confidence and physical conditioning in new cadets by creating training situations, stressful enough to demonstrate that the new cadets are capable of performing tasks which surpass their previously self-imposed mental and physical limits,” says VMI. The program is run by senior cadets.

“The new cadets can expect to participate in forced marches, pugil stick fights, high-level entries into water, obstacle courses, rappelling, rock climbing and runs up to five miles,” says VMI.

The Virginia institute’s ratline became a subject of controversy when, in 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled women must be accepted into the previously all-male, state-supported school. Critics of the school said the ratline was too harsh for women, but VMI still requires men and women cadets to be subjected to it.

School founders and organizers say they are working to get the college accredited. They also say students must first enlist with Army and Air National Guard units as a prerequisite to attending SMI.

“SMI offers a traditional Southern military education, training young men to be leaders and citizen soldiers using the proven and established ‘whole man’ concept,” says the school’s narrative. “The founders and the Board of SMI believe that a strong Christian foundation is essential for any educational program. Therefore, SMI is first and foremost a Christian-based college.”

The narrative also states, “Southern traditions that have been tarnished and almost lost will live again at SMI. The concept of an officer and a Southern gentleman will be the standard, not the exception.”

“Honesty, integrity, courtesy and respect for all men and women regardless of race, position or economic standing will be taught and required,” it says.

Guthrie said he and fellow administrators had received “about 50” letters of complaint over the past six years since the concept of SMI was developed. Most branded the school racist, but, he said, with each bout of negative publicity, “we were inundated with requests from potential financial backers who would contact us and ask us what they could do to help.”

“We’ve had much more positive feedback,” he said.

Guthrie said the school would not be accepting any federal or state funding, so administrators are confident they can keep the school completely independent.

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