Monday, February 21, 2011

Dear Columbia Undergraduates: Please Turn In Your Liberal Credentials at the Nearest Commune

Let me tell you something, youngsters. I’ve been a liberal since long before you were born. So, I get a little tired of the shrillest among you trying to define what it means to be liberal.

Okay, wait. Let’s back up a step. I’ve got nothing against youthful liberalism; in fact, I was a youthful liberal once – when Ronald Reagan was president. I was your age back then, so I know all about youthful liberal idealism. In spades. But maybe you need a few grey hairs before you realize just how completely unacceptable this is:

A wounded Iraq war veteran and Columbia University freshman was jeered during a meeting about bringing ROTC back to the school, the New York Post reports.

Anthony Maschek, a wheelchair-bound Purple Heart recipient who was shot 11 times during his time in Iraq, was hissed and booed at when he spoke in support of ROTC during the Feb. 15 town hall meeting. Some students shouted “racist” during Maschek’s testimony, during which he stated, “It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war. It doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting. There are bad men out there plotting to kill you.”

To be frank, I don’t really know what Mr. Maschek meant by “[t]here are bad men out there plotting to kill you,” nor do I know what that had to do with the debate about allowing ROTC programs to return to Columbia. Assuming the “bad men” he’s referring to are al Qaeda or other similar terrorist networks, our current military entanglement in Iraq has nothing to do with them and never did; and as for Afghanistan – the original rational for which was to strike back at al Qaeda and its symbiotic host, the Taliban – there’s a strong argument that that war now serves only to create willing terrorists and therefore makes the United States less safe.

That, however, is just a difference of opinion, albeit a difference of opinion over a very important issue as to which I’d expect people to have strong views; it doesn’t justify hissing and booing a man who did his time over there and who suffered severe injuries because of it. If you don’t like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (I don’t), by all means feel free to say so. And if you want to have an honest, intelligent debate with anyone – including someone who served in the wars – of course that’s your right.

But if you act like a jackass in the process, you make us all look like jackasses.

Here’s the thing, youngsters. Somehow you’ve got the idea that being liberal and being opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan means you’ve got to be anti-military. And more than being anti-military in the abstract sense of, I don’t know, disliking the institutions of the military, you seem to think you have to prove your liberal cred by being rude and insulting and, frankly, malicious, towards anyone who’s ever served … including a guy who left his ability to walk behind in the Iraqi desert. Which means you need a damn civics lesson.

So, let’s review. People who enlist in the military take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; [to] bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and [to] obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [them], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” That means that if you enlist in the armed forces, you don’t get to choose which military campaigns you participate in; you don’t get to simply opt out of a war if you think it’s not properly justified (as in the case of Iraq) or if you think, justified or no, the costs outweigh whatever theoretical benefit could come from it (as in the case of Afghanistan). Of course, you have an obligation not to follow unlawful orders, but so far as I know no one has ever successfully argued that that means a soldier or marine can refuse to deploy because he or she thinks the president lacked sufficient justification to go to war, or because he or she thinks a particular war was a bad idea.

In other words, the people responsible for making the horrible decision to go to war in Iraq (and the just plain bad idea to go to war in Afghanistan) are (or were) in Washington, D.C. Period. You blame the politicians for those horrible or bad decisions. You don’t blame the men and women in uniform

Let me say that again: You don’t blame the men and women in uniform.

But anyway, if you believe that having a military is necessary to protect our country in the 21st Century – and make no mistake about it: I believe exactly that – then this is what you end up with: You end up with young men and women who are willing to take that oath, willing to join the military and thereby potentially risk their own lives to do something that we (or at least I) believe is necessary to do; and it seems to me the rest of us should be pretty damn glad there are people willing to do that, whether or not our political views happen to mesh.

And another thing: If we’re going to have a military, why wouldn’t we want to have at least some of our military personnel get an Ivy League education? I understand why Columbia and other institutions banned ROTC programs while the military persisted in discriminating against gay and lesbian service members. If an institution had an across-the-board antidiscrimination policy the military shouldn’t have been entitled to special treatment, and I applaud Columbia and other schools for sticking to their guns. But Congress (finally) did the right thing and repealed the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy last December, and the armed forces are now in the process of implementing the repeal. So the time has come to allow ROTC programs back on all college campuses – especially the most prestigious – because in the long run the military and the country as a whole are better served by having highly educated, highly trained military personnel.

Which brings me to the real point of this discussion. When, exactly, did we liberals decide to shun not only the institutional military but the individual men and women who serve? When did we decide America should be segregated into those who serve in uniform and the rest of us who are – what? – supposedly better than they are? If you ask me, all we’ve done is to cede the military – and not just its leadership but its rank-and-file membership – to the other side of the political aisle, and I don’t see how that’s good for anybody.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.


  1. This should be published in all major newspapers across the country. The young men and women in the military sacrifice more than most people can ever imagine. Juanita - California