- Cinnamon Stillwell
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
It's been a tough couple years for America's antiwar movement. Unable to effect change at the ballot box and frustrated by the lack of popular support for its agenda, the antiwar crowd has turned its sights on the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and other military recruitment on college campuses across the country.
It's becoming increasingly common for antiwar activists to stage protests and disruptions at college job fairs involving military recruiters. The greater Bay Area, in particular, has become a locus for such activity, with recent protests at San Francisco State University, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.
Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong or illegal with exercising one's First Amendment rights and staging a peaceful protest on campus. But activists are not content to simply protest the presence of military recruiters; they have taken to adopting stronger measures. In San Francisco and Santa Cruz, mobs of protesters disrupted job fairs, forced military recruiters to leave and succeeded in either significantly delaying or shutting down the entire event. As a result, students looking for career advice and opportunities, whether military or otherwise, were largely prevented from doing so.
If one chooses not to join the U.S. military, that's a personal decision. But to stop other students from exploring all their options is bullying at its worst. Besides being unfair, such tactics are unlikely to lead to increased support among fellow students. If anything, the opposite is true. As UC Santa Cruz student Chris Swanson put it, "If they want free speech, they should let people speak to the recruiters."
Nonviolent Pledge Rings Hollow
Antiwar protesters from the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition apparently had the same goals in mind for the UC Berkeley job fair last month. According to their announcement at IndyBay.org, they pledged to remain "nonviolent" but also to "march into the career fair and peacefully escort the military recruiters out." How one can nonviolently escort law-abiding citizens out of an event against their will is beyond me. Carrying signs that read, "U.S. Out of Berkeley" and "Get the Military off UC," it was as if the protesters inhabited a separate country. Anyone who's been to Cal may be tempted to come to the same conclusion.
In the end, their plans were stymied by the visible presence of the UC Berkeley police, not to mention an energetic group of counterprotesters also in attendance. Members of the Berkeley College Republicans and Protest Warrior, as well as wives and relatives of soldiers and others fed up with the thuggish behavior of antiwar groups, provided a lively counterpart to the protesters. Wielding American flags and signs with such messages as "Free Speech at Berkeley … Except for the ROTC," the counterprotesters chanted and sang patriotic songs. Their effort seems to have worked, because the antiwar protesters' plans to disrupt the job fair apparently fizzled. Instead, a group of them calmly got in line at the ROTC table and lectured the recruiters on the evils of the military. That must have made a big impression.
One of the reasons the Associated Students at the University of California (ASUC) gave for its opposition to ROTC recruiters on campus is that the military's enforcement of the federal "don't ask, don't tell" policy clashes with UC's nondiscrimination policies against gays. Because of that policy, the ASUC passed Resolution SB 107 last month prohibiting the use of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union (which it owns) by military recruiters. Though one can debate the wisdom of the Clinton-era policy, it has little to do with antiwar opposition to the ROTC. In fact, it's simply a fig leaf to conceal the true motives, which are antimilitary across the board. If the military suddenly decided to stop enforcing the policy, would antiwar activists then stop protesting recruiters on campus? Somehow I doubt it.
An organization called the Campus Antiwar Network serves as a clearinghouse for this growing student movement. Adherents call themselves "counter-recruiters" and gleefully boast about the U.S. Army's dwindling recruiting rates. Whether their activities have had any effect on recruitment rates is doubtful. But if they were to succeed in their goal, which is apparently to undermine the U.S. military, it's they who would ultimately pay the price. Who do they think is going to protect the very freedoms they exercise so thanklessly?
Searching For An Injustice
Despite the fact that there is no draft and that those signing up for the military do so voluntarily, the antiwar movement is determined to locate some perceived injustice. People have a variety of reasons for joining the military, various career and educational opportunities among them -- not to mention serving their country. But protesters seem unable to comprehend that people do so because they want to, not because someone forced them to sign up.
Although the idea that military recruits are disproportionately minorities (a claim campus antiwar protesters still make frequently) has been proven false, income may be a factor. It's hard to know for sure, because the military doesn't keep track of recruits' income levels. But based on education, which is often a sign of economic status, it seems likely that a fair amount of recruits come from low-income backgrounds.
The military can indeed provide a welcome escape from the bleakness of the inner cities, as well as from impoverished rural communities that offer little in the way of career opportunities. Many a young man or woman heading for trouble has been able to turn things around after joining the military and experiencing real discipline for the first time in their lives. But this is empowerment, not victimization, so why would anyone lambaste the military for providing opportunities for young people?
Antiwar activists routinely accuse recruiters of lying to prospective recruits about what to expect when they join the military. Protesters give no evidence for such accusations and have no problem impugning the integrity of the U.S. military with wanton abandon. But if one bothers to consult military recruiters, they will tell you that the last thing they want in a recruit is ignorance and unwillingness. Besides, one would have to be incredibly naive not to be aware of the nature of the armed forces before joining up. It is, after all, the military, and war and combat tend to come with the territory.
Glorification Of Deserters
For those who do manage to stumble into the military and then experience a change of heart, conscientious objector status is an option. Unsurprisingly, soldiers who take this step are the ones the antiwar crowd rallies around. One has only to locate a born-again pacifist or a deserter to find a hero of the Left. Antiwar activists simply cannot fathom that a person might actually be willing to fight and, if necessary, die for his or her country.
It's a far cry from professing pacifism to supporting the so-called resistance in Iraq, something the antiwar movement has taken up with increasing regularity. Kidnapping, beheading, disemboweling and suicide bombings are hardly acts of peace, so cheering the perpetrators on seems a tad hypocritical. Rather than being pretend pacifists, antiwar activists should just admit they're rooting for the other side.
The antiwar crowd is fond of proclaiming its "support for the troops" while simultaneously accusing the U.S. military of all sort of crimes against humanity. The good work U.S. soldiers do in Iraq (and the good news in general) is rarely, if ever, referred to. But the obsession with Abu Ghraib never ends, as demonstrated by protesters' recent commemoration of the one-year anniversary of online dissemination of photographs recording torture and mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by U.S. contractors and military personnel at that prison.
Saddam's Atrocities Ignored
Activists routinely summon the imagery of those isolated incidents and ignore the fact that it was the U.S. military itself that exposed, investigated and punished the offenders. You would never know this by witnessing antiwar activism on campus, where protesters accuse the U.S. military of "atrocities" and even "genocide" as a way to stain recruiters. About the atrocities committed by the terrorists against Iraqis and Westerners alike and the mass graves left by Saddam Hussein's barbarous regime, by contrast, they have little to say.
If antiwar activists really want to show support for the troops, they can attend local Veteran's Day parades or Memorial Day commemorations. Or join the cheering crowds of family members and well wishers who greet returning soldiers across the country. Or perhaps volunteer to put together care packages with the Blue Star Moms or countless other organizations. How about corresponding with a soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and getting to know why he or she joined the military? Perhaps the real reason you don't usually see antiwar types taking part in such activities is that it would require showing support not only for the troops but also for their country.
These days, the preferred mantra of the antiwar movement is "Support the Troops, Bring Them Home." But this is simply another way to couch antiwar sentiment in pro-troops language. There is little thought given to the implications of such action on the people of Iraq or the opinions of U.S. soldiers themselves, many of whom want to complete their mission and not just abandon the Iraqis to tyranny and slaughter.
For me, antiwar support for the troops was exemplified during the protests in San Francisco leading up to the war in Iraq. Among the various anti-American, anti-military slogans, one particularly forthcoming sign stood out: the one reading, “We Support the Troops When They Shoot Their Officers.” This offensive sentiment was captured in a photo that spread all over the Internet, surviving in infamy to this day. This is the real face of antiwar "support for the troops."
Cinnamon Stillwell is a Bay Area writer. She can be reached at email@example.com