OP-EDS

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March 3, 2006

Protesters aren’t martyrs, they’re misguided

For those who were unclear or in denial, here is a simple, indisputable truth: The University of Chicago campus is not a free speech zone. It aspires to be one, for sure, but no constitutional mandate precludes repression of free speech on this campus. It is your choice to come to this university, your choice to pay $40,000, and your choice to leave if you so desire. The College, like any private entity, is obligated to one party only: its clients, the student body. While it has an internal responsibility as an academic institution to allow freedom of ideas, the University is entirely right to weigh certain forms of free speech against the harm they can cause, and make rules as such. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to table in opposition to the Department of Defense’s implicit support of questionable interrogation tactics and military ethics. If, however, I’m a Jewish student innocently tabling for Hillel, and the guy at the table next to me is jumping up and down screaming things about Hitler Youth, guess who has the moral high ground? Thus, according to the University’s point of view, the infringement on the quality of life of its students is of higher concern than complete and unequivocal free speech.

The actual statements made in the campus recruiting protest last week were not so much the issue as the truly confrontational way in which they were presented. The protesters were arrested not for Nazi slogans, but simply because they put on such a show that they forced the University’s hand. The University had every right to remove them from campus—we would hope they would do the same if some crazy KKK members started yelling their own Nazi slogans at the same Hillel table. It is not much of a stretch for the University to view this as a case of speech that only intimidates. I reiterate: This is private property, so there is no constitutional issue. The same logic that allowed Harvard to boot its military recruiters allows us to forcibly expel the protesters if they violate University law.

Thus, Spartacus Youth Club, which plans to hold a rally in defense of these same provocateurs, will entirely miss the mark by claiming some injustice has been done to these students. The students violated University rules. They were asked to stop and instead forced UCPD to arrest them by jumping and screaming a bit more. Honestly, they have no defense. If you try to get arrested, you’re going to get arrested. It is clear that they had this goal from the start: They saw themselves as noble martyrs, self-deluded with visions of grandeur and heroism, fighting…wait, that’s right, of all causes to fight against, these intrepid, profound pillars of gallantry choose…campus military recruiting?

Of all of the issues of substance in the news today, campus military recruiting? Who cares? Let them recruit, and say no if you wish—it’s free speech, isn’t it? With the recruiters, however, no one is being oppressed, because Sergeant Sam Marine isn’t barking anti-Semitic or racist slogans at students from atop a table. And there are no issues of unfair socioeconomic targeting on our campus because, assuming we all avoid stepping on the seal and graduate, we have a world of options open to us that pay a bunch more than the military. Some people’s lives are actually enriched by serving in the military. Why don’t you go talk to the ROTC members of the campus, who are also apparently part of the “Hitler Youth” of the evil U.S. military, and tell them to leave our campus, too?

For all of these reasons, the University has decided to allow recruiters to remain on its private campus. If you have a problem with the military’s battlefield ethics, fly to Washington and protest to Rumsfeld. Or even protest here, but do so as 21-year-old informed citizens, not comically melodramatic pubescent high school theater boys. It would all be quite funny and cute, in a way, except you insensitively screamed Hitler slogans at a group of Jews—half of whom probably had a relative or two die by his hands. Your protest ended up being a travesty and a farce, as one cannot help but laugh (briefly, until the searing indignation returns) at the disproportionate aggression you used in promoting such a frivolous issue.

You are not martyrs, you are idiots. You are caricatures of yourselves, and you have actually dealt a blow to the liberal movement on this campus. You are as intellectually offensive, if not more so, than right-wing fundamentalists who claim to have Jesus on single-digit speed dial. In a way, though, you are worse, because at least the extreme Christian right is just humbly brainwashed. You, however, are blinded by your own pitiful arrogance in your megalomaniacal attempt to establish yourselves as local legends of the liberal cause. The worst offense of all, however, is that in your fit of childish sanctimony you employed methods reserved for the fundamental issues of humanity, like civil rights, independence, or apartheid, implicitly comparing yourselves to Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Mahatma Ghandi and thus torching their great legacies of protest in the process.