Friday, May 19, 2006

a tale of two graduations

The Rutgers-Camden Law School held its graduation ceremony today, the speaker being Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), a hero of the Civil Rights movement who gave an inspirational if somewhat surprisingly bland address. Mr. Lewis was received warmly by the crowd, regardless of their political affiliation, and treated with appropriate veneration at the pre-graduation lunch.

Up the turnpike at the New School, in New York, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a likely presidential candidate, was hissed and booed as he gave his speech at that school's graduation. With the courage that only a person who knows they are in the majority can muster, a student speaker announced that she had thrown away her prepared text to challenge the choice of McCain as the commencement speaker. (The choice was apparently made by the University's President, former Senator Bob Kerrey, who--like the Rutgers audience but apparently unlike the New School--was able to respect dissenting views without necessarily accepting them.) I am only 21 years old, the student said, but I know that pre-emptive war is a dangerous concept, adding somewhat incongruously that she was also frustrated that Osama Bin Laden had not yet been captured by Allied forces.

How a 21-year old is capable of evaluating the concept of preventive war better than (say) a 65-year old Senator with a distinguished military record--and why conservatives seem more able than liberals to respect divergent viewpoints--was not made clear. (Imagine if a Rutgers student speaker had attacked Lewis for supporting affirmative action or other liberal causes.) But the irony of the situation is profound. The New School was founded by refugees from Nazi Germany, largely although not exclusively Jewish, who sought a new venue to teach the things they could no longer teach in their home country. The isolationists of the 1930s, who made more or less the same arguments as today's student speaker, helped to delay the resistance to Hitler's Germany until it was too late to save millions of victims. Whether the speaker was aware of this history, or of anything that happened before 9-11, is unclear. Thatshe failed to learn any lessons from it is obvious.


At 4:44 PM, Blogger MMF said...

Two questions:

1 - What is the relationship between the concept of pre-emptive war, and the unsuccessful hunt for Osama bin Laden?

The former is in IRAQ, and based on false (or faulty, to give the administration the benefit of the doubt) intelligence about WMD.

The latter is still on-going in AFGHANISTAN, where, at least arguably, the Taliban was acting to protect or promote al-Queda and bin Laden.

Attacking Afghanistan was not an act of pre-emptive war. And as much as the Bush administration would like to conflate the two actions, the two wars are unrelated. See the Report of the 9/11 Commission.

2 – How are the anti-war arguments of the 1930’s isolationists analogous to today’s anti-war students?

Did the 1930’s US government mis-represent, or mistake, the situation in Europe, exaggerating the supposed justification for getting involved? Was Roosevelt reduced to explaining that we could bring democracy to Europe to rationalize a poorly planned invasion?


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