Jewish World Review April 9, 2003 / 7 Nisan II 5763

Thomas Sowell

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Academia and the war | Those of us whose pessimism about our country's social degeneration sometimes borders on despair have been given a reality check by the dedication, discipline, and decency of our troops in Iraq, as well as by the advanced technology of the military equipment they use. There is more than a little hope there.

A recent episode at Amherst College provides even more reason to hope, for it shows a striking contrast between the behavior of college professors and their students in response to the war in Iraq.

Here, as on many other campuses, professors began reliving their 1960s anti-war activism by trying to turn their classrooms into propaganda centers, giving themselves paid vacations from teaching in the name of moral protest, and parading around the dining hall carrying anti-war signs.

Students not only confronted these professors, one student even shoved a prof. When leftist students tried to get the Amherst student government to ask professors to take 15 minutes of class time to discuss the war, the student government refused.

One of the faculty members who seems disappointed with today's students for not joining in the festivities made a very revealing statement: "We used to like to offend people," she said. "We loved being bad, in the sense that we were making a statement. Why is there no joy now?"

The answer to that question was given years ago in an old war movie, "The Dirty Dozen," where a general says: "Major, this war is not being fought for your amusement!"

The mothers, widows, and orphans of men who will come home in body bags are particularly unlikely to be amused. Parents who are paying big bucks tuition to send their children to pricey places like Amherst -- some of these parents taking out second mortgages to foot the bill -- may also want to question what kind of education they are sacrificing to pay for, when professors act like overgrown adolescents.

None of this is unique to Amherst. A columnist in a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin at Madison criticized a professor there for cancelling classes to protest the war, saying that she should be reprimanded and a portion of the students' tuition refunded. This was once one of the most radical anti-war campuses in the country, during the Vietnam war.

At Columbia University, a professor called for "a million Mogadishus" -- the place where the naked bodies of dead American soldiers were dragged through the streets -- but students are trying to get ROTC restored.

Even in San Francisco, where street violence by anti-war rioters goes unpunished, the gray hairs among these "demonstrators" (as the press calls them) speaks volumes about the generation gap.

But, make no mistake about it, the political left is in firm control on campus and in the media. Our students get a steady diet of the left-wing vision of the world from elementary school through graduate school. But sanity breaks through now and then, partly as a result of conservative talk radio and conservatives scattered here and there in the media, but more importantly because reality breaks through, especially when life and death are involved.

Most of the young do not yet have the intelligentsia's dexterity with words to deflect evidence and evade common sense. Even before this war began, the contrast between the people and the intellectuals was apparent. The terrorist attacks of September 11th filled most Americans with shock, anger, and resolve -- except for those among the intelligentsia who saw just another opportunity to make cleverly outrageous statements against the United States.

Being clever, daring, and morally one-up are very important to those who live by words -- certainly more important than being right, and more important than defending the society which makes their freedom possible and tolerates so much of their nonsense.

If nothing else, the time is long overdue to rethink tenure that allows such self-indulgence and "faculty self-governance" which has allowed the left to blackball those who do not share their ideology, in order to keep people with different ideas from teaching and breaking their classroom monopoly.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)


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