‘Students Against the War’ Protests Hinder Practice of Free Speech

    Militant students against peaceful recruiters — talk about role reversal.

    The roles of students and military recruiters are not the only thing off balance at UC Santa Cruz, however.

    While it’s generally true that the liberal slant of college campuses acts as a catalyst for protests against war and in favor of free speech, for UC Santa Cruz’s Students Against the War protestors, balancing these opposites produces a major hypocrisy.

    Equally worrisome, however, is the inefficiency of the student organization’s methods for promoting their anti-war attitudes in a manner that will allow them to bring about change.

    At UC Santa Cruz’s April job fair, S.A.W. members exercised their right to free speech by protesting against the presence of military recruiters at the annual university event. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that over 200 students appeared to protest at the job fair and were “shouting and banging on windows,” stirring enough commotion to cause the departure of the recruiters.

    While it was not quite the exodus that military recruiters might like people to think, their withdrawal from the fair exposes an idiosyncrasy within the protestors’ anti-war campaign. The organization promotes a personal exercise of free speech against a government institution, but at the same time protests against an exhibit of free speech by the same institution they oppose.

    No matter how unpopular the war in Iraq may be, the fallacies of its cause, the perils of its continuation or the hindrance on peace brought by its persistence, asking for a silent enemy would be promoting an unfair and partial notion of free speech.

    Sure, the majority of college students disapprove of the war, and rightly so, but that has very little to do with the right of military recruiters to peacefully bring students into their fold.

    Recruiters have the same right to wave their flags in support of spreading democracy abroad as a college student does to wave signs of disapproval for a war that consumes innocent lives while fueling division within the participating countries.

    According to the Solomon Amendment, upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year, universities that receive federal funding are required to permit military representatives to recruit in the same manner as all other company recruiters, but must allow student protests regarding military presence.

    In the court’s decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “students and faculty are free to associate to voice their disapproval of the military’s message. Recruiters are, by definition, outsiders who come onto campus for the limited purpose of trying to hire students — not to become members of the school’s expressive association.”

    A recent article in the Washington Post noted that most schools simply are not willing to forgo their federal funding, to the tune of about $35 billion per year, because some students do not agree with the presence of military officials on their campus.

    While the incomplete notion of free speech weakens the platform of S.A.W., equally debilitating to the organization’s cause is its misguided protests.

    S.A.W. should keep in mind that while recruiters may paint a distorted picture of military life at war in glory and patriotism, ultimately each enlistee makes his or her own decision and must be held accountable.

    The issue comes down to protestors unknowingly misdirecting their energy in a manner that is most inefficient for their cause of reducing the number of enlisting persons.

    “In order to stop the war, you have to make it more difficult to wage war,” said Marla Zubel, a member of the group.

    If protestors like Zubel want to make it more difficult to wage war, keep students out of the armed forces and decrease the success of military recruitment practices, they ought to educate the masses about the severity of the havoc, the despair of the casualties and the impact it will have on their lives. They are going to have to break down the conviction and replace it with a touch of fear.

    Rather than vigorously trying to prevent students from having any contact with military recruiters, S.A.W. would do best to acknowledge the military’s presence, accept it and learn to bypass it by more creative means.

    Moreover, protestors cannot continue marching with the heavy hooves of horses, for it impedes on the rights of some of their fellow students, whose access to a variety of job opportunities was hindered by the weighty convictions of the organization.

    According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, there were several interested students unable to speak to the military recruiters on campus for the job fair as a result of the student protests. It is unfair for the organization to take away the opportunities of others in its fight against the war by acting in such a manner so as to cause recruiters to leave the school.

    In order to be effective at all, the protestors are going to have to balance free speech with anti-war sentiments and are best off doing so by educating rather than fighting.

    Ultimately, it’s a balancing act.

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