Un­changed and un­bend­ing cam­pus rad­i­cals

Although they still sub­scribe to killing ideas, con­ser­va­tives are not de­terred

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By David A. Keene

The Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin in Madi­son has al­ways been a bit strange. I ought to know. I was there dur­ing the wave of rad­i­cal­ism that crested in the Six­ties; I watched as demon­stra­tors car­ry­ing North Viet­namese flags stormed the school’s ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ings, burned this coun­try’s flag and fi­nally closed the place down to protest the Viet­nam War and just about ev­ery­thing else Amer­i­cans value. The pro­tes­tors cel­e­brated vi­o­lence and blood­shed as long as it wasn’t their own; the morn­ing af­ter rad­i­cal ter­ror­ists blew up a build­ing and killed a grad­u­ate stu­dent, I won 50 dol­lars. I bet a skep­ti­cal lib­eral friend that if we vis­ited the stu­dent union, within 15 min­utes we would hear fel­low stu­dents ar­gu­ing that the stu­dent de­served to die for the crime of, well, be­ing in the build­ing when the bomb went off.

There were con­ser­va­tives on cam­pus just as there are now, but most of them stuck to their books lest they be sin­gled out and at­tacked for dis­agree­ing with the rad­i­cals amongst them. When a group of them banded to­gether to form an al­ter­na­tive to the school’s left-wing stu­dent news­pa­per, their “fake news” of­fices were tar­geted and one barely es­caped as left­ist pro­tes­tors tossed Molo­tov

cock­tails at him. I was fool­hardy enough to form the first Young Amer­i­cans for Free­dom chap­ter on cam­pus. In those days, a cam­pus group had to re­cruit a fac­ulty “sponsor” and we quickly dis­cov­ered that no one wanted to be in any way associated with a bunch of con­ser­va­tives who ad­mired “ex­trem­ists” like Wil­liam F. Buckley, Jr. and Ari­zona Sen. Barry Gold­wa­ter. We even­tu­ally found a fac­ulty mem­ber who was no longer ac­tu­ally teach­ing. He agreed to serve as our cospon­sor only af­ter our pub­lic dis­claimer that he was ac­cept­ing the po­si­tion not be­cause he agreed with us, but be­cause he be­lieved univer­sity stu­dents should be free to ex­am­ine even those ideas with which they dis­agreed.

Tak­ing such a po­si­tion to­day at Wis­con­sin or any other ma­jor Amer­i­can univer­sity might prove more prob­lem­atic than agree­ing with con­ser­va­tives. To­day’s left­ist “pro­gres­sives” specif­i­cally re­ject the idea that they should ever be ex­posed to any ideas they might find dis­agree­able. The left to­day works over­time to keep in­di­vid­u­als and groups that might ex­press even main­stream mid-Amer­i­can views off our cam­puses. Wis­con­sin left­ists, al­ways a step ahead of oth­ers, were early to con­clude that the proper way to deal with dis­sent was to ban it or to at­tack the dis­senters. Madi­son rad­i­cals were early be­liev­ers in deny­ing speak­ers they didn’t like a cam­pus fo­rum..

While I was a stu­dent, some­one de­cided to host a de­bate on some ob­scure and per­haps for­got­ten as­pect of the Viet­nam War and asked me if I would be will­ing to de­bate a left-wing ac­tivist so highly re­garded that he would later be elected to the Madi­son City Coun­cil. With 600 or more stu­dents in at­ten­dance, I won the coin toss and spoke first. When I fin­ished, my op­po­nent, an ad­mirer of Cuba, Hanoi and Moscow, got up, looked over the au­di­ence and an­nounced that though he wouldn’t dig­nify any­thing I had said with a re­but­tal, he could prom­ise that come the in­evitable rev­o­lu­tion, peo­ple like me would be lined up and shot. He re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion from an au­di­ence who shared his view of the use­less­ness of free speech and tol­er­ance.

Things haven’t changed in Madi­son in the decades since although to­day’s rad­i­cals have boned up on the finer points of the way their Com­mu­nist heroes dealt with de­plorables like me. As time passed, Moscow, Hanoi and Ha­vana re­lied less on the still ubiq­ui­tous fir­ing squads and more on re-ed­u­ca­tion camps for the heretics and non-be­liev­ers.

Last week, a group of to­day’s rad­i­cals be­gan be­seech­ing fel­low Madi­son stu­dents to sign a pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing that the cam­pus YAF chap­ter I started be de­nounced as a “hate” group, dis­banded, and con­signed to the outer dark­ness for invit­ing speak­ers the left con­sid­ers ob­nox­ious to cam­pus. The pe­ti­tion­ers ap­par­ently feel that be­ing ex­posed to the ideas of oth­ers dis­rupts the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Their pe­ti­tion de­mands that mem­bers of the YAF chap­ter be sen­tenced to “in­ten­sive” di­ver­sity train­ing.

The pe­ti­tion­ers didn’t say whether their re-ed­u­ca­tion would take place in Gu­lag-like con­cen­tra­tion camps, but given the left’s ad­mi­ra­tion for the meth­ods of their heroes, one shouldn’t be sur­prised if that’s ex­actly what they have in mind.

Ideas, how­ever, are hard to kill. A South Viet­namese anti-Com­mu­nist friend showed up in Wash­ing­ton a decade af­ter the fall of Hanoi. He pre­sented me with a pipe he had buried be­fore go­ing off for 10 years of re-ed­u­ca­tion in one of Ho Chi Minh’s con­cen­tra­tion camps. When his cap­tors re­leased him as “re-ed­u­cated,” he joined those flee­ing the work­ers’ par­adise and, re­mem­ber­ing that I had been a pipe smoker, brought me the pipe.

I still have it.


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