Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Despicable Op-ed in UC Irvine's New University

Reading university campus newspapers, you come across a lot of dopey stuff. I tend to go easy on student journalists because, after all, they are young people learning to write and learning about the world too.

I don't go so easy on professors who write tripe like this piece that is running in this week's New University, the campus newspaper of UC Irvine, where I teach part-time in the Extension. In the below piece, sociology professor Chuck O'Connell takes exception to the university commemorating Memorial Day. You'd better take your blood pressure medicine before you read this piece. (I have submitted a comment in the reader thread. Whether they will publish it is doubtful.)

"If a war is unjust, can those who fight it be “heroes”? If men and women fight an unjust war but think it honorable, is it not the responsibility of the university to point out the contradiction between their beliefs and reality? To not do so is to let them remain deceived and manipulated."

How is that for arrogance?

Here is my comment to the New University in the reader thread. It is awaiting "moderation".

"I don’t know if Mr O’Connell is a veteran. I am. (full disclosure: I was stationed in Germany for three years during the Vietnam war.) As a vet, I take exception to his op-ed, in which he literally spits on Memorial Day and implies that those who gave their lives for our country deserve less than our commemoration.

Mr O’Connell: If you want to get up on your soapbox and insult our military, you could choose a less auspicious occasion than Memorial Day. You should also consider this: Were it not for the United States of America, and especially our military, no country in the world would be living in freedom today.

I think your op-ed is despicable."

Gary Fouse
Adj teacher

Chuck O'Connell seems to me like one of those liberal professors with an axe to grind. The first time I caught his act was in January 2009 when I attended a day-long circus at UCI entitled, "Whither the Levant" It was non-stop Israel-bashing featuring such "luminaries" as Norman Finkelstein, Saree Makdisi and Gabriel Pieterberg  of UCLA and UCI's own Theo Goldberg and Mark ("Don't call me anti-Israel") LeVine. At one point, O'Connell appeared and gave a rambling, disorganized talk that touched on everything from the Israel-Palestinian question to the distribution of wealth, labor laws, and the US-Mexican  border. I remarked at the time that somebody needed to give the man a lesson plan.

The last time I saw O'Connell was when he brought in a crackpot anti-Israel activist anthropology professor named Jeff Halper. This guy actually immigrated from the US to Israel but now travels the world trashing his adopted country. The highpoint of the evening was when he told a student audience (plus me) about something called "spectral dust". This is a substance, you see that can be programmed with the DNA of a target you want to eliminate. Released into the Palestinian territories, it seeks out, locates and kills its target.

So much for Jeff Halper. So much for Chuck O'Connell. Tonight, I will be sending in a response to the New University with a request that they put it into their print edition next week. Whether they will or not, I have no clue. I think what I sent in to the online edition pretty much covers what I want to say here. The op-ed written by O'Connell is despicable. It dishonors our country, our military, and its dishonors our troops, past and present.

*Update: Here it is. I just sent it in.

Last week, Professor Chuck O'Connell wrote an article in New University taking issue with UCI's commemoration of Memorial Day. He  gave a list of wars with which he took issue with-all the way back to our war in the Philippines! It is not my intent here to debate our actions in each of those wars. My point of contention here is that O'Connell not only trashed our country, but our military and our troops as well.

I don't know if O'Connell is a veteran. I am though I hasten to add that I spent my three years in the US Army stationed in Germany during the Vietnam war. Thus, I hold great respect for those who have served in combat, and will respect their opinions if they are disillusioned about the wars they served in in Afghanistan, Iraq or Vietnam.

But where does O'Connell get off with statements like these?

"If a war is unjust, can those who fight it be “heroes”? If men and women fight an unjust war but think it honorable, is it not the responsibility of the university to point out the contradiction between their beliefs and reality? To not do so is to let them remain deceived and manipulated."

or this:

"Note that nothing is said about the university’s responsibility to educate students – including student veterans – about unjust wars, imperialist wars, wars of aggression and war crimes." 

I would submit that it is the veterans who can educate the university, both those vets who agree with O'Connell's opinions and those who do not. In addition, it is the university's responsibility to truly educate-not indoctrinate the students with some professor's personal view of the world.

And this:

"Note that nothing, absolutely nothing, is said about the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen – the children, the women, the men – who have died because of the American attacks. Their cumulative death toll now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Note that the flags in Aldrich Park are for the Americans only.  Note the nationalism promoted through this flag-planting ritual. Note that brown lives don’t matter. Note the racism of it all hiding behind honor and loyalty."

Outrageous. Professor O'Connell  cleverly implies here that our troops are racist killers who indiscriminately murder innocents. Not even mentioned are the actual terrorists and enemy fighters that our forces were facing in battle (Viet Cong, North Vietnamese army, Taliban, Saddam's Iraqi army, al Qaeda, ISIS etc).

O'Connell also implies that the university doesn't care about our veterans who suffer from wounds, PTSD, suicidal tendencies and homelessness. 

"Note that nothing is said of the tens of thousands of living veterans wounded by war: those with traumatic brain injury, with PTSD, with painful memories of sexual assault, with missing limbs and scarred bodies.  Neither is there any mention of suicidal vets and homeless vets.  Is it asking too much to recognize those living veterans who still suffer? Note the limitation of compassion in the silence."

O'Connell apparently thinks that it is only his crowd that cares about these issues. I can assure him that those of us who support the commemoration of Memorial Day and who support our military do care about our suffering vets. Nobody is more outraged about the well-documented failures of the Veterans Administration than vets themselves-whether we need their services or not.
Professor O'Connell: If you want to get up on your soap box and trash our country and our military, that is your First Amendment right. Guess who guaranteed that right: Our military. Have we made mistakes? Sure. Some of those mistakes were made in the context of fighting the Cold War. Now we are fighting fanatical terrorists who want to kill anyone who doesn't think like they do. But no matter what you think of our military history, were it not for the US-specifically our military- no country in the world would be free today. In my view, your article-especially questioning the commemoration of our war dead and our vets on Memorial Day- is truly despicable.
Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Gary!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

If a given war is ill considered, or unjust, the first to notice are those on the front lines. Anyone who wants to criticize a war effort should begin with what veterans had to say about it, e.g., Vietnam Veterans Against the War. (Most of them didn't have Irish maids answering the phone). From that foundation, you can move on to criticize government policy that squandered the blood of soldiers and the money of taxpayers. Could those who fought in an unjust war be heroes? Well, if Gary, an American veteran who was stationed in Germany, can say that a German soldier who sincerely believed he was defending the Fatherland in WW II is a hero, then, yes. What grates about this professor is the armchair approach -- lecturing without ever having been there.