The Troubling Incident at Columbia

With “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed, Columbia University has quickly moved to re-examine whether it should once again formally participate in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program. At the second of three public hearings designed to gather input from the Columbia community, freshman Anthony Maschek calmly made his case for returning ROTC to campus, only to be jeered and called “racist” by other students. The incident might not have affected the larger debate, but for the fact that Maschek is also a nine-year Army veteran who received a Purple Heart after taking nine bullets in Iraq. After national media picked up the story, Columbia just as quickly moved to issue a press release condemning heckling, while also asserting that “the hearings as a whole have been considerate and thoughtful.” (It has posted an audio clip of Maschek’s testimony, including the jeers, but has not acknowledged him by name or apologized.) Perhaps more surprisingly, several pro-ROTC student campaigners have since attested to the school’s commitment to civil dialogue; for example, one veteran student told the Columbia Spectator that “the students who heckled Anthony . . . are not representative, not only of the anti-ROTC movement, but of the University.” Maschek himself agreed: “the atmosphere here has been supportive despite the actions of a very small minority of the town hall participants.” Maschek was heckled immediately after informing anti-ROTC students that the U.S. military protects them from men in “other parts of the world [who] are plotting to kill you right now . . . These people seriously are trying to kill you. They hate America, they hate you.” One of those students later explained to the Spectator why they jeered: “Maschek’s remarks implied that Iraq has attacked the United States, and that Iraqis are thus among the people who want to kill Americans. But since Iraq did not attack the U.S. on September 11 or since then . . . Maschek’s statement seemed to imply that all Muslims want to kill Americans.” It is difficult to decide which is more troubling: the apparent denial that some men really are working to kill Americans, or the bizarre inference that Maschek meant “all Muslims want to kill Americans.” Insofar as they hold such beliefs, Columbia’s anti-ROTC students betray a weak grasp on both reality and logic. Columbia is holding its final public hearing tonight. One hopes that everyone participating will conduct himself with civility—and reason.

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Jonathan Berry

Jonathan Berry is an associate at Jones Day.

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