Watching our Birkenstock-clad peers shout down U.S. military supporters outside the Marine Corps Recruitment Center in Berkeley last week, I couldn’t help but reflect on the meaning of tolerance and its place in American society. “Tolerance” has long been the American left’s cause célèbre—but the activists on Shattuck Avenue last week sure weren’t showing much of it.
Even more regrettably, neither were Berkeley’s lawmakers, who touched off the whole affair by unlawfully asking the recruitment center to pack up and leave town in a January 29 City Council meeting. National outrage forced the council to rescind its original statement on February 12; but it couldn’t force the spirit of tolerance into Berkeley residents. After a day-long protest on February 12, anti-war groups such as Code Pink and World Can’t Wait returned every day for the rest of the week, only to find the recruitment center dark and the military supporters whom they had harassed gone. The center remains open, but Berkeley’s leaders have made their feelings clear by formally restating their opposition to military recruitment and by granting exceptional noise and parking permits to enable the anti-war protestors.
It’s not hard to find similar examples of growing left-wing intolerance closer to home. Our own campus ROTC program was shut down 30 years ago after Stanford’s Faculty Senate stripped ROTC instructors of their status as faculty. The official justification—that ROTC programs were not academically rigorous enough to meet Stanford’s standards—was dubious during the anti-war political fervor of 1969; it’s downright laughable in 2008, when students receive academic credit for band or beginning dance classes. Stanford cadets still don’t receive credit for hours spent in military science classes at neighboring universities, which fail to gain approval for “rigor and applicability” by any established degree program at Stanford. This situation says far more about the History, Political Science, and American Studies Departments at Stanford than it does about the academic suitability of ROTC classes. Teaching the history of sexuality in the U.S. is tolerated; the history of U.S. sea power and maritime affairs is not.
Earlier this month as part of the Islamic Awareness Speakers Series on campus, UCLA Law School professor Khaled Abou el-Fadl slammed the American “intolerance” of Islam, epitomized (in his eyes) by authors such as Robert Spencer and Mark Steyn, claiming that their denunciation of Islamic terrorism is enough to justify the ultimate act of intolerance—murder in the name of a particular ideology.
The list goes on and on; but the trend is already clear—government and education are often not the bastions of tolerance which they profess to be. This intolerance is not exclusive to left-wingers; whichever ideology is in power at a particular institution is probably always tempted toward intolerance. However, academia is utterly dominated by left-wing “thought”, and in academia such intolerance is both especially wrong and especially obvious when it’s directed at the United States military.