An interesting controversy has broken out at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Several students and professors are protesting the selection of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, as the commencement speaker.
The controversy at the small liberal arts college in California has sent the Los Angeles Times into emotional hyper-drive, causing the paper to weigh in on the controversy with an editorial and an op-ed criticizing the students and faculty who are doing the protesting. (Also publishing an article on the controversy.)
The title of the Times editorial was “Students Need to Stop Being So Sensitive and Let Madeleine Albright Speak,” which was a bit misleading since the students are not threatening to prevent Albright from speaking or threatening to interrupt her talk with protests.
The students are simply expressing their objections to the selection of Albright as their commencement speaker and, at most, simply expressing a preference for someone else.
What’s wrong with that?
For their part, the 28 members of the faculty are expressing their objections to Albright’s selection by deciding not to participate on stage in the commencement proceedings. But they have all made it clear that they will appear at the commencement proceedings themselves in honor of their students.
How is that preventing Albright from speaking?
The Times accuses the students and professors of being overly “sensitive” in objecting to Albright as their commencement speaker.
Let’s consider one of the reasons for the protests: Albright’s declaration in 1995 that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the U.S. and UN sanctions on Iraq were “worth it.”
Now, ask yourself: How can the deaths of half-a-million children ever be worth anything? What could possibly be so important as to cause a person to conclude that the deaths of half-a-million children were “worth it”?
In this case, the “it” was regime change in Iraq — the attempted ouster of Saddam Hussein from power by U.S. officials and his replacement with a pro-U.S. ruler. It was that regime-change goal that caused Albright to conclude that the deaths of those half-a-million children were “worth it.”
What was it that brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children? It was the brutal system of economic sanctions that the United States enforced against Iraq for more than 11 years, both unilaterally and through the United Nations. The idea was to economically squeeze the Iraqi people so hard — to make them suffer so much economically — that Saddam Hussein, in a crisis of conscience, would surrender power, or that the Iraqi people would oust him from power in a violent revolution that would kill tens of thousands, or that the Iraqi military would take power in a coup and restore “order and stability,” much as the U.S.-installed Pinochet regime did in Chile in 1973.
Albright was serving in the Clinton administration during several of the years that the sanctions were being enforced against the Iraqi people and that were killing all those Iraqi children. When she told “Sixty Minutes” that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it,” she obviously meant it. Virtually nothing — and certainly not the lives of innocent children — was as important as regime change in Iraq.
I would be remiss in mentioning that during the 1980s, the U.S. government was partnering with Saddam Hussein — the man they could later call the “new Hitler” — in the war that he had initiated against Iran.
What’s absolutely fascinating is that the Times editorial board and its op-ed writer, Meghan Daum, seem to have little sense of moral outrage over all this. They don’t seem to view the conscious killing of the Iraqi children with the sanctions to be murder. They seem to consider it as just another public-policy controversy — a matter of political opinion.
That’s not the way that Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponek obviously viewed the killings. They were two high UN officials charged with humanitarian matters in Iraq. In a crisis of conscience, they both resigned their posts in the UN in protest against what they considered was sanctions genocide against the children of Iraq. They obviously didn’t view the matter as just another public-policy controversy involving a difference of political views.
Let’s see now. Let’s assume that the Scripps College student body had invited, well, let’s say, David Duke to be their commencement speaker.
I wonder if the Times and Daum would be saying the same thing in response to protesting students and faculty that they’re saying to those who are protesting the selection of Albright as commencement speaker. Would they be saying: “Stop being so sensitive. Let Duke speak. You don’t have to agree with everything he says. Just see if he might not open your minds to new concepts, new ideas, and different ways of viewing people and the world”?
I don’t think so. I think that they’d be screaming like banshees and encouraging protests against him.
The basic problem, then, is that the student and faculty protestors at Scripps have obviously developed a different set of values and a higher level of conscience than the LA Times editorial board. While the Times might view the U.S. partnership with Saddam, and the subsequent regime-change efforts that used the Iraqi children as pawns, and the statement by Albright (as the official spokesman for the U.S. government to the world) that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it” as just another public-policy controversy, the students and teachers who are now protesting have obviously been struck by the same deep crisis of conscience that struck Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponek.
The founder of Scripps College, Ellen Browning Scripps, stated: “The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently and the ability to live confidently, courageously and hopefully.”
It’s clearly obvious that that obligation has been fulfilled in those students who are protesting the selection of Albright as commencement speaker. Rather than defer to authority and surrender their consciences and their sense of independent thinking, which characterizes so many other people in society, the Scripps students have displayed the admirable traits that Scripps was hoping to inculcate in students at Scripps college. Undoubtedly, Ellen Browning Scripps would have been proud of the students and teachers who are protesting the selection of Albright as their college’s commencement speaker.