Do war protests hurt morale?
A professor said less value is placed on universities as the marketplace of ideas.
& lt;a href=mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org & gt;By DAVID SKOLNICK & lt;/a & gt;and JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
YOUNGSTOWN -- Although soldiers fighting in Iraq have much more pressing issues to worry about, anti-war protests both home and abroad could have an impact on some of them.
"It may cause a certain portion of the military to wonder what's going on," said Dr. Keith Lepak, a Youngstown State University political science associate professor and coordinator of the school's Peace and Conflict Studies Program. "They don't know what to make of the protests."
Carl Whalen of Salem, who fought during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, said many of the members of the military currently stationed in the Middle East are young, nervous and under a great deal of pressure. The anti-war movement only adds to their stress, he said.
"I can't understand anyone with common sense, who knows what's going on over there, who can go out and protest," said Whalen, a former sergeant with the 1st Infantry Division, who served in the Army for eight years.
"It's a shame. Knowing there are protesters has an impact on soldiers. A lot of soldiers are scared."
Dr. Brendan Minogue, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at YSU, said he is "not really that enthusiastic about the war.
"Although I have a son in the military and I do support the troops."
Minogue said protesters of today have worked hard to show that support.
"Back in the '60s, we didn't draw the distinction between support for the troops and opposition of the war," he said. "Today, war opponents are much more sensitive to those concerns.
" ... I think we are all working hard to say the two issues are different. There's the military on one hand and there's the issues of the war on the other."
Whalen said he never heard about any anti-war protests when he fought in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, but it's impossible for the military in Iraq to be unaware of current protests.
"The protests are impacting the soldiers in Iraq and hurting morale," said Thomas Hensley, Kent State University's political science department chairman, and a faculty observer of the school's protests. "In the long term, it could have negative effects."
But Dr. Fred Owens, YSU professor of communication and theater, would like to think U.S. troops will look beyond anti-war sentiment.
"My hunch is that they are extremely well trained, extremely disciplined and, when it's time to go to work, they go to work," he said.
"From what I can sense, our troops are very effective and very much about doing business."
Most people who support the war tolerate the anti-war protesters and believe they have a right to express their views because of the nation's strong belief in freedom of speech, Hensley said.
"But the anti-war protesters are pushing the envelope with disruptive tactics such as stopping traffic," he said.
The longer the war in Iraq continues, the stronger the anti-war movement will get, Lepak said.
"If it isn't over in a short period of time, the anti-war movement will glean a percentage of those who nominally support the president," he said. "The longer it goes on, the opposition will draw strength from it."
Lepak and Hensley said the passion that existed during the protests against the Vietnam War isn't visible among current anti-war protesters.
But the anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam era had years to grow and also involved social reforms, but the war in Iraq has been going on for little more than a week, they said.
"The newer crowd doesn't understand political radicalism," Lepak said. "Some are old '60s movement people trying to kick up the spark, but most are younger people from the dot-com boom, who don't have a deeper social context. You don't see the passion of the '60s."
Owens said that he finds interesting the difference in the location of the protests.
"I'm struck that the news is reporting a die-in, not at Columbia University or Berkeley or the University of Chicago ... but on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan," he said. "... We expect college campuses to be a kind of canary in the mine, but it hasn't been that way. It's been Manhattan."
As far as college campuses, he said he feels there is less value placed on ideas generated there.
"In an earlier time, coming out of World War II and going into the era of the '60s, universities really were the marketplace of ideas and huge value was placed on a marketplace of ideas. ... I think the culture is a little grimmer today."
He said he believes people censor themselves more in a time when Rush Limbaugh is on most talk radio stations and political correctness is the norm. Ultimately, he said, the price is an emptier marketplace of ideas that lacks the robustness it once did.
Situation at YSU
But Minogue said he has not yet felt a chilling effect on the YSU campus.
"So far, I'm feeling that the Constitution is working. I'm getting the feeling that I can speak my piece and students can speak their piece," he said. "... I think we've grown a bit as a culture. ... Conversation is going on. Argument is going on. ... I feel pretty comfortable here."
Lepak, a strong supporter of the war, doesn't agree that you can protest the war and support the troops. He said his statements in favor of the war have led to criticism from other professors on campus. Everyone should have the right to express their views on the war, he said.
"My point as an instructor is: I support the political views of all of my students," he said. "I don't expect my students to mimic my views. My views are immaterial to the question of how students come to learn and think."
Lepak said he does not use his classroom as a bully pulpit, but others do.
"I don't take the position that the classroom is to be used as a platform for propaganda purposes," he said.
Minogue said there is a fine line between encouraging discussion on the war subject and espousing one's own views.
"It's a very important issue. As a teacher, you cannot be imposing your values on a student," he said.
"The professor in this setting is really eliciting articulate expression from the students -- as far as what their values are -- in a good, coherent, ethical valuation of the issues."
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