Michigan State News

April 30, 1969

"Up in Arms"

by Larry Lerner


With sudden alacrity the campus revolt has hit—and in its wake lies a battered, frightened society. But in order for some semblance of reason to prevail two issues must be clarified.

A major force taking hold on our college campuses and in our high schools is the movement of blacks and the Third World students for a "piece of the pie." Actually, in many ways, it is a desire for a "piece of the pie" in order to do away with the crust, fruit-filling and topping.

In other words many black and Third World militants are in favor of some kind of socialist state to replace the oppressive, racist capitalist one we now are struggling to define. But first they need some power—the power they have been denied in the American system.

Now the trouble today lies not in the fact that some black students took over a building and had weapons to arm themselves. The difficulty lies in the minds of those who want to eradicate these confrontations without first investigating and alleviating the causes that provoked them.

At Cornell University actions by students of the Afro-American Society bring this point to the forefront. The black students took over a building in reaction to the burning of a cross at the residence of black female students. This was not a light matter and so the black students made their move. It was only later, after there were rumors that white students were accumulating firearms and after some fraternity members began a fight with the blacks occupying the building, that the black students got weapons to defend themselves against potential conflict.

Here is the essential point: the weapons were for defensive purposes and were a reaction to violence.

But may in the Cornell community as well as many other Americans saw guns which meant they saw red. Reason could not prevail because the reaction to the presence of guns was without reason—not because black students were provoking the situation.

Some order has since been restored at Cornell, but high schools and community colleges as well as other universities are still in open revolt and the polarization between students and those wielding power will become more acute as legislators, some faculty and administration officials react with stiffer penalties instead of realistically appraising causes and symptoms of student discontent.

The second major force embroiling our college campuses in crisis is the discontent over ROTC, its academic credit, its place on the college campus.

SDS has been the main spokesman thus calling for the abolishment of ROTC while all elements of the universities have provided an array of opinion.

The basic reason for the hatred of ROTC lies in the involvement in Vietnam. And if the American participation in the Vietnam war is morally wrong and indefensible, then ROTC, a major source of individuals for that war, must go. Also in dispute is the position of ROTC as an indoctrination center for American military ideals.

There is no one absolute answer to what is to be done with ROTC, but following is clear: an indoctrination center, in which academic credit is given, cannot be a part of an academic community where student questioning and discussion of ideas and ideals is a necessity for the survival of the liberal university.

But a sticky fact remains: if the ROTC program was banished from college campuses would that insure the lack of any liberal ideals present in the military system and, therefore, promote the establishment of a military as an enemy to our society?

The answer some say is to make ROTC an extra-curricular activity which would then only make it a voluntary club without any academic rank. This is the realistic alternative since MSU and some other universities require under law to have ROTC somewhere on the campus.

But is this satisfactory? No, it is not because its very presence as an agency to recruit men to kill others, in a war that isn’t any of our business, makes it an unacceptable part of the academic environment.

An analogous situation involves allowing the Oakland Police to recruit on our campus. If those cops are not racists and murderers, all is fine. But if they are, they lose their right or freedom to recruit, as the potential recruitees lose their right to be interviewed for positions within the Oakland Police organization.

This holds true for ROTC and its potential adherents. If ROTC is an agent used to murder Vietnamese, ROTC and its recruitees lose their right to participate in proceedings on the academic campus.

What we are up against is a giant behemoth of student revolt which cannot be immediately subdued—it must be understood in its entirety. And to understand it, we cannot have legislators running around trying to pass a quickly worded anti-gun-on-campus bill, an anti-bullhorn-use-on-campus bill, and all the rest of the bills now proposed in frenetic legislative sessions.

We need understanding—by the "older generation," not by students. Otherwise, this will be just the beginning.