Oliver North’s Wednesday arrival on campus was anticipated with much hubbub. This newspaper ran an opinion piece two weeks ago regarding the former colonel, accompanied by several pieces in the Bullsheet. Posters advertising North’s appearance, as well as protesting it, could be found across the length and breadth of A-Quad and elsewhere.
After gauging student publications and general campus conversation, it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of students who knew of North, his history, and his reputation were uncomfortable, if not outright outraged, with the idea of inviting him here to speak. And although we can certainly be disappointed in the fact that one of our fellow student organizations elected to do this, for any and all expecting a sour aftertaste to linger afterward, they were not disappointed.
Despite the College Republicans’ claim that North’s “lecture” would be apolitical – as would befit the nonpartisan tenor of Veterans Day (his purported purpose for being here, after all), he littered his address with plug-ins for FOX News and Republican causes, as if to suggest that there is a certain synonymity between President Lincoln’s admonition to “care for him who shall have borne the battle” and registering one’s vote with some of the furthest rightward elements of reactionary politics.
He further dug himself into the the metaphorical hole when he hypocritically claimed to respect the “sanctity of human life;” an interesting stance given his coordination of funding for thuggish right-wing cohorts responsible for thousands of civilian deaths.
In one of the classes inflicted with his presence, he comported himself (it’s almost hard to believe) even worse, resorting to the tinge of racism to support his political agenda. After asking this political science class why the Republican Party had been formed, North pivoted his body toward one of our editors – the only black student in the room – pointed to her, and announced that it was created “to stop human bondage.”
Irrespective of the fact that he was not even historically correct (the Republican Party was formed to stop slavery’s westward expansion, not to halt it outright); and forgetting for a moment that there was no way he could have known with any degree of certainty that his example was not the daughter of, say, Somali immigrants rather than a descendent of the plantation, North’s comment was most objectionable because it feasted on the politics of “other.”
The Jewish protagonist from the Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire once said of anti-Semitism that “you catch it on the edge of a remark.”
Surely the same standard holds true of racism as well. North did not have to hurl vitriol at our colleague. All he had to do was ensure that she did not feel equal to her colleagues; to make her to feel, in a sense, as though her purpose for being in that place at that time diverged from the purposes of her fellow classmates to the extent that she could be so easily made into a rhetorical prop. In at least this unfortunate sense, North succeeded.
Although North’s very presence was reprehensible enough, two things make his Wednesday speech even worse: that every student paid for his honorarium, and that Denison’s administration has celebrated, not condemned, this veritable war criminal.
Our very own University Communications ran an article on The DEN highlighting North’s arrival. The authors of the article failed to address his crimes at all, and in so doing failed to publicize anything besides the glossy veneer of a man who, once you scratch the surface, emerges as far less glossy than assumed. A lie of omission is still a lie.
But perhaps more importantly, we as students quite literally were paid to be offended. According to the College Republicans’ OrgSync budget, they were appropriated a $50,000 honorarium for their Veterans’ Day event. One student’s entire annual tuition and fees went, in essence, to giving this character the podium for an hour. So here’s our question: is there any way we can get our money back?