As some of you may have heard by now, the ASUW Student Senate recently got in hot water nationally for deciding to reject a proposal for a memorial to UW alum (Class of '34) and Medal of Honor winner Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, USMC. Boyington was the third highest-scoring Marine Corps ace in WWII, shooting down 22 Japanese planes. He was also a member of the legendary "Flying Tigers" prior to the U.S. entering the war (shooting down 6 Japanese planes, which gave him a total of 28 in WWII). The pilots he commanded in VMF-214, the famous "Black Sheep Squadron", called him "Gramps", since he was ten years older than most of them. The nickname "Pappy" was used in a song by one of Boyington's men and picked up on by the press. Boyington was eventually shot down and captured, spending the last 20 months of the war in a POW camp.
Pappy, who was born in Coeur d'Alene and spent his early childhood in St. Maries, Idaho, not too far away from Pullman, is best known from the 1976-1978 TV show Baa Baa Black Sheep, in which he was played by Robert "I Dare Ya to Knock the Battery Off My Shoulder" Conrad, who was a Hollywood tough guy in his own right. The show, which was very loosely based on Boyington's 1958 memoir of the same name, portrayed the Black Sheep Squadron as a bunch of misfits and hellraisers, much to the dismay of Boyington's former subordinates. Pappy died of lung cancer in 1988.
One UW student senator said that since Boyington was a member of the Marine Corps and killed people, he wasn't the "sort of person UW wanted to produce." Another senator argued that there were already enough memorials at UW to "rich white men". Veterans groups, especially former Marines, talk radio hosts, and bloggers across the country have expressed outrage over this decision.
In full CYA mode now, the UW Foundation has created the Lt. Col. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington Memorial Scholarship Fund to provide scholarships to undergraduate students who are either a U.S Marine Corps veteran or are the child of a U.S Marine Corps veteran.
I have been asked to provide a WSU perspective on this controversy. First of all, I can't say I am shocked. UW doesn't exactly have a reputation as a bastion of conservatism. Most people east of the mountains view the denizens of Montlake as rich, dope-smoking, dreadlocked, drum-banging brats. There's a Red Square and a statue of Lenin over there for Pete's sake.
The ASUW Student Senate's actions and words reflect the degree to which blind, ignorant, knee-jerk Political Correctness pervades our institutions of higher learning. Pappy Boyington was no "rich white man". He was part Sioux Indian and far from rich. Boyington came from a blue collar family and helped pay his way through college by working in North Idaho mining and logging camps during summer vacation. After the war, he bounced from one odd job to another and was in constant financial trouble. And as far as being a Marine goes, there is no more honorable and venerated organization in the history of the United States than the United States Marine Corps. The people Pappy killed were members of the armed forces of a totalitarian government that was bent on world domination and that had deliberately launched a preemptive surprise attack on our country. He and millions of others of "The Greatest Generation" are to be praised for answering the call to defend our freedoms.
But as much as I enjoy any bad press for the Huskies, I can't really say that WSU is any better or that it would never have happened here. In its own right, WSU is a hotbed of Political Correctness Remember, last year, WSU was in the national spotlight for two incidents: the WSU-sponsored heckler's veto of the "Passion of the Musical" and Ed Swan's running afoul of the College of Education's "dispositions" criteria. Another less-publicized incident was the outrage over an alleged "racist" incident on the WSU campus.
Speaking of Ed Swan, I was pleased to read in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News that the WSU College of Education is removing political and religious beliefs from the evaluation of undergraduate education majors.
I never find myself agreeing with liberal columnist Nicole Brodeur, but I think she summed things up quite well in today's Seattle Times:
This kind of political correctness and self-righteousness from a generation that has enjoyed some of our country's most peaceful and prosperous times is truly maddening.Yes, the students are to blame for their intellectual laziness and vain materialism. But in my opinion, the real blame lies with the liberal educational system that has perpetuated this system of Political Correctness. These children of the 80's are merely parroting what they have been told by their teachers, professors, and school books. From rewritten, sanitized and "sensitized" versions of history, to colleges that demand teachers pass ideological litmus tests, to the Marxist-Leninist professors whose ideas of "diversity" are that everything traditionally American is evil and to whom "tolerance" means no conflicting opinions are allowed, our cultural consciousness is being reprogrammed.
Boyington was not much older than they when he girded himself into a cockpit and risked his life, eventually becoming one of the war's highest-ranking aces. And in doing what he did, Boyington helped preserve the rights that allowed those in the senate to debate the issue of his worthiness.
But forgive them. They know not what they have. And yet, our history — and our future — is in their hands.
On the same day I read about the Boyington debate, I read a Salon.com piece about how newspapers are desperately trying to win younger readers by printing "dumbed down" tabloids filled with less about the war on terrorism and more about the wars backstage at New York's fashion week.
It is a generation with short attention spans, a flagging interest in the news and an obsession with celebrity and sports.
For example, my twelve year old daughter told me tonight that she has been learning about Pearl Harbor. "Oh", I asked, "what did you learn?" She then proceeded to tell me about the internment camps that were set up for Japanese-Americans. She didn't know that Pearl Harbor had been the 9/11 of its time, a devastating sneak attack before war had even been declared.
It reminded me of what Tom O'Brien wrote in CRISIS Magazine:
Another problem is closely related: The history now taught in schools is often ideologically motivated revisionism. Signs of this are everywhere, though one example will have to suffice: Recently, during the period marking the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the Mall, the Washington Post did a story on knowledge of the Second World War among Virginia high-schoolers. What did the students know? A little bit about Hitler; a bit on the Holocaust. Nothing on Mussolini. Nothing on Japanese Fascism, or the rape of Nanking, or the victimization of Korea, or the willful destruction of Manila in 1945. But students were well informed about the Nisei—the Japanese Americans interned by Roosevelt at the beginning of World War II.I commend O'Brien's entire column to you.
Was the Nisei episode an injustice? Of course. Have we acknowledged as much? Yes. Have we compensated the survivors and heirs? Yes. But what scholar would say that this is the main or most important story to come out of World War II? Even the writer for the Washington Post was shocked.
So what would Pappy think about all this?
In the air, he was a natural-born pilot and leader, able to beat almost anyone in a dogfight.
On the ground, Boyington was a disaster. He was an alcoholic and a womanizer, prone to fighting, getting in debt, and crossing swords with his superiors.
Pappy was always quick to admit his flaws The closing line in Baa Baa Black Sheep is: "Just name me a hero and I'll prove he's a bum." He kept his Medal of Honor in his garage. Pappy's probably up there now in the Great Ready Room in the Sky, having a drink and laughing his ass off at all the controversy his memory is causing.