The Radical Left’s Hatred of the Military

Military recruiters were run off the UC Santa Cruz campus by a violent mob, reports the SF Chronicle‘s Diana Walsh.

Four military recruiters hastily fled a job fair Tuesday morning at UC Santa Cruz after a raucous crowd of student protesters blocked an entrance to the building where the Army and National Guard had set up information tables. Members of Students Against War, who organized the counter-recruiting protest, loudly chanted “Don’t come back. Don’t come back” as the recruiters left the hilltop campus, escorted by several university police officers. “The situation had degraded to the point where there was a possibility of injury to either a student or law enforcement officer. We certainly didn’t want that to happen,” said Capt. Will Griffin, one of the Army recruiters.

University officials had been aware for weeks that Students Against War planned a protest to prevent military personnel from participating in the school’s biannual job fair held for students. The student organization has become a bit of a cause celebre of the national anti-war movement ever since it was discovered that the group’s protest of the same job fair last April landed it in a Pentagon surveillance file, which listed the protest as a “credible threat” to military facilities or personnel.

Universities that receive federal funds are required to allow military recruiters on campus. But campus officials had worried that Tuesday’s protest would get out of hand as it had last April, when Students Against War protesters surrounded the table where military personnel sat, and hundreds of other demonstrators engaged in an angry protest outside. Some of the recruiters reported that their tires had been slashed and one employee at the career center was injured.

David Kliger, campus provost and executive vice chancellor, said the school was most concerned Tuesday about safety issues, but also wanted to preserve access to the recruiters for students who wanted to speak with them, while still allowing protesting students their right to free speech. Kliger said officials had tried to engage the anti-war student group in discussions in the weeks leading up to the fair. But when talks broke down, officials began privately hoping for rain and brought in extra police.

The rain probably accounted for a decidedly smaller turnout — about 100 students compared with about 300 a year earlier.
Still, the Army’s Griffin said he sensed that some of the students were “looking for action” and decided to pack up their table before things got out of hand and someone got injured.

Students Against War members said they were pleased that their counter-recruiting effort forced the military personnel off campus, at least for the time being. “We’re saying it’s not OK to recruit on high school campuses, it’s not OK to recruit on university campuses,” Marla Zubel, a UC Santa Cruz senior and member of Students Against War, said. “In order to stop the war, you have to make it more difficult to wage war.”

While the right to protest is among our most treasured rights as Americans, the right to incite violence is not. This is the latter, not the former:

Santa Cruz Riots Photo

This group represented a clear and present danger. As such, they could and should have been required to congregate a safe distance from the recruiters and arrested if they had not complied. Instead, the thugs got a victory and encouragement. SAW put out a press release under the title “Students Kick Military Recruiters Off UC Santa Cruz.” It begins:

It’s been over a year and a half since the military has been able to effectively recruit on this UC campus as all their attempts have been met by mass student actions. Today, in spite of the pouring rain and administrative attempts to stifle students’ free speech, Students Against War (SAW) organized over 150 students to march from the center of campus to the job fair, where they nonviolently prevented access to military recruiters through sit-ins and other measures. After about an hour and a half of negotiations and students’ refusal to back down, military recruiters left the job fair.

The students’ first victory appeared early in the day, as administrators separated military recruiters from other employers, allowing the protesters to block access to the military, while the remainder of the job fair continued. This separation was the only one of SAW’s proposals for protecting free speech to be adopted by administrators, who still banned media from the event.

Michelle Malkin posted on the story last night and has a follow-up this morning. Photo above via IndyMedia, which has others.

Ironically, I learned of this story shortly after getting my daily summary from The New Republic, which today features a story entitled, “THE LEFT’S MILITARY HATRED” by Rob Anderson. It is actually a review of the forthcoming book 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military.

When it comes down to it, military recruiters are salespeople, and like good car salesmen, good military recruiters conceal the downsides of their product. Of course with military recruitment the ante is upped: Being swindled into buying a lemon will set you back a chunk of change; a bad experience in the military will lead someplace worse than an auto mechanic’s waiting room. That’s exactly why 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military, a new book coauthored by Cindy Sheehan and ten other antiwar activists and journalists, could have served a worthwhile purpose. Deciding whether or not to join the military is a decision loaded with consequence; and with all of the military’s glossy campaigns to get young Americans to enlist–which include enlistment bonuses, the enticement of free airline travel, and, at one point at least, free music downloads–it’s a good idea to get all the information out on the table.

But getting information out on the table isn’t the only thing 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military does; it also implicitly advocates the end of America’s role as a force to be reckoned with abroad, and, as a means to that end, the undoing of the U.S. military itself. The book’s authors hold certain ideas above all others: that war is hell, fighting is mean, and dying is sad. These things are true, of course. But you do not have to believe dulce et decorum est pro patria mori to view American might as a necessity. In fact, if liberals believe the military is a troubled institution, which 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military does successfully illustrate, then it should behoove us to embrace the armed forces, not reject them. How else will our military transform into the force America desperately needs it to become? As threats to liberal society grow more emboldened every day, the imperative to fix the military, not destroy it, becomes stronger.


To this group of authors, news of our military’s difficulties is good news, for the United States and its military represent some of the most serious problems facing the world today. If the Pentagon, Albright, Perry, and Casey are to be believed, the military is in serious trouble. The authors admit this; Louis and Marti Hiken write, “The military is having a tough time meeting its recruitment goals. There are not enough troops available to send to Iraq.” And a sentence later, here is the advice they offer young Americans: “The best advice we can give is not to join in the first place.” Paul Rockwell argues that “[r]efusing to enlist is more than a career decision. It is a moral and political act, a contribution to the burgeoning, international movement for a better, more peaceful world.” Not only that, but joining the military is unpatriotic, writes Rae Abileah of the antiwar women’s group Code Pink: “[I]t takes more honor and courage to dedicate one’s life to working for social change. Teachers, community organizers, activists, engineers, public defense attorneys, lobbyists, and artists are the true patriots.” (The true patriots? Lobbyists?) The explicit argument is clear: No one should enlist in the military. Left unsaid is that if no one enlisted, America would have no military at all. Presumably, this is what the authors want.

Many liberals would be sympathetic to this argument. The left, especially its younger generation, is increasingly uncomfortable with American power. As blogger Matthew Yglesias has pointed out, for many liberals the Iraq war was a “formative trauma,” an event that forced them to reconsider the effectiveness of American military might. In March, the editors of The Nation asked, “Why does the Pentagon need so much money, now that the Iraq War is supposedly winding down?” In a recent issue of Mother Jones, James K. Galbraith rails against liberal hawks who “would withdraw U.S. forces only to use them again, in another (but, of course, more justified and better planned) war.” (Against “determined opposition,” Galbraith argues, we “cannot prevail.”) And who can forget Joel Stein’s recent Los Angeles Times column in which he declared: “I don’t support our troops. … [W]hen you volunteer for the U.S. military … you’re willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism.” 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military is not a lone dissent from within an otherwise pro-military left; on the contrary, it speaks for the growing ranks of liberals who are uneasy with the idea of American strength, and the institutions that guarantee it.


How does Sheehan propose America face its increasing national security threats? “We need to demand that our leaders use their words to solve problems. We need to demand that other nations use their words, too.” It’s a point that strikes at the heart of the book’s fatal flaw–and at the fatal flaw with liberal anti-military sentiment: Sure, it’d be nice if we could “demand” that world leaders use words “to solve problems.” But if the Sudanese government were so enthralled with diplomacy, would it be slowly obliterating an entire portion of its own population? And if the president of Iran valued words above all else, would he be so worried about building a nuclear arsenal?

Of all groups, liberals especially should know that protecting human rights, promoting democracy, and ending genocide are ends to strive for on a global scale. The means, of course, should not usually be military; and in a perfect world, they would never be. Moreover, if the Iraq war has proven anything, it is that we are not always capable of fulfilling our role as a completely moral force abroad. But sometimes, as in the Balkans seven years ago, as in Darfur today, we have no choice but to try. It is for those moments in particular that liberals should want to fix and strengthen the military, not tear it down. And if the authors of 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military think that effort unpatriotic, they can count me a traitor.


Furthermore, I would argue that military recruiters and, indeed, the military in general is not the proper target for anger over the way they are employed by elected policymakers. The Iraq War was not initiated by the military–indeed, many generals opposed the war–but by an elected presidents and overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both Houses of Congress. The military is morally and legally obligated to carry out its lawful orders; going to Iraq to topple Saddam and try to establish democracy was such an order.

Soldiers do not get to pick and choose. During the 1990s, the great preponderance of them had profound personal comtempt for Bill Clinton. Further, they considered most of the conflicts to which he dispatched them wrongheaded and anathema to the purpose of America’s armed forces. Nonetheless, they smartly saluted and did their duty. In a Republic, it can be no other way.

Update: On the lighter side of things, this remains my enduring impression of UC Santa Cruz:

Travolta in UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs T-Shirt Pulp Fiction Photo

Don’t they look like dorks?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ICallMasICM says:

    Why say radical left hates the military when all of the left does?

  2. legion says:

    Ummm…. because we don’t.


  3. Brian says:

    Well said, Legion. In fact, I wish idiots like Cindy Sheehan and the protestors at this event would just go away. They are hurting, not helping the cause.

  4. McGehee says:

    Darth Rove strikes again, eh?

  5. BigFire says:

    Remember, in the original script, Jules was supposed to wear a T-Shirt that reads “I’m With Stupid”, which would make this point even better.

  6. mary says:

    such simple minds…i am left of center and always have been…i have a very military uncle was a colonel..his wife a major, my brother was in viet nam, my son was in the army, my daughter was in the national guard, my nephew was in desert storm, i now have 2 nephews and a niece in the air force…my father was a republican and when i asked him to sign for me to join the navy…back in 1961, he stated only whores joined the service…so please spare me about how republicans are such military people…only if it isn’t one of their own…

  7. jacob says:

    In fact, I wish idiots like Cindy Sheehan and the protestors at this event would just go away. They are hurting, not helping the cause. Posted by Brian

    Another one of the fighting keyboardists stands up.

  8. LJD says:

    Time to update the military recruiter’s set of tools to include CS and rubber bullets. The OP-order for a job fair will look something more like: hold your position.

    Mary, you have some issues to work out with your father. Please see a shrink.

  9. Mike says:

    Time to revoke all federal funds to the school. Wonder if the students will think SAR is cool any longer?

  10. ICallMasICM says:

    Ummmâ?¦. because we donâ??t.

    Really? Sorry the truth hurts.

  11. heartinamerica says:

    1. Is there really a radical left in the US anymore? Not really.

    2. One student protest is anecdotal, and doesn’t necessarily represent “the radical left.”

    3. If anecdotes are enough to smear whole groups then I’d like to suggest that all Republicans are pedophiles.

    4. I don’t believe all Republicans are pedophiles. My point is that cherry-picking evidence to smear an entire group is simplistic.

    5. What purpose does your polemic serve, other than dividing and antagonising? A strategy of the enemy is to divide and conquer. Why are you helping the enemy by working for division in the US?

    6. Will Rogers was a cowboy AND an Indian. Meditate on Will. Find a way to make the US stronger instead of tearing it down.

    7. Peace rules. War sucks. Work for peace and against war.