Filling the Void
Last week the ASUW Student Senate considered a rather unremarkable resolution entitled R-12-18: A Resolution to Calling for a Tribute for Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, USMC. Col. Boyington is Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and a University of Washington graduate. The resolution’s sponsor was seeking student support for a statute/monument to the man. After rather lengthy procedural wrangling the resolution came to a final vote before the Senate which split evenly prompting the Senate Chair, who only votes in the case of a tie, to vote against.
Rational people might think the story stops there, but no. The campus College Republicans took this vote as an anti-military vote and promptly informed the conservative press. Since that fateful Tuesday evening the ASUW has been besieged by press inquiries, radio talking heads, and the conservative blogosphere. Their conclusion: the University is under the control of radical anti-American liberals!
I’m not going to disagree with conservative’s final conclusion… might very well prove to be true, but this resolution is not Exhibit A in that case. Col. Boyington is certainly a remarkable figure and is deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor. That’s why the President and Congress bestowed the honor. But that alone does not warrant a University honor. The University produces many admirable people who go on to do incredible things. How are we to decide who should commemorated in monument form? If the Colonel is deserving of a monument on campus ought the City declare his domicile a historical building… perhaps rename his high school? What is the intelligible principle by which we honor members of society?
I suggest that the University ought not honor every remarkable person who caries a degree. It is not the us who should honor them, it is they who honor us by going out and doing increadable things. The military, and the entire nation, should think higher of the UW because of our five Medal of Honor winners. Who the University should honor is those who come back and contribute to the community from which they took so much. This is why the University has five buildings named after Microsoft founders and their parents. They had ties to the University before they became famous, became famous, and then returned here with their fame and fortune to make the UW a better place.
This isn’t to say we’ve always followed this policy. We have a monument dedicated to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought against the fascists in Spain. The College Republicans like to make fun of the monument… “supporting those who fought with the communists,” they say. I wouldn’t have supported that monument either. But I don’t think that poor choices about monuments in the past is justification for continued poor decisions. Students should hold their demands for monuments on both sides of the isle and develop criteria that we can all agree on instead of pushing for monuments whose connection to campus is remote.
Resolution supporters respond saying we should hold up Col. Boyington as the ideal product of the University. A self-sacrificing member of the community. I know little of the Colonel’s demeanor or self-sacrificing nature, but I’m willing to grant the point. However, their arguments lead me to believe that he was a model citizen and a model soldier, not necessarily a model member of the University community. In fact, we know he was a model soldier because the Congress awarded him the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor this country can bestow. But that does not imply he was a great member of the academy. After he left the University he never returned to contribute, did not go on to further his field of study with research and teaching, none of the things the University holds in the highest regards. He may have been a great man, but that does not de facto imply he was a great scholar.
Col. Boyington has been welled honored by this country. The Medal of Honor, biographies, and numerous admirers. That is his legacy and they are the ones who will remember him.