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Andrew Everett, a student senator and senior at the University of Washington, says he had little idea that introducing a resolution in support of building a campus memorial to Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, a 1934 graduate of the institution and a World War II Medal of Honor winner, would result in rampant partisan bickering on campus. But, thanks to words and actions by both liberals and conservatives on campus and elsewhere, the lens of politics has now framed a debate that he and others say could hamper his continuing efforts to honor alumni war heroes.
“I’m somewhat historically oriented,” says Everett, a former intelligence specialist in the military who forecasted weather reports in regions where U.S. forces were deployed. “I wanted to help us express our gratitude and appreciation.
But this month, Everett’s resolution was voted down 46-45 in the Student Senate. Some senators said they couldn’t support a memorial for one person when there were other distinguished war alumni who have graduated from the university. Others argued that the resolution shouldn’t be considered before items that had been on the docket longer had been voted on. And some flat out refused to support such a memorial because they oppose killing people, even in wartime.
What disappointed Everett was not the fact that the resolution failed -- he figured he could create a new resolution that could garner a plurality. Rather, he says, the ensuing political debates that have occurred not only on campus, but in the blogosphere and on TV shows, like MSNBC’s "Scarborough Country," have been most irksome.
“I don’t like that this has been framed in absolute terms,” says Everett. “I think it’s wrong that this turned into a political grab bag.”
Soon after the vote, Brent Ludeman, a fellow senator and head of the university’s College Republicans, e-mailed an account of the decision and meeting minutes to Kirby Wilbur, a Seattle conservative radio show host. If people like Boyington hadn't fought as they did, says Ludeman, “people like Hitler would be ruling this country.”
Wilbur assesses that some students were being “blatantly anti-military and displaying hyper politically correct attitudes.” The alumnus of the university took special offense with two comments listed in the minutes of the meeting where the resolution was voted down.
Jill Edwards, a student senator, questioned whether it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people, and said she didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person the University of Washington wanted to produce. And Ashley Miller, a student senator, commented that many monuments at the university commemorate rich white men. Wilbur noted that Boyington was actually from a poor economic background and part Sioux Indian.
Boyington served as a Marine Corps combat pilot in the Pacific during World War II, and his legendary performance against Japanese pilots earned him the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor.
“Jill and Ashley should have shut up,” says Wilbur. “I definitely think this should have been politicized, given Jill and Ashley’s comments.”
But Everett isn’t so sure. And neither is Miller. “I think that partisanship has become the main point,” she says. “But a number of people didn’t like that the memorial would only honor one person. The senate wants to honor a number of our amazing alumni.”
Miller says that her argument during the meeting was not reflected totally in the minutes. “He wasn’t there,” she says of Wilbur. “This was a respectful debate.
“We didn’t kill the idea of having a memorial built,” she adds. “There’s been enough pressure from conservatives that something has to be built.” She notes that she’s received over 300 e-mails deriding her statements from the minutes.
“I don’t regret my statements at all,” says Miller. “This has turned out to be a great way to talk about oppression.”
For now, Everett is trying to put politics aside by creating a resolution to honor five alumni Medal of Honor members, including Boyington. That measure is scheduled to be debated tonight. In contrast to his first resolution, he’s decided not to let Ludeman co-sponsor the resolution.
“I’m concerned that this resolution could also fail,” he says. But I hope people will just vote their conscience.”
Miller, for one, plans to abstain.
Even if the resolution doesn’t pass, some good news has come Everett’s way. In response to this situation, after receiving hundreds of e-mails from alumni and others, the University of Washington has set up a scholarship in Boyington’s name. As of Monday, over $16,000 had been raised.