During my time at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School this summer, I could not go more than a minute or two without hearing an irate Sergeant Instructor bellow "WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID?" to some unsuspecting Officer Candidate. It usually did not matter whether or not you had done anything wrong, because Officer Candidates School is all about maintaining your composure under pressure, and they do their best to rattle you constantly.
This morning, despite the respect for honor and authority that my Sergeant Instructors instilled in me, I find myself wanting to ask the same of the administration here at Columbia University. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will deliver a speech here on campus later today at the invitation of Columbia President Lee Bollinger.
As an American, a Columbia student, and a future Marine Corps Officer, I find this both deeply offensive and darkly ironic. Is it really possible that the very same administration that denies me the opportunity to participate in the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) on campus is willing to welcome a man who sponsors terrorism and funds attacks on our troops in Iraq?
Sadly, such a thing is possible, and almost expected, given Columbia's history—which includes an invitation former Columbia President Nicholas Butler provided to Nazi ambassador Hans Luther back in 1933.
While the players at Columbia may have changed, the school's play book has not; this invitation is yet another stain on this institution's reputation, which belies its ongoing hypocrisy.
Columbia spends a great deal of time talking about diversity and free speech, but at the end of the day, these are empty words on a campus that greatly lacks in moral clarity. For with such clarity, the school would actively encourage military service among its students and would aggressively sponsor such training on campus. After all, free speech only exists because the men and women of the United States Military are willing to stand up and oppose the forces of tyranny and oppression in this world—ones now represented by the likes of Ahmadinejad.
Free speech is not at the heart of this debate; Mr. Ahmadinejad was not muzzled before Columbia so willingly extended its stage to him. As a world leader, the Iranian president can speak his mind, literally, to the world whenever he pleases. The question here is why Columbia would willingly offer an invitation to such a repugnant man when it is certain that he will do nothing but lie?
This speech will grant him the legitimate forum from which he can falsely shape public opinion regarding relations between our countries, leaving the impression that he is a man who can be dealt with and that the talk of his fiery anti-American rhetoric is simply false, when it is anything but. What would Dwight Eisenhower and Alexander Hamilton, two American heroes who also addressed audiences at Columbia, say?
Ahmadinejad's speech and Columbia's invitation are not as important as the question of our culture and of which values we hold. And, unfortunately, Columbia is once again, embracing the wrong side—a rogue who has proclaimed his desire to destroy our country and the freedoms we enjoy, while shunning those who put their lives on the line to ensure places like Columbia have the opportunity to "get it wrong."
At Officer Candidates School, our Sergeant Instructors pushed us hard, no matter whether we were attacking the obstacle course or studying tactics, and part of that process demanded that they treat us like scum. That was fine with me—every time they got in my face it was to make sure that I have the capacity to be a leader of Marines, and I am willing to stomach any insult or injury to earn that honor.
But this situation here at Columbia seems to be a bridge too far, and I can think of little else that could present so strong an affront to me as the invitation or Iran's President.