Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Fall/Winter 2007 Vol. 103 No. 2 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Commendable Civil Protest?

Thank you for the first-person recall of "Navy Day" (Summer 2007); I should have remembered it more vividly. Rex and I were living on West College Street, just having been married on August 12 of that year [1967]. No doubt we were wrapped up in each other and in our work. We’d like to know the "rest of the story," however. An interview with the Navy recruiter would have completed the historical circle. I wonder how life has informed his memory of that day, or whether it was simply just a nightmarish experience. If I had been let out of the car to go to the bathroom, I never would have come back either!

Ruth Becker ’64
Fairfax Station, Va.

I opposed the Vietnam War as much as anyone at Oberlin in 1967; but when I saw the recruiter’s car being surrounded by protesters, my heart went out to him. I ran to Dascomb and made a stack of peanut butter sandwiches for him. Protesters told me they’d already given him some. Now I wish I’d made a "GO NAVY, BEAT ARMY" sign to cheer him up. I’m glad he requested a bathroom and got away.

Eric Nye ’70
Covington, La.

I assume that the purpose of the article was to enhance the perception of the College as "radically liberal" (as described in state university.com), thus the opening paragraph describing the October 1967 student act of barricading one Naval ROTC recruiter in his car as "one of Oberlin’s most recognized pieces of history." In 1967 the draft still existed, and some students elected to use Naval ROTC scholarships both to assist in the financing of their college educations and as a planned alternative to a probable mandatory military obligation. My father, Robert K. Carr, then the president of Oberlin College, was a nationally recognized expert and author on matters of free speech. (His first book attacked the House UnAmerican Committee, and he was the executive director of President Truman’s post-World War II Commission on Civil Rights.) He believed that a free university could not cherry pick free speech positions based on political positions. Thus, as stated in a web page at Oberlin that describes its presidents, he believed in "official neutrality in facilitating rational discourse." It would be dangerous to suppress consideration of unpopular positions and select only those deemed popular. Apparently it is easier to surround a Navy recruiter’s car and celebrate that act than it is to spend energy on a continuing matter of vastly greater significance. There is obviously a long history at Oberlin of commendable civil protest or disobedience; the Underground Railroad system before and during the Civil War is an obvious example. How-ever, imprisoning a Naval recruiter in his car for four hours before bathroom privileges were negotiated is not in this tradition. Finally there is an issue of courage; what risk are protesters willing to take in support of a cause? I would suggest that the Chinese students in Tiananmen Square and Boris Yeltsin standing in front of a tank in Red Square are at one end of such a scale, with the ROTC incident at the other.

Norman Carr
Washington, DC

Correction from the last issue: Chuck Hubbell’s name appeared incorrectly in his 1947 class note entry.