The Hilarious Dilemma of Liberal Patriotism

Liberals’ dilemma over how to balance a condign show of patriotism in time of war with their actual contempt for America can lead to some hilarious results, especially at our wildly anti-American elite universities. On one hand, the scale of the September 11th attack, and the danger we’re all still in, requires some serious display of concern for country. On the other hand, the very symbols of our country are, to the campus left, as the cross to a vampire.

The following article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, posted here in its entirety, concerns a controversy at the University of California at Berkeley over whether to display red, white, and blue ribbons at their September 11th memorial. Notice in particular the comment by the editor of the student newspaper, Rong-Gong Lin II (sic), that displaying the national colors on a day of national remembrance would be “exclusive.” Which, of course, suggests that America’s very existence as a country is “exclusive.”

Berkeley Goes Red, White, and Blue After Flap Over Campus’s Patriotism

Chronicle of Higher Education
September 9, 2002

A decision by a committee of students and administrators to hand out white—rather than red, white and blue—ribbons at a memorial event marking the anniversary of September 11at the University of California at Berkeley sparked a tempest there last week after a conservative student newspaper accused the university of a lack of patriotism. The administration denied the charge, but in the end, Berkeley’s chancellor overrode the committee’s decision and decreed that American colors would rule the day.

Students and administrators at Berkeley have been planning the anniversary commemoration for several weeks, and the program for Wednesday is extensive. Bells will toll to mark the moments at which the four planes crashed last September 11, the campus will pause for a moment of silence at noon, and the University Religious Council will sponsor an interfaith meditation session. A student chorus and orchestra will give a concert. An open microphone will be available on the steps of Sproul Hall for students to share their thoughts, and the day will close with a candlelight vigil.

“What we wanted to be sure to convey was a program that would be reflective, that would honor and commemorate those who died and who tried to save lives,” said Janet Gilmore, a university spokeswoman.

The element of the day’s events that caused unrest last week was perhaps the smallest part of the entire plan: the color of the ribbons that were to be handed out to students.

According to Rong-Gong Lin II, editor-in-chief of The Daily Californian, Berkeley’s independent student-run newspaper, a committee made up of undergraduate representatives and university administrators strategized some of the day’s events and originally decided to distribute red, white, and blue ribbons to students. But a graduate student representative pointed out that some Berkeley students could feel excluded by this choice of colors.

“Not everyone who was affected by September 11 was American,” Mr. Lin said. “Some people felt this shouldn’t be a day of exclusiveness.”

The committee concurred and decided that white ribbons would be a better choice.

“This is when matters got far beyond the issue at hand,” Mr. Lin said.

Another student-run newspaper on the campus, the conservative California Patriot, published an article last Wednesday claiming that the September 11 commemoration would exclude all patriotic symbols and religious references. The newspaper’s publisher, Kelso G. Barnett, then gave a speech at a meeting of the undergraduate assembly defending patriotism, the National Anthem, and the American flag. Someone sent a copy of the Patriot’s article to the online Drudge Report, and the national media came calling.

The chancellor, Robert M. Berdahl, learned of the controversy after news organizations began contacting his office on Thursday, according to Ms. Gilmore. At a news conference that day, he called the Patriot’s allegation that Berkeley is unpatriotic “outrageous” and “an insult to everyone at this university.”

“The noon events planned for this September 11 are to be a memorial, also marked by contemplative music and prayerful thought to honor those murdered a year ago,” Mr. Berdahl said. “We believe it would be a disservice to those who died to allow this memorial to become a political rally of any kind, for any purpose. … The California Patriot, not the university, is trying to turn this into a political event.”

And according to Mr. Lin, of The Daily Californian, before the news conference, Mr. Berdahl overruled the choice of white ribbons and said that red, white, and blue ribbons would be handed out instead.

The administration’s reason for switching the color of the ribbons was simple generosity, Ms. Gilmore said. It was Mr. Berdahl’s understanding that “there was a financial reason for choosing the white ribbons,” she said. “So he said that he was happy to pick up the cost to provide red, white, and blue ribbons.”

But at least one student leader disagrees. “It’s true that [white ribbons] are cheaper,” Jessica Quindel, president of Berkeley’s graduate-student assembly, told The Daily Californian. “But I was at the meetings, and the decisions had nothing to do with the prices.”

When asked if the university was mandating its preferred ribbon color on students who had chosen otherwise, Ms. Gilmore declined to comment, instead pointing out that the open-mike session would allow students to share any feelings they might have about the day, including any patriotic songs they might want to sing. An American flag will also be on display at a central campus location.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 09, 2002 01:31 PM | Send


An interesting account. It’s very hard for any public observance today to be about anything but inclusiveness and victimization. Any other topic would be a positive assertion that might impose on the autonomy of people who reject that assertion. Think of the state of public monuments—the best recent one is the Viet Nam Memorial in DC, which is simply a setting in which to meditate on those who suffered and their experiences.

Another point is that colleges are trying very hard to internationalize themselves. Why not, when their highest value, emphasized in all actions and public pronouncements, is diversity? Looking through the picture book of incoming freshmen at my daughter’s school (a small elite liberal arts college) I noticed in addition to the mobs of foreign students that where a photo was lacking the placeholder was a little cartoon of the globe with multicultural children holding hands and dancing around it.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on September 9, 2002 2:37 PM

The Berkeley story illustrates a point that Mr. Kalb has made eloquently in the past, that liberals, simply by virtue of living in this world, are compelled to affirm a whole network of concrete values, such as marriage and nationhood, that cannot be legitimized in terms of liberalism itself. The result is liberals’ perpetually schizophrenic relationship with the things that are most important to them as human beings.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 9, 2002 2:50 PM

How gracious of them to have a “flag on display”. Will they be bringing the flag directly from their museum or is it stored in a vault somewhere? On my side of the country we “Fly” our flags and we know where we can see our flags flying………everywhere!

Posted by: J.W. Finger on September 10, 2002 5:42 AM

View from the Right is getting noticed. This post along with the accompanying Chronicle of Higher Education article has been republished at Front Page Magazine, at

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 12, 2002 11:22 AM

Interesting. Didn’t they ask you before they reprinted it? What’s going on over there anyway?

Posted by: William on September 12, 2002 11:47 AM

It was an oversight. They didn’t tell me about it. I only discovered the article by accident while searching for something else at David Horowitz wrote to me and apologized.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 12, 2002 12:24 PM
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