The plot thins

Since yesterday, the situation involving the Winter Soldiers, the College Republicans, Karen Porter, the Chester County Victory Movement, and others has clarified somewhat.  As it turns out, unsurprisingly, there has been a series of misfires, miscommunications, misinterprations, and misinformation.

When I first heard about Karen Porter’s disinvitation from the Winter Soldiers panel, my suspicion was that some combination of the CCVM, the Gathering of Eagles, and/or Students for Academic Freedom were involved.  Why would I think that?  Because this kind of move is precisely their style, and because language in the disinvitation letter sounded like it came straight out of their talking points.  I’m still suspicious that some of their folks were involved in this.  However, after a conversation with the President of the WCU College Republicans last night, I no longer believe that his organization was a conduit (or a motivating force) for the decision.

The CR President convinced me that he had nothing to do with disinviting Karen, and given his almost brutal candor about other things, I have no reason to disbelieve him.  I don’t exactly believe his representation of the discussions he had with the Contemporary Issues folks, although I don’t think he’s lying.  I believe he heard what he wanted to hear.  He told me that the CI organizers had initially been quite honest about their agenda, which was (as the CR President put it) to promote the soon-to-be-released Winter Soldiers 2 movie.  The problem, of course, is that WS2 is still in production and won’t be out for months at best.  He also is convinced that CI scheduled the movie and the panel the day before his group’s “Support the Troops” rally on purpose.  They might have, although the CI organizer I’ve been talking to swears this is a coincidence.  It’s neither here nor there, actually, because the CR President believed it, and that set him off.  If I had to guess, and it’s only a guess, his conclusion that CI was pushing an anti-war agenda against his group prompted him to misunderstand CI’s explanations of the situation.

The representative from CI made clear (clear enough to me, anyway) that: (1) they’d decided to do this event  before they knew about “Support the troops”; (2) the second Winter Soldiers movie had nothing to do with their decision to show the first one; (3) my understanding that outside interests had gone to the “administration” was incorrect–they went to Steve McKiernan, but not to the university president or the provost or any of the veeps (which is what I think when I hear “administration”).  As a result, my assumption that outsiders were leapfrogging the students and faculty in order to put pressure on the administration to short-circuit an “anti-war” event was wrong.

I still believe that outsiders have stuck their collective noses where they don’t belong, but the evidence for that is less clear than I’d like it to be.

In the meantime, the event is happening on schedule, as is the “Support the Troops” rally the next day.  Both promise to be contentious, largely because the issue itself is contentious.  I expect the hangover from this series of miscommunications to rear its head at one or both events.  Probably not a bad thing if the conservatives have to defend themselves from charges of tampering with the Winter Soldiers event–they’re really good at putting us lefties on the defensive, and some turnabout is long overdue.  I don’t want anybody to lie in order to make that happen, though.  That’s not good democracy anymore than manipulating evidence is.

8 Responses to The plot thins

  1. Harrison Carpenter says:

    Mr. Kahn,

    As Vice President of the College Republicans, I can assure you there was no “outside” influence in this situation. We got wind of an event that we found offensive, inconsiderate, and unconscionable, and we reacted.

    I will break down the scenario for you. And I assure you I am responding to your blog with the utmost sincerity and honesty.

    First of all, we had no idea Karen Porter would be present. Actually, none of us even knew who she was until this weeks unfolding (a characteristic I am sure she would wish was different). We were never privy to the guest list, but that would not have made a difference anyway. This is because we did not react out of frustration toward the event, but rather the choice in movies.

    As a conservative, I will defend anyone’s right to free speech, but “Winter Soldier” is just not an appropriate choice of films. I fear it will prime the student to resent our men and women in uniform. It is human nature to generalize and to attribute the actions of a few men to entire group of similar traits (e.g., soldiers, etc). Given that we have young men and women in uniform who attend our school, I do not want to see them unjustly judged for actions that have been attributed to their uniform. I am sure you can understand that.

    While I do not personally approve of the pacifist mentality, I, and no other peer of mine, intend to curb CI’s or the CCPM’s right or choice to protest war. If that is the direction you prefer, you are entitled to it. Further, if CI had chosen another anti-war movie that was directed at say, Lyndon Johnson’s or another president’s policies, this situation would not have occurred the way it did. There is one very specific reason for this: if one disagrees with a war, one should criticize the policy-makers, not the soldiers. Soldiers are raised to follow orders and complete missions, not make policy choices. Soldiers are to be commended for sacrifice, not belittled for their human nature to make mistakes. For this simple and important reason, “Hotel Rwanda”or even “Stop-Loss” would not have been approached by the CR’s in the manner “Winter Soldier” was.

    I believe you have been kept out of the loop with regards to the CI agenda, Mr. Kahn. CI’s intention in showing ‘Winter Soldier” was indeed to promote anti-Iraq War material. CI contacted the group “Iraq Veterans Against the War” in order to acquire several members to serve on the panel. If these veterans do come, here is the scenario: CI will show an anti-war movie (about Vietnam) and will have veterans from the Iraq War to discuss it. If you honestly think that will not turn into an anti-Iraq War discussion, I would question your naivete. Furthermore, the stated CI intent was to rally discussion on war for the fear that it would become a second-rate issue in the Presidential campaign season. Vietnam ended last century; Iraq is now. Which do you think is worth discussing more? If CI would admit their agenda, we would have less reason to argue…

    If your assumption that the Iraq War is not to be discussed is correct, then why would CI show a Vietnam era movie to spur conversation about the current Presidential campaign topics? A. Vietnam ended over thirty years ago, and B. we are currently engaged oversees, so that conflict is the natural discussion to have.

    Also, do you really think that if the IVAW do show, they will not mention and discuss the new “Winter Soldier” that is in production? If you go to their website, that movie is the one of the first things you see!

    The final point I want to make is that CI wanted to have a panel consisting of pro-war and anti-war panelists. Fine. No problem. The difference here is that CI was planning on putting soldier vs. soldier on the panel. That is wrong is every way. Pinning soldier vs. soldier is reprehensible and unethical. For those who have never served our country or had the pleasure of working with members of the Armed Forces, I imagine that is a difficult concept to grasp. Imagine you are a Sgt. in the Marines and you debated another Sgt. in the Marines. Now what if after that debate you both ended up on the front lines together. Is that right for CI to have caused that? I do not assume that is probable, but the possibility is completely unpalatable.

    There is one last thing I will touch upon: you will never garner positive attention by saying “we support the troops”, but at the same time express that their work is unjust and based on lies. I hope you see the oxymoronic nature in saying “we support you”, but we also feel you have made no progress, you have made another nation and our home less safe, and your work is the reason why our world is so torn. If your movement redirects its frustration away from the soldiers and to the policy-makers, I have a feeling you might have more of an impact. Examples: Code Pink-ers disrupting General Petraeus’s statements and protesting ROTC offices is not productive since those men cannot change anything!

    I hope I have given you a clear picture of where I am coming from. Take my comments with a grain of salt if you must.

    Harrison S. Carpenter

  2. sethkahn says:

    Harrison: You need to remember who you’re talking to when you tell faculty members at your school that we’re naive. I understand the political climate of our campus as well as anybody does. I also understand the political axe the College Republicans have to grind and grind in the faces of anybody you can at any opportunity. I don’t blame you for doing that; it’s what any political organization does.

    I’ll reply to just a couple of your points. First, the reason Winter Soldier is an important movie is that it really demonstrates how horrible war can be for the soldiers who fight it. Have you even seen the movie? It’s not anti-soldier; in fact, one of its purposes was to make people like me think twice about criticizing soldiers for what they might do in combat. So for you to attack it as “anti-soldier” is wrong.

    The notion of “pitting soldier on soldier” being bad–if soldiers/vets disagree with each other, they have every right to speak that out. You’re being anti-democratic by suggesting that they shouldn’t be able to voice their disagreements and debate them. That’s how democracy works, isn’t it? They don’t give up their rights as citizens by putting on uniforms.

    About “supporting the troops,” I believe, as most peace activists do, that we’re supporting the troops more than you are. Why? Because our first priority is to make sure nobody else gets KILLED. I’m not sure what’s hard about that. What we don’t support is their mission. And, if you’d actually listen to the vets who have come home to oppose the occupation, there are lots of good reasons not to support the mission. But that’s a policy debate you clearly don’t want to have, even though substantial numbers of soldiers, policy-makers, and citizens disagree with you. It’s a shame people like you talk about freedom but don’t seem to care much about democracy.

    The reason the world is so torn isn’t because of people like me. That’s a crass, sickening accusation that’s contrary to all the evidence. Have you ever heard an enemy or potential enemy who says, “We hate the US because of all those peace activists?” Of course you haven’t–because we’re not the problem here. Again, you accuse people who disagree with you of bad things in an effort to silence us–not very democratic.

    And when you say things like that, you’re revealing your true colors. You are anti-democracy, anti-debate, and would do almost anything to stifle dissent against your positions. That’s why you’re opposed to the Winter Soldier panel–because you don’t like what it’s about and don’t want anybody else to take a position that isn’t yours.

    Don’t you dare lecture me or anybody else about freedom.


  3. Harrison Carpenter says:

    I have a few corrections to make:

    1. I would urge you to find at least one other time the WCU College Republicans have “ground their axe in other people’s faces”. There is no other time in which you might infer that situation.

    2. More often than not, Soldiers who currently work for the United States cannot discuss their jobs in the ways you wish they could. That is a matter of national security and a protection of the Chain of Command. Call it anti-democracy or whatever negative name you wish.

    3. I forgot to put quotes around some of the text to indicate that activists were speaking, not I. I do not think your work has necessarily made us less safe, rather I find pride in my nation for allowing you as forum to disagree. For had you been in Russia, and working against Putin, you and your friends would have disappeared a long time ago. At any rate, here is how it should have read:

    “I hope you see the oxymoronic nature in saying ‘we support you (soldier) but we also feel you have made no progress, you (soldier) have made another nation and our home less safe, and your (soldier) work is the reason why our world is so torn.'”

    I don’t need to explain where those talking points came from…just check the news.

    As you can see above, I have not attacked you as a person, but you have attacked my friends and I and our characters. That is sad. You are a professor; someone who all students should be able to go to for help.

    Your current and future students should know ahead of time that if they disagree with you, they will be subject to to the wrath of your blog.

    As per your last point: just call me Stalin. Actually, I like Putin better. LOL

    Harrison S. Carpenter

    P.S., I look forward to your next entry, if you should give me the pleasure of offering one.

  4. sethkahn says:


    First things first. I never treat students in my classes with anything other than the utmost respect. In the classroom, I provide a forum where disagreements are welcomed and even encouraged; I invite you to visit anytime you like in order to see that for yourself. In the meantime, your response makes my point for me–you’re on the attack. Yes, you’re responding to what you perceived as my attacking tone, and yes, I was angry about some things you said. But in no way was I suggesting that you don’t have the right to say what you think, and we’d both be well-served to agree to at least that rule.

    You can’t possibly try to tell me that College Republicans haven’t been assertive about political issues on and around campus. Your former communications director (and at least one other member I can think of in the six years I’ve been here) have all but accused peace activists of being traitors in the Quad. I expect you to be assertive and belligerent; if you read my response again, you’ll see that I mean that as a sign of respect, not an accusation.

    I understand that soldiers and other government personnel are legally precluded from discussing certain things. But that has nothing to do with my point. There are plenty of Iraq veterans who have come home and spoken out against what we’re doing there. There are, likewise, plenty who have come home and spoken for what we’re doing there. My point was that disagreement exists, even among the population your group claims to be speaking for, and you’re misrepresenting the situation if you say otherwise.

    I don’t see the “oxymoron” at all. We support the troops to the extent that our primary goal is to see them home safe and alive. When I spoke to your president the other night (for nearly an hour), he made the claim that soldiers are simply following orders and shouldn’t be held responsible for anything they do wrong. That cuts both ways; it’s perfectly reasonable to wish them well at staying alive and coming home while not supporting the work they’re doing. I’m not sure how much more I can clarify that; I suppose if you simply disagree flatly, I’ll leave it be.

    Most important, you haven’t really answered what I see as the central argument I made in response to comment–that I see what you guys are doing as anti-democratic. You’ve made clear that you don’t think the university should be showing “Winter Soldiers” because you don’t like what you think the movie stands for. That, in a nutshell, is a move to stifle a point of view you don’t like. A more democratic reaction would be to come to the panel and make the best arguments you can on behalf of your position, rather than working to make sure nobody gets to talk unless they’re saying what you want them to.

    And no, I’m not accusing you of being Stalin-esque or Putin-esque. I don’t expect you or any of your colleagues to start shooting or imprisoning people. A little hyperbole goes a long way, but don’t try to make me sound worse than I am just because you don’t like what I’m saying. Yes, your “LOL” suggests you were joking. I don’t think it’s funny to joke about leaders who simply assassinate their opponents. Clearly we don’t share taste in comedy. So be it.


  5. Dan Maloney says:

    I’m not going to get into a long drawn out discussion here.
    My experience in discussions with troops returned from the battlefield is that you cannot distinguish between the troops and the mission.

    I wrote a bit about this here:

    Dan Maloney
    NY State Coordinator
    Gathering of Eagles

  6. sethkahn says:

    Dan: Maybe not. But you can distinguish between the people in the uniforms and the uniforms themselves. Soldiers don’t stop being people when they put uniforms on. Our concern is for them as *human beings* first and *soldiers* second. I wouldn’t expect you to see it precisely the same way.

  7. The plot thins…

    “Many Democratic foreign policy pooh-bahs (not for the record, of course) think that thousands of US troops will remain in Iraq for years to come, on the theory that a complete withdrawal would be too dangerous. ……

  8. sethkahn says:

    Yes, there are Democrats who resist the idea of a quick withdrawal. I’m not sure whether Hillary Clinton meant this when she said it, but I thought she was right when she said, “We don’t know exactly what will happen after withdraw, but we know exactly what will keep happening as long as we don’t.”

    The evidence is very clear; our presence in Iraq is the single most destabilizing factor in the country.

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