Sunday, November 18, 2001

Two weeks ago, President George W. Bush issued a “call to service” in the war on terrorism and challenged Americans to use their talents and abilities to protect our homeland.

He chose a Washington area high school as the place to make the announcement, hoping to enlist the help of America’s educators in preparing the nation for the long struggle ahead.

Last week, the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) announced that they would do everything in their power to discourage students from joining the U.S. armed forces. SALT wants America’s law school deans to bar military recruiters from using law school facilities, career counseling, or “other resources” to meet with students. The law professors’ complaint: The military “engages in discriminatory hiring practices” by refusing to accept practicing homosexuals in its ranks. Unfortunately, the lawyers’ lament is but the latest indicator that far too many of America’s “educators” have an agenda other than defeating terrorism.

In the days since September 11, I have received thousands of e-mails, letters and calls to my radio show from parents, students and even some teachers expressing outrage at the way our nation’s schools and colleges have responded to the attack that killed nearly 5,000 Americans and the way in which these “institutions of higher learning” depict our prosecution of the war against terrorism. And it’s been that way right from the start.

In the days immediately after the hijacking of four civilian airliners, a school superintendent in Oregon banned the American flag from school district buses. On the eve of the president’s Shanghai trip, a Sacramento, Calif., sixth-grade teacher taught her students how to burn the American flag. Parents in Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, Florida and Washington have called in to report that teachers and principals are forbidding elementary and secondary level students from wearing shirts, lapel adornments or book bag patches depicting Old Glory. In each case, the students were told that “some of their fellow students might find such displays to be offensive.”

On the day that President Bush announced new measures to control the flood of illegal immigrants into this country, a student at the highly respected Johns Hopkins University confronted me with the accusation that this was evidence of “anti-Islamic bias in the Bush administration.”

Last week, campus protests erupted when Attorney General Ashcroft announced that the FBI was seeking to interview thousands of foreign students in American colleges for any information that they might have about al Qaeda terror cells in this country. And on the day that eight aid workers, held by the Taliban on capital charges of “spreading Christianity,” were rescued, students and professors on college campuses accused the rescuers of “brutality” for dropping bombs on fleeing Taliban fighters.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this anecdotal evidence pales in comparison with the anti-U.S. campus activism of the 1960s. But those who were the students then are the teachers and tenured professors today, and their “blame America first” fervor is undiminished with age and its effect can be measured by our military.

Notwithstanding the wave of patriotic fervor sweeping the nation since September 11, and despite the purchase of more American flags in the last 60 days than in the previous two years, there has been no corresponding increase in military recruitment.

When I made this statement during a radio broadcast last week, a military recruiter called to verify that he was “still waiting for the wave of qualified recruits to turn out like they did after Pearl Harbor.” I’ve now heard from more than a dozen other recruiters around the country, from all military branches, with the same observation: Medically fit, morally sound high-school graduates are not rushing to fill the 185,800 enlisted vacancies the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines will have this year.

Other U.S. government intelligence and law enforcement agencies crucial to fighting the war on terrorism have fared the same. Neither the FBI nor the CIA have had to batten the hatches against a flood of qualified volunteers. Both organizations are especially anxious to hire American citizens with foreign language expertise. Yet, America’s educational system is internationally renowned for producing graduates who can’t even communicate effectively in the national language, much less any other.

The Treasury Department and the National Security Agency need mathematicians and computer scientists who are U.S. citizens to help track down terrorists’ financial networks and crack their communications. Qualified applicants are staying away in droves. And, adding insult to injury, earlier this month a House Government Reform subcommittee gave the government an “F” for its own computer security down from the “D-minus” earned last year.

Does all this mean that America’s youth don’t care about winning the war against terrorism? Not at all. Having spent the better part of 21/2 decades motivating young people to do difficult and sometimes downright dangerous things, I’ve learned that what they crave most are good leaders and positive role models. If, in the midst of a war, America’s “educators” are unwilling to provide these qualities, they ought to follow the advice of one of my young Marine sergeants: “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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