As I'm sure you all know, the Bowdoin College Republicans placed nearly 3,000 miniature American flags on the Dudley Coe Quad this past week to memorialize the 9/11 attacks. Frankly, I was shocked. In an e-mail to the student body, President of the College Republicans Steve Robinson wrote, "As our nation continues to mourn these tragic events, it is important to remember the lasting significance of the 9/11 terror attacks." Can you believe it? A brazen reminder of the 9/11 attacks this close to Ground Zero? The Dudley Coe Quad is only 300 miles from Ground Zero, people. Don't the College Republicans know that if something is in some way evocative of 9/11, it shouldn't be constructed anywhere near Ground Zero? I'm not trying to say there's an exact distance that the memorial should be from Ground Zero, but couldn't they have put it farther away? I mean, at least as far as the Bowdoin Pines.
You have to wonder why the College Republicans would want to remind people of 9/11 in this way. Sure, you could just take them at their word and assume that they really are trying to honor "every man, woman, and child who lost their life on that somber day," as their president claims. After all, we have no obvious reason to assume that there was some sort of nefarious plot behind the construction of the memorial. But once you start reading the history of the Republican Party, you'll quickly find that this is nothing new for them. Republicans have a history of setting up symbols like this in places they think they've conquered. Have you ever heard of the Bush Presidential Library? Talk about offending the sensitivities of victims and survivors.
So no, I won't be giving the College Republicans the benefit of the doubt, thank you very much. If they didn't want to be related to all the negative acts that have been committed by any Republicans ever, then they wouldn't have chosen to be Republicans in the first place.
Yes, I am aware that the College Republicans claim they aren't trying to offend anyone's sensitivities. In fact, they say they intend to do the exact opposite. But as we all know, if Person A says he is personally offended by something Person B does, Person B shouldn't do it. This is regardless of Person B's intentions, whether or not Person A's claim of being offended has any logical or rational basis. That's just how it works. It's why South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi stopped displaying Confederate flags in their state capitols decades ago.
Of course, I recognize that the College Republicans had every right to display those flags under the free speech clause of the First Amendment. I'm definitely not saying that I don't support the First Amendment, I just don't think the College Republicans should be exercising their rights in such a baldly insensitive way. All you College Republican apologists out there seem to be forgetting that there's a difference between whether you can do something and whether you should do something. I think these Republicans could learn a few lessons from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which famously argues that the individual right to bear arms, though absolute, should not be exercised within a one-mile radius of where incidents of gun violence have occurred out of respect for the sensitivities of survivors and relatives. If only more organizations were like the NRA.
And sure, you might say that what the College Republicans do on campus is none of my business, or that, even if I am offended, I have the option of choosing not to frequent the memorial and taking another route to Smith Union. But I think that misses an important point: my opinions are the only ones that really matter because they are based on an unsubstantiated gut feeling of distaste. Besides, no one should be forced to walk an extra 200 feet to buy a Red Bull at the C-Store just so he can avoid a memorial to 9/11.
I could even see myself being supportive of the construction of a 9/11 memorial somewhere else on campus, but the Dudley Coe Quad has been hallowed ground ever since Sustainable Bowdoin built that circular stick thing there last spring. Maybe I would have been OK with a 9/11 memorial there before, but now the quad is completely steeped in meaning and importance for the Sustainable Bowdoin people. As far as I'm concerned, any construction on that site should have first been approved by Sustainable Bowdoin, and you just know those American flags weren't made out of old shirts and recycled kebab skewers, so there's no way they would have been allowed.
Then someone told me that it wouldn't have even mattered if I could have stopped the 9/11 memorial at Bowdoin, because memorials were already planned this year at 139 other American high schools, colleges and universities. I kindly asked that person to stop telling me these things. Let's not forget that I claim to be defending sacred ground, so all arguments or facts that contradict me are invalid.
Maybe some of you are confused by how this works. You might be wondering how a memorial to a tragic event could be insensitive to the victims and survivors of that event. Clearly, this is a ridiculous question, so much so that it isn't even worth dignifying with a response. You might as well ask how planning to build a community center, that happens to include a temple where members of a moderate, non-violent religious group worship, on a site where daily prayer already takes place and which used to be a Burlington Coat Factory, could be insensitive. The point is that it's insensitive because I say it is.
Carlo Davis is a member of the Class of 2012.