Between the Lines: May-June 2005

June 1, 2005

 

Iraq is not Vietnam, and today's college generation is not the Vietnam-era generation of war protesters. (Of course, there's no Vietnam-era draft threatening to sweep them up.) This spring's most memorable student protest concentrated on workers' rights, not right and wrong decisions in foreign policy.

For students in ROTC, the war is immediate, its importance beyond question. Whenever they walk into a ROTC classroom, they pass a bulletin board with letters, e-mail messages, and photographs from the front contributed by former cadets turned professional soldiers. For many students in a history seminar on leadership in America, the war is distant, from their thinking and their priorities. Inured to violence in our culture, overwhelmed by a media focus on pseudo-news, and unimpressed by hollow-sounding calls for national sacrifice, they're hardly fixating on Iraq; they're hardly thinking about it at all.

The war powerfully came home to campus in late October, with the death of Matt Lynch '01. Lynch, who joined the Marines shortly after graduating, was killed in Iraq during his third combat tour. He had attended Duke on a swimming scholarship, turning in impressive performances in individual meets and conference championships. He also played baseball and, for a time, dreamed of joining a professional team. Among his fellow students, he was known as a hard worker and a loyal friend. "He was kind of the perfect kid," said Duke swim coach Bob Thompson. "I'm sure he was a damn good Marine."

Sparked by the efforts of one of Lynch's friends, Daniel Nunn '01, Duke has set up the First Lieutenant Matthew D. Lynch Memorial Scholarship Fund. It may be that a future scholarship winner will draw inspiration from the life of Lynch and from the examples of others profiled in the cover story, veterans of an ambiguous war who are unambiguously driven by a sense of duty.