By Elisabeth Mistretta | Daily Herald Staff
Vietnam War vet Bob Arnoldt disagrees with Bernardine Dohrn on many issues.
But as he did in combat decades ago, he'll still defend the former
Weather Underground leader's right to speak out.
"Her being able to speak in public without fear of reprisal and fear
is absolutely essential to the democracy that I helped defend,"
Arnoldt said. Dohrn joined Arnoldt and 16 other speakers Wednesday at
Lake Park High School's annual War and Peace Forum for juniors,
presenting diverse viewpoints on both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. This
is the second time Dohrn has joined the forum, which culminates the
students' English and social studies unit on the Vietnam War.
Her husband, Bill Ayers, founder of Weather Underground, has also
spoken twice at the forum without any major objections.
Last month Ayers was scheduled to speak at Naperville North High
School and Anderson's Book Shop in Naperville. But both engagements
were canceled due to public outcry against Ayers and Weather
Underground's history, which included the bombing of several public
buildings in the '60s and '70s.
Several Lake Park students and Dohrn herself agree the forum provides
a useful platform for a variety of viewpoints on war - including
addresses from veterans, prisoners of war and dissenters - and allows
students to form their own opinions.
"What I love about this school and this program is that it assumes
these are people with minds of their own," Dohrn said following the
forum. "(They) are not worried students are going to be contaminated
by some radioactive person. We are thinking they are prepared to
learn about a complex world, and you have to assume people are
capable of making up their own minds."
Students Andrew Scola and John Pfeifer agreed the panel helped
present a wide range of opinions, and Jackie Sulisz said such events
should be mandatory to provide a living-history element to learning.
"There won't be so many (Vietnam) vets around in the future, and
there is so much you can learn from seeing the body language and
hearing how they speak about it," Sulisz said. "When someone asked
Joe Franzese, Sr. (a Vietnam War veteran) if he had killed anyone,
you could tell so much from seeing his reaction to the question."
Before the forum, all students were given a flier that described the
background of most speakers. The flier described Dohrn as a
"figurehead of the Weather Underground" and current associate
professor and director at Northwestern University's Children and
At least one student, who opted not to hear Dohrn speak, said the
flier did not adequately explain Dohrn's background.
"I don't consider that to be an adequate representation of who she
is," Dan Anderson said. "I told my teacher I had no interest in
listening to a former terrorist. I'm all for people expressing their
opinions and seeing both sides of the story, but when this person
does something illegal and dangerous, she should not be speaking to
students. I think if more students actually knew who she was, they
would have opted out of her talk." Lake Park officials allowed
students to avoid any speakers they deemed objectionable. In
addition, the speakers volunteered their time for the event and were not paid.
Arnoldt, who earned his doctorate after the Vietnam War and now
teaches at several universities, said this was the best approach.
After sparring with Dohrn on a PBS special more than a decade ago and
speaking beside her at several events since, he maintains that she is
one of many valid voices of the Vietnam War era.
"We have experienced and lived through the same times and there is a
commonality between us," Arnoldt said. "Free speech is expected under
the United States Constitution, and if we cut her off from speaking,
then I might be next. I don't want that."