Mornin’ Sam, Mornin’ Ralph

The swallows have Capistrano, we’ll always have Paris, and one of this nation’s most bizarre activist gatherings will always have Fort Benning, Ga. For the 18th year in a row, thousands joined founder Father Roy Bourgeois (Ol’ Roy) and School of the Americas (SOA) Watch groupies outside Benning’s main gate.

In a few cyber inches, here’s how tiny Columbus has become an activist Mecca:

While training foreign military personnel is common at U.S. military classrooms, controversy erupted when it appeared some SOA graduates were wanted for human rights violations in their home nations. Though there was no link between training at Fort Benning and criminal conduct in South America (we’re talking areas of study like motor maintenance), that fact detracted from this lightning rod issue that draws the well-meaning as well as the unbalanced. Activists labeled it School of the Assassins. Clever. As pressure mounted, Congress got involved and finally DoD agreed the school would be restructured with increased emphasis on human rights training. So the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) was born and opened just one month after SOA closed. Not the smartest move.

Some put the “pro” in protester: Each year, they return with same old rhetoric and a few new slogans. “Same shame different name” plays well. Each year, there are some headliners. (Actor Martin Sheen is a perennial possibility!) Each year, there’s some pretty good music. Each year, they follow old traditions — our favorite is the “die-in.” Always a crowd pleaser. Each year, groups that can spell neither SOA nor WHINSEC come for their own, unassociated causes. (Remember Dafur!)

Each year, Congress introduces a bill to close the school (yes, WHINSEC now), pandering to the outer edges of its (voting) constituencies.

And down at Benning, each side has become so familiar with the other, leaders dine and pledge assurances to one another going into the annual event. Problems benefit no one. Ralph and Sam (who perform their sheep dog-meets-wolf antics through the course of a workday/protest — not before, not after) enter and leave on good terms.

The protesters and soldiers have punched out for 2007. See you next November, Ralph and Sam.

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