Students Unite Behind a New Banner

College campuses have always been known for beating swords into plowshares during wartime, but this time things seem different.

These days, university students across the nation are turning their peace banners into American flags.

At Amherst College in Massachusetts, for example, junior Ben Baum and his roommate Mike Flood have created the Amherst Assembly for Patriotism, a group they describe as being dedicated to something he thought everyone would be able to relate to: why America is great.

"We wanted a unifying group on campus, because most Americans are patriotic and love this country," Baum said. "It's designed to include everyone on this campus who loves this country. We want to call attention to patriotic issues, about why we love the United States."

Even the University of California at Berkeley, the famously peacenik campus, has spawned a vocal pro-war group called United Students for America, some 75 members strong.

"We support the country. We support the military effort because we have to show national unity to get through the conflict as quickly as possible," group founder Bret Manley, a freshman, said. "We're sick of the rap that Berkeley gets for being un-American."

Manley and his friends formed the group three weeks ago, in the wake of a large anti-war protest.

"They were saying America is the world's greatest terrorist. They were burning the flag," he said. "We were disgusted by that."

So Manley's group will hold fundraisers for the Sept. 11 Fund and coordinate functions that emphasize patriotism. On Wednesday, they expect to draw 1,500 people to a rally that will include speakers, the singing of the national anthem and "God Bless America" and flag waving.

"To let the world know Berkeley is behind America," Manley said.

Baum's group has already held a similar rally, which was crashed by off-campus anti-war protesters who broke away from the crowd and burned the Stars and Stripes at the climax of the event. The act was ironic considering that Baum's AAP holds no position on the war and welcomes both pro-war and anti-war groups, liberals and conservatives and all shades in between.

"We even had a speaker at our assembly who talked about how flag burning could be a form of patriotism itself, and how he was proud to be an American citizen because he had the right to either wave or burn the flag, meaning that while he loved the principles of our government, he disagreed with its actions," Baum said. "These people were protesting something they could have been included in.

"Patriotism is something that transcends politics."

Post-Sept. 11 flag-waving groups haven't sprouted up at Columbia University, another school famous for its anti-war protests during the 1960s and 1970s. But that doesn't mean New York City's premier center of learning lacks pro-American feelings, university spokesman Virgil Renzulli said.

The medical school's students volunteered near Ground Zero, the maintenance workers handed over their crowbars, flashlights and shovels, and the entire school raised some $30,000 for the relief effort including $6,000 in a joint effort from the Young Republicans and Democrats.

"I don't think they've ever worked together before," Renzulli said.

And as for the anti-war protests that rocked the Manhattan campus during the Vietnam War and are being echoed today, if more softly, in campuses across America, Renzulli said they're pro-American too.

"The nation has changed dramatically," he said, but it's still a country where people speak out when they love the United States.