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Tuesday, February 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Painful, valuable lessons

Seattle Times staff columnist

Forgive the University of Washington student senate, for they know not what they've done.

The senate's recent decision to reject a proposal to create a campus memorial to alumnus and World War II hero Gregory "Pappy" Boyington was simply an act of youth. The student senate saw Boyington — a Marine Corps colonel and Medal of Honor recipient — as a man who killed and, as one student suggested, not the type of person the UW would want to produce. Another student complained the school had honored enough rich, white men.

This kind of political correctness and self-righteousness from a generation that has enjoyed some of our country's most peaceful and prosperous times is truly maddening.

Boyington was not much older than they when he girded himself into a cockpit and risked his life, eventually becoming one of the war's highest-ranking aces. And in doing what he did, Boyington helped preserve the rights that allowed those in the senate to debate the issue of his worthiness.

But forgive them. They know not what they have. And yet, our history — and our future — is in their hands.

On the same day I read about the Boyington debate, I read a Salon.com piece about how newspapers are desperately trying to win younger readers by printing "dumbed down" tabloids filled with less about the war on terrorism and more about the wars backstage at New York's fashion week.

It is a generation with short attention spans, a flagging interest in the news and an obsession with celebrity and sports.

So history like Boyington's isn't even that now, I guess. History is the ancient time before the Internet, when typewriters monopolized desktops and telephone cords tangled the Earth. Life is changing fast. But make no mistake, kids: Being young and impetuous still carries consequences.

Consider American snowboard-cross competitor Lindsey Jacobellis, who hot-dogged her gold medal away in Torino.

I remembered when I was 20, and admired how she faced the music quickly and graciously. And I said a little prayer for her the next morning, surely the worst one of her life.

I'm doing the same for the UW student senate, especially Jill Edwards, the one who said Boyington was not someone the UW should be proud of.

Bloggers jumped all over her, one writer suggesting a Pappy Boyington Memorial Scholarship at UW for U.S. Marines or their children.

"Then every year, long after she left the university, Jill Edwards ... would have to live with the knowledge that someone was attending UW with money given in Boyington's honor and memory."

Edwards had a few things of her own to post on a UW page: "I talked more than I ever have before and realized exactly why I never talk. I am thouroughly (sic) regretting opeining (sic) my mouth."

And therein lies the irony. Guys like Pappy Boyington won her the freedom to do that.

What you do with that freedom can carry consequences. The trick is to learn from those mistakes — and from the people who made such lessons possible.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She's no Andy Rooney. Thank God.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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