Author: Conlan Campbell

Examining student attitudes toward war a century ago

Founded in 1874, St. Olaf has its roots in American history. Student publications, such as the Manitou Messenger, begun in 1887, and the Viking Yearbook, started in 1904, offer a record of campus response to changing tides in U.S. history. This article will specifically track U.S. military actions, beginning around the turn of the 20th century and continuing to the First World War.

From April to August 1898, the United States backed Cuban insurgents in an uprising against their Spanish colonizers, a conflict called the Spanish-American war. After a joint U.S.-Cuban victory, Spain agreed to cede a number of colonies to the U.S., including the Philippines. A number of Messenger articles contended with the conflict, with the majority discussing its value for the country.

One article, released in April 1898, focused on the war as just and as a demonstration to the world of the United States’ role.

“Above all, the United States must stand for right; the president has shown to the world that we stand for right and justice in the impending conflict,” the article read.

Another article, released in May of that year, emphasized the war as an ideologically unifying force.

“The war will cost much in money and perhaps in blood, yet it will not be without good results even beyond the freeing of Cuba … it has demonstrated that the great rupture between the North and South is completely healed so that now the Gray as well as the Blue are ready to defend and, if necessary, die for ‘Old Glory;’ and finally it will … add fresh lustre to the name of our young republic, the champion of the oppressed, the destroyer of tyranny,” the article read.

Other articles focused on the impact the war had on American citizens.

“It was not a long war, nor was it a close struggle, but it gave birth to heroes, and opportunity for achievements to which Americans both now and in the future may point with pride and admiration,” read another article from October of that year.

Another controversial element of the war was the U.S. acquisition of colonies from Spain and whether those acquisitions were just. Few, if any, St. Olaf students were in vocal opposition, evidenced by an editorial by Lawrence Grimsrund in December of that year.

“America cannot consistently with her own interests let go the foothold she has secured in consequence of the late war,” Grimsrund wrote.

The general attitude of St. Olaf students appeared to favor this war as a reflection of American ideals and as a positive good for the country domestically and internationally.

Following the turn of the century, student discussion of war shifted to greater focus on the role of patriotism and the reasons for involving the nation in conflicts.

“In 1898 an army was marshaled, not to swell an eastern despot’s pride, not to devastate the country and make the sky glow with burning towns, nor to leave whole cities of dead; but to march to distant climes against oppression and tyranny, to give the privileges and liberties which they themselves enjoyed to a people driven forth to battle,” C.C.A. Johnson ’06 wrote in November 1905.

In the edition of the Viking Yearbook for the classes 1913, 1914 and 1915, a multiple page spread is dedicated to the celebration of St. Olaf alumnus Captain Alfred Bjornstad. He is described as “one of the many ex-students of St. Olaf who have ‘made good’” because of his military service in the Philippines. The dedication continues with a strong endorsement of Bjornstad’s ability.

“We are ardent believers in Carnegie’s peace movement, but if there is to be war we shall find Captain Bjornstad ever ready with his daring and skillful head to fight for the right,”  wrote C.A. Mellby.

In 1914, the First World War officially began. The conflict had little initial impact on the published works of St. Olaf, and very few considered the United States as having a role. The Viking Yearbook for the 1916, 1917 and 1918 classes did not make much mention of the war, save for a testimonial from Mabel Jacobs ’13, an alumni speaking about her experience as a student in Germany. Written in April 1915, the piece displays pro-German sentiment and downplays any impact of the war.

“The student in Germany this year does not need to become stagnant, nor a nervous wreck, if he has any strength of mind,” Jacobs said. “Brooding over the war, or trying to solve political problems much beyond his horizon is neither profitable, nor elevating, and altogether unnecessary so long as he has work, operas, concerts, and plays to keep him busy,” Although German sentiment is strongly opposed to the selling of arms and ammunition to the belligerents by the United States, still the Germans do not force us into defending her stand.”

However, some students on campus condemned the war, such as Herman Bakken ’15, in an article titled “the Economic Detriment of War.”

“The present day sees Europe as a vast amphitheater of waste and devastation. The combined pent-up militant energies of no less than eleven nations have been released to wage a war unparalleled in history,” Bakken wrote. “Thousands of cheerful and happy homes have been draped with sorrow and discontent where mothers and children are eking out a most miserable existence.”

Anti-war sentiments grew in 1916, when Joseph Lee ’16 wrote an article condemning nationalist patriotism as a force sustaining the war, singling out Germany.

“The evil of this autocratic power is well illustrated by the patriotic devotion to the German State,” Lee wrote. “Here we find a patriotism asserting itself in duplication of Napoleonic conquests; a patriotism enlivened and vitalized by a desire for national aggrandizement, both in terms of territory and industry.”

He also expressed hope at a close end to the conflict, emphasizing different nations plans.

“Evidences of a coming victory of peace is shown by the growing and effective sentiment that is being expressed in peace organizations thruout (sic) the world. England has organized a union of democratic control for the settlement of peace; Germany, a union to oppose land-grabbing; Switzerland is effectively modifying public opinion thru her International Peace Organ, and Norway is making valuable contribution to the cause of peace by her Nobel Foundation Fund.”

Despite hopes for a swift end to the conflict, the U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917, marking a severe tonal shift in St. Olaf publications. Articles, such as “The College Student and the War,” published on April 10, 1917 were not given a named author and focused on individual duty to participate in the war effort.

“Our nation has reached a serious crisis. As college students we will be vitally affected by our country’s recent action in regard to entering the European conflict,” the article read. “The only test of whether patriotism is genuine or not is its willingness to make sacrifices … We believe that when the Nation needs them the college men of America will be ready to defend the Flag and the heritage of Democracy which it stands for.”

After over a year of U.S. involvement, the war ended on November 11, 1918. In commemoration, the Viking Yearbook for the classes of 1919, 1920 and 1921 focused greatly on the war. Uniquely titled “Victory Viking,” the yearbook incorporated an eagle symbol on the cover.

Among the first dedications is to alumnus and then-General Bjornstad and the “650 students and ex-students of St. Olaf who took part in the World War.” Bjornstad and the others were described as having “made good” through their participation in the war.

The book also includes a history of the class of 1921, written by “Chris” ’21 and “Maia” ’21, which describes the effect the war on those conscripted and those not.

“With the call to colors many of the boys of ‘21 were numbered in the ranks. Those who remained at school substituted military drill in their former recreation periods. But while our class thus decreased in numbers our loyalty and pride for country and class increased. We returned to our Sophomore year under new and strange conditions to which all readily adapted themselves,” they wrote. “After the armistice was signed, and the beginning of the year 1919, the entire college was put back upon a normal basis. Besides our class members in the S.A.T.C. many returned who had seen active service.”

The yearbook also included a dedication titled “Fighting for Old Glory,” which expressed the College’s support for those who fought.

“St. Olaf College will cherish always the deeds and sacrifices of the men who went out to fight for God and Country. It was our proud privilege to contribute over six hundred college men to the forces of the nation in the hour of her peril.” wrote A.O.L. ’20.

Another part of the yearbook focuses on the role of women during the war, documenting first aid classes and a checklist of activities women students could pledge themselves to. Elements of the pledge included volunteering for the Red Cross, “reducing lunches to an absolute minimum” and maintaining “the highest standards of womanhood, physical, intellectual, social and spiritual.”

Following the war, the yearbook suggests  classes and other scholastic activities were resumed as before. However. some questioned the lasting impression the war may have on people, including an article in the Messenger asking “Will the Lessons of War Be Made Permanent?” focusing on rationing.

“Will Americans return after the war to their pre-war extravagance? Or will they learn to abide by the lessons of war? Extravagance, not needed during the trying times of today, cannot be necessary during peace,” the article reads. “When normal times are again resumed by a democratic world, will it be too much to expect that banquets and receptions will retain the simplicity acquired during this war?”

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Webcams around campus are an invasion of privacy

On the St. Olaf campus, because of six publicly accessible live webcams, anyone may see students in their everyday lives. Walking through the Buntrock crossroads on the way to class, sitting in the Quad in the middle of the day and walking into their dorm at night, watched but unaware of the gaze.

St. Olaf is small and insular by design. The College’s architecture reinforces community with communal space. This idea isn’t controversial, and is widely marketed. The three dining options, most notably Stav Hall, are structured to prevent physical distance between students. Couched as being “intensely residential,” students are all but forced to live in dorms, where the furthest person either shares your room or is 20 feet away from you through a thin wall. Residential and academic lounges invite isolation only until another person comes by. Every moment is a performance, because there is no place where eyes may not be on you.

This social pressure and lack of privacy is troubling, but not unknown. Some see it as the price of the unique sense of community St. Olaf offers. The ability to always run into others is part of the College’s brand. However, this promise needs serious re-examination in light of its broadcast outside of the immediate physical space.

The panoptic system is one in which individuals are disciplined by being convinced they can always be seen, and regulated accordingly. This can lead them to regulate their own behavior. St. Olaf’s lack of architectural privacy privileges this kind of system, but the webcams amplify the problem and pose a true threat to privacy.

The webcams, plainly advertised on the St. Olaf website, include Alumni Hall West, facing towards Ytterboe and the wind turbine; Tomson East, including the wind chime memorial and much of the campus green; Tomson West, showing more of the campus green, Mellby Hall, and the Theater Building; Buntrock Plaza, showing the back entrance of the building and yet more of the campus green; the East Quad, showing Regents Hall of Natural Sciences, Holland Hall and Old Main and the “Hi, Mom!” camera, posted outside the Lion’s Pause in the Crossroads of Buntrock Commons.

The outdoor cameras offer a bird’s eye view of a large portion of campus, making their view inescapable for many students as they walk to and from their dorms and class. Individuals appear small, but are identifiable. If someone had the inclination, they could track these cameras and know exactly when another person is leaving or going to any building, making them an ideal tool for potential stalkers or others with malicious intent. Beyond that usage, they serve as a constant reminder that no behavior on the St. Olaf campus is truly private. Beyond the performance for other individuals within an actual physical space, these cameras offer a view to the world’s public.

Very few are actively aware of this level of exposure, as demonstrated by the aforementioned “Hi, Mom!” camera, situated at eye level and advertised as a way for family members to check in on students. When the school advertises the camera, it is suggested as a tool used consciously to directly acknowledge those watching. The suggested image is of a student looking into the camera and waving to their mother, watching on the other side. However, watching the webcam for only a few moments will demonstrate that very few who pass by know they are being watched.

Buntrock Commons’ Crossroads is aptly named. It is centrally located on campus, and a huge number of students pass through it every day. It is immediately outside the Pause and Viking Theater. It is directly underneath the Cage and Stav Hall. It is between many dorms and academic buildings. It is a very common location for political demonstration, including the night-long protest against racial discrimination and inequality that begun the Collective for Change on the Hill’s movement last year. Every time a student stands in this space or walks through it, their face and body are broadcasted live and very few acknowledge it physically when they do. 

The entrance to Viking Theater is in its view. A space where people may step out of a film to collect themselves. A space where people may share a private moment because it feels tucked away, unexposed. Lines to Pause events often stretch out the door, likely placing those waiting into the webcam’s view for some time. Exchanges thought to be confined to that space are projected outside its physical context. 

Physical context is the essential element lost when these webcams broadcast campus. The “Hi, Mom!” name underlies the justification for such a tool, and its ultimate failure. Those at St. Olaf are accustomed to being seen and it is an essential part of the collective understanding of “community” as it exists here. This camera is then constructed as proof of that community. “Mom” is a stand-in for whoever the investor may be: the person who likely, at least partially, subsidizes a student’s place here and likely played a role in choosing this school over others. If not, it is suggested the person on the other side has some level of investment in observing the school live, and taking in evidence the advertised “community” promise exists. St. Olaf College is a product, and these live webcams are a constant advertisement for it.

This is the fundamental difference between architecture that favors communal space and cameras that open that space up to anyone online who may observe it. Those in the space, even if coerced to be performative, are active participants. They are in it, and all others in it are conscious of their role. Those on the webcam can not be seen and they are not participants. They are voyeurs consuming a product: the ongoing moments of St. Olaf College commodified. And as long as students are within that camera, they are part of the product.

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