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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sterling Hall: Madison & UW's Dirty Little Secret

Kudos to Brian Fraley, for pointing out that today nearly 37 year after Robert Fassnacht was killed by four cowards [one still at large] in a truck bomb UW-Madison finally is putting up a plaque to remember him.

The school and city's actions for nearly the past four decades towards that event have been despicable. There has been no annual moment of silence. There is no laying of flowers by the academic building.

Nothing but cold, dead silence from a place known for telling its students to speak out.

However, that's possibly not the school's worst crime towards the memory of Fassnacht is that the school as a whole acts like a man wasn't killed on its premise.

There's nothing about the bombing on the UW-Madison website. Nothing on the Sterling Hall page.

The closest thing is a 2005 post from the Law School's blog discussing the 35th Anniversary.

The events at Sterling Hall don't even get mentioned to incoming freshmen.

I once asked a friend of mine who went to UW (He later flunked out when he decided to Major in "World of Warcraft.") if he's ever been told of what happened there. He looked at me confused, and said, "No, what?"

It was odd being a UW-Eau Claire grad who had to tell a current UW-Madison student his school's own Physics Building was once blown up.

One doesn't even learn about it in the required Wisconsin History course in the state's public education system. Heck, I myself might never even have known about it if it wasn't for a college term paper I wrote my sophomore year in a Comparative Political Systems course. My paper's subject: "Student Protests of the 60s and 70s: U.S. vs. France."

It's like to our entire education establishment, August 24, 1970, the date of the state's largest example of domestic terrorism, never happened.

I've long wondered since discussing the Sterling Hall bombing at college (probably around 2001 or 2002) with former Badger Herald columnist and editor Benjamin Thompson if the reason why Madison doesn't even attempt to remember the Sterling Hall bombing, is because deep down, they're ashamed they're proud it happened.

God, I hope I'm wrong. But then again, Madison did elect Paul Soglin Mayor after all, and he led many a war protest in his youth.

Madison 1970 was a distinctly different place then it is today. The Student Radical Movement began there; hell it thrived there. To those in the Isthmus at the time, the War, the Man, and the Military -- particularly in the form of "Army Math" -- had to be stopped, at any cost.

Of the three brought to justice, they served very little time, and are something of folk heroes to 60s radicals. The leader of the bombing, Karl Armstrong, now runs a juice cart in Madison and once ran a successful deli called "Radical Rye" when he was released from Waupun.

Perhaps this plaque could be the start of both the city and University at Madison finally coming to grips with what part it played back in those days. But my guess is that's unlikely, since what could have been a teaching moment for the 40,000+ on campus took place on the day before Summer Commencement, when nobody but the cleaning staff is in the academic buildings.

After all, it's easier to forget it ever happened. But at least with this plaque, some student may stop, and want to find out what did happen at 3:40 AM one early summer morning in 1970.