April 1, 2003

Cornell on Iraq: Action or Apathy?

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While America currently wages war in a distant country, most Cornellians remain preoccupied with the unpredictable weather conditions. Fully aware of the military campaign in Iraq, the Ithaca community, like the rest of the country, appears unable to form a consensus on the U.S.’s current foreign policy.

Some Cornellians seem to feel misinformed about the present war, due to a lack of clarity about the situation and the reality that people’s daily lives continue uninterrupted by war. Focusing on their studies, many students admit that it is hard to find the time in their busy schedules to watch the news or to read the newspaper.

“Probably part of the reason that I feel isolated from this war is because we are in a college bubble,” Karen Luby ’05 said. “But also the media is so biased toward America that you are not really getting all of the different perspectives.”

Regardless of a person’s political stance and understanding of America’s reasons for sending troops to Iraq, there is a common recognition that the country’s troops are now involved and that there is no turning back.

“I am not for killing people,” Elizabeth Green ’05 said. “But it’s happening so we might as well support it.”

Even if most people agree that Saddam Hussein abuses his people, many continue to question the Bush Administration’s claim that war is the most effective way to change and dismantle his regime.

A pacifist from Italy, Prof. Pina Swenson Ph.D. ’69, Romance studies, draws her feelings of dissent from her background. As an Italian, she is a citizen of a country that has seen and felt the destruction and devastating realities of combat.

“I don’t see the purpose of this war,” Swenson said. “We are not even sure if Saddam Hussein has arms of destruction because there is no proof.”

There is no overall agreement in Ithaca as to why the U.S. is engaged in this military intervention. Even those who stand together on their position toward the war base their opinions on different moral and political ideas.

Unlike past wars Americans have fought, the U.S. is currently able to wage a military campaign abroad without the complete mobilization of the country. Students, faculty and Cornell employees have continued with their typical routines, unaffected by the fighting and destruction in Iraq.

“I don’t think this war is affecting anyone personally except for students who have connections to the military or Iraq,” Scott Siegel grad said. “I think if there was the draft, you would see a lot more protest.”

As a result of this distinction between the military and the general population, most students have adopted a generally apathetic stance toward America’s invasion of Iraq. However, not everyone is willing to stay silent on the Bush Administration’s decision to wage war.

Since the war began, there have been small rallies at Cornell either in protest against or in support of the American government. Even if there is no way to suddenly bring the troops back from Iraq, many still feel it essential to use their right to freedom of speech. Some find these events pointless, while others see them as a productive forum to voice opinions and influence foreign policy.

“I think it is ridiculous to think that a protest in front of Ho Plaza is going to do anything,” Elizabeth Green ’05 said. “And it shows a lack of patriotism.”

Prof. Sidney Tarrow, government, does not know if these gatherings will have short-term effects, but he sees them as a potentially beneficial way to influence the future of American politics.

“In the long run, [these protests] may make a difference,” Tarrow said. “For example, it may force the United States government to allow a greater United Nations role in the reconstruction of the Iraqi government.”

Whether or not people agree with political demonstrations when the nation is already engaged in combat, the University seeks to encourage students to question and think as well as apply academic knowledge to life.

President Hunter R. Rawlings III sent a University-wide e-mail regarding the war on March 24. He wrote, “It is particularly incumbent upon universities like Cornell to demonstrate the value of careful thought about the events all of us are following. War brings with it many responsibilities in a democratic society, and academic communities have the capacity to fulfill many civic and personal obligations at such a time. I urge every Cornellian to ask penetrating questions, to provide clear insights, and to offer personal assistance to those who especially need it in the midst of this war.”

Students may not have a firm opinion on the activities taking place abroad, but there is concern about further understanding America’s position.

“I really don’t know everything,” Kate Bakey ’05 said. “But what did the other countries know that we didn’t to make them hesitant to go to war?”

Distanced from the actual fighting as well as being further estranged from the rest of the country through the context of the University, Cornell is meant to be a place for open thought.

Brandon Nelson grad finds that the community’s apparent open-mindedness actually makes people closed-minded.

“People in Ithaca think that they are this unique vortex of the universe where open thought abounds and is drawn to the Cornell community,” Nelson said. “But they are closed-minded to the conservative view.”

Archived article by Dana Rosenberg