April 11, 2003

Teach-In Addresses War Perspectives

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Yesterday afternoon, a teach-in on the war in Iraq was held in Kennedy Hall’s Call Auditorium, giving members of the Cornell community a chance to listen and respond to the opinions of four Cornell professors as they spoke on issues ranging from the perspective of the Arab world to the U.S. reliance on high technology.

Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education, organized the teach-in and put together the faculty panel comprised of Prof. Salah Hassan, art history; Prof. Roald Hoffmann, chemistry; Prof. Judith Reppy, science and technology studies; and Prof. Peter Katzenstein, government.

In his brief introduction to the crowd of about 175, most of whom were graduate students and faculty, Kramnick stressed the importance of open dialogue on the war in Iraq and creating an environment where the Cornell community can “express informed and passionate ideas.”

Hassan began the series of 10- to 15-minute presentations made by each panelist by speaking on “Democracy and Preemptive Strikes.”

Speaking from an anti-preemptive war position, Hassan explored the Arab perspective on the U.S. attack. He began his lecture with what he referred to as his “disclaimer.”

“I am not in any way claiming to represent the Arab or Muslim world because there is not one Arab view and there is not one Muslim view. If anything, we can hope to learn how disjointed this world is.”

A focal point of Hassan’s lecture was the question, “Why are we just targeting Saddam?” as Hassan stressed the Arabs’ perception of contradictory U.S. foreign policies concerning tyrants.

“The Arabs see the preemptive strike as a fallacy because of their lack of credibility for any U.S. democracy,” he stated.

Hoffmann spoke after Hassan on the opposing position. He began with an explanation of his background as a Polish Jew and World War II survivor which influences his political viewpoint.

“We have reached a point where compromise and talking has no more effect. I have not forgotten the war I saw as a child. War is horrific for the civilians and those that have to kill. But sometimes there is no other choice,” Hoffmann explained.

Hoffmann also stressed that he believes with any action involving moral and ethical consent, “it is important to see a range of disagreement by emotional and reasonable people.”

The teach-in swayed from the preemptive war debate as Reppy presented her short lecture entitled “New Technologies and Old Realities.” Her lecture centered on the U.S. propensity to “do what it has done in the past” and continue to rely on high technology for military warfare.

Another main point in Reppy’s presentation was the asymmetry of power between the United States and Iraq.

“Whether or not we use high technology, the Iraqi troops are smaller,” Reppy said. “The assessment of new technology is an indicator for the future because obviously we could’ve won with much less.”

Finally, Katzenstein spoke on “America in a World Disordered.” He began by stating, “I am a strong opponent of this war at this time.” He went on to explain his position of the illegitimacy of the States fighting without the support of the United Nations, which he believes is a “massive defeat for U.S. power.”

Additionally, Katzenstein highlighted the strong opposition to U.S. military action reported in allied countries such as Spain and Britain, where 60 to 90 percent of the populations are against the attack, he said. “Bush doesn’t understand that power depends on world support. By overestimating the power of a political empire, he is risking his power and ours,” Katzenstein stressed.

The panel left 25 minutes for reflections and questions from the audience. Emotions escalated as many audience members expressed strong disagreement with the panelists’ positions.

Shana Berger grad participated in the discussion with questions for Hoffmann concerning his views on Israel, and other audience members opened a discussion on ethnic profiling in the U.S. and voiced dissenting opinions on how to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Wolf Koerner grad found the teach-in to be a positive experience.

“I’m really glad this was recommended to me. I thought the second speaker [Hoffmann] mixed up his own experiences with these new ideas, and the role oil played should have been mentioned more, but it was very interesting overall,” he said.

Kramnick was pleased with the outcome of the teach-in and the mixed student and faculty turnout.

“I see it as part of my role as vice president for undergraduate education in this moment of international crisis to bring the University community together to exchange ideas and passionate thoughts in a civil manner,” he said. “That’s what a university is about.”

He added, “The level of conversation was splendid and very thought-provoking.”

Kramnick also stressed that more speak-outs on the war will take place next Tuesday outside the Straight, which he said will offer a more student-focused approach.

Archived article by Sarah Workman