February 13, 2004

Discussing Iraq Issues

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This week there were two teach-ins in Anabel Taylor Hall entitled “Red Alert: are we safe from them? Are they safe from us?” Yesterday at noon three different speakers explored the topic: Frank Houd, a retired member of the U.S. Armed Services, Khury Petersen Smith, a student activist at Rochester Institute of Technology who recently visited Iraq, and Reverend Kenneth Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Work.

“The War in Iraq has gone off peoples’ radar, but people are still dying there and we want to get the word out that this is still an issue.” Bria Morgan ’04 said on the motivation for having the teach-ins.

Tamar Szmuilowicz ’04 worked with Cornell For Peace and Justice to come up with and organize the event. She said, “I felt that the war might be over, but the struggle still continues.” She opened by explaining the choice of the name ‘Red Alert.’ The day after Saddam Hussein was captured the security alert level was raised from yellow to orange which she believed was ironic because his capture was supposed to make the United States safer. She chose to use red instead of orange because the event was at Cornell and she believes that everyone is affected by this war.

“The idea that the U.S. has brought freedom and democracy to Iraq is a lie” said Smith, the first speaker, who recently returned from visiting Iraq. He talked about what he saw there and the impressions he got from the Iraqis he met. He said that the U.S. is actually importing oil into Iraq and that there is such a shortage that while he had to wait 45 minutes to get gas, he heard that people in Baghdad are waiting five-six hours to fuel up. He said, “I was blown away by the sight of bombed out buildings” and passed around some pictures he had taken of buildings falling apart. The Iraqis he spoke with had varying opinions but he noticed that very few of them were part of any organized group taking action for change. He said, “Unless the get organized, they’re doomed to be commentators on their own history.”

The next speaker, Frank Houd, a veteran and member of Veterans for Peace, decided to speak stream of consciousness. He spoke about his experiences in the Vietnam War and said, “The use of force is a very poor tool for problem solving.” He also said that there is no such thing as ‘surgical bombing’ or ‘clean invasions’ and that the war had little to do with weapons of mass destruction. He ended by saying, “Bring them home now!”

“Winning the war, never wining the peace” was the theme of Reverend Kenneth Clark, the third speaker. He began with a quote “I worry about the day after,” saying that there was no doubt that the U.S. would win the war. He spoke of the problematic record of U.S. nation-building and how much more thought should have gone into what would happen after the war. He said that the reality of the situation is that 535 American soldiers have died since the beginning of the war along with untold numbers of Iraqis and “Now we are left with a war that has been won, but a peace that has been elusive to find.”

Next people in the audience asked the speakers questions. In response to a question about the current state of the anti-war movement, Smith said, “It will depend on the degree to which the war begins to hit home.” Houd said that people seem to have dropped the feeling of urgency which needs to be changed because, “Our chief of the military has declared a state of perpetual war without any end in sight.” Then the discussion turned towards economics people debated the motivations of the administration for the war.

Fiona Luhrmann ’04, a friend of one of the speakers said that as an economics major she is probably going to go into the corporate business world. She said, “It would be nice if we could get more of those people to come out to these events.” Szmuilowicz said, “It was upsetting that not as many people came, but we need to bring back the idea of urgency because this topic is something that people just have to continue talking about.” The next big event Cornell For Peace and Justice is working towards is the march in New York City on March 20 protest on the one-year anniversary of the Iraq War.

Garrett Meigs ’04 who heard about it from a friend and saw a poster said, “I think it’s a really important discussion that needs to keep happening; the whole campus should engage in this discussion.”

Rev. Clark said, “I think it’s important for these types of forums to exist and for people to be more informed.”

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman