Iraq War Teach-In
When Santa Monica College teachers meet together in a room crowded with students to address a divisive controversy such as the war in Iraq, the room fills up, voices get loud and all ears listen carefully.
Sponsored by the Anti-War on the World Collective, the teach-in on the war in Iraq took place last Thursday on campus. It included many professors with different political beliefs as well as different educational specialties. Professors Gail Livings, Wilfred Doucet, Alan Buckley, Richard Tahvilderan-Jesswein and Katherine Shamey were the main participants of the event. Among them, Nate Brown, a speech teacher, was moderating the debate.
At the beginning of the discussion, a handout prepared by SMC Professor James Stramel, a philosopher specializing in ethics, was passed out in the room.
It framed the discussion on the western concept of what is a just war.
Stramel explained the concept of jus ad bellum, which is the justification of the use of force when going to war, as opposed to jus in bellum, which is the justification of particular types of actions in war. According to the philosophy teacher, three conditions are necessary for a war to be legitimate: a just war or jus ad bellum must be declared by a legitimate and competent authority for a public purpose, it must have a just cause where the enemy must deserve the attack. Peaceful remedies must be exhausted and there must be a rightful intention with no ulterior motives than advancing good and avoiding evil and ultimately aiming at peace.
Stramel underlined that the Bush administration's preemptive war in Iraq is a new form of justification to attack a nation.
Different from the usual "offensive or defensive" form of what has served as a just cause in the past, the preemptive war allows a nation to take preemptive actions against a country if they believe it is necessary.
"That is inherently risky, because you are dealing with predictions and estimations of a nation's intention," said Stramel, who believes that the process of establishing evidences of a nation's intention can lead to manipulation and distortion of the truth.
But if Stramel gave a close look at a "striking lack of clarity" on many points that legitimately contribute to a permissible and just war others like Alan Buckley, a political scientist, focused on the national interest of the United States.
"If the objective of the U.S. was to combat global terrorism, the war does not have an obvious positive consequence," said Buckley, who read an article published in The Washington Post entitled "U.S. Figures Show Sharp Global Rise In Terrorism" by Susan B. Glasser and dated April 27, 2005, stating that according to the U.S. government the number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year.
In addition, the teacher mentioned that according to political theories a counter-hegemonic alliance always forms when a nation asserts itself in the territories of other states.
"In the long term it probably won't be in the national interest of the U.S. to provoke this coalition of opposing countries," said Buckley.
In addition, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was highly debated during the gathering with many opposing views.
For Shane Smith, a mathematics teacher, people should be more concerned by the massive graves resulting from Saddam Hussein's regime than the Abu Ghraib issue.
"That's what I do not understand about folks who are so concerned about Abu Ghraib. I wonder why they are not more concerned about the mass graves under Hussein," said Smith, who believes that "true oppression" takes place in Marxist and Communist countries, not in "a self-correcting government."
"Oppression does exist in this country. The police have a long history of being the brute feast of the power structure," said Doucet, who is against the war.
He underlined and questioned the definition of terrorism as well as the war on terrorism.
Finally, among several other topics the national and international public perception on the war's legitimacy was also discussed.
Livings, a sociology teacher, stressed the importance of the public opinion on the war's legitimacy.
"For the soldiers and their families it does matter how this war is perceived," said Livings, who doubts that the government takes responsibility to effectively assist Post-Traumatic Stress Disordered soldiers when they return.
"They did not take responsibility for the Vietnam vets; they are not going to take responsibility for the Iraqi vets," said the teacher.
Traumatized veterans, economic draft, oppression, terrorism, nationalism, imperialism of westernized ideological values, the oil industry, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, America's arrogance, freedom of speech, corporate control of the media and democracy where all part of the topics ardently addressed during the discussion between professors and students.
Even though opinions differed and no solutions were found, teachers and students agreed that the only way to make change happen is through knowledge.