Veterans Day: Students and the War in Iraq
I began in academia after the Iraq war began, and have been puzzled — and at times frustrated — by the lack of student attention to or interest in the war. One could spend weeks on campus at MU and never see evidence that this is a state university in a country at war. (I arrived at school one day to see the quad in front of the law school outlined with hundreds of small black flags planted in the ground. Thinking that this was — at last — a sign of student activism about the war, I stopped to read the handwritten words on a flag: it was an ad for a Henry Rollins concert).
This op-ed piece in yesterday’s WaPo caught my attention. It is written by an Iraq war veteran and current Georgetown undergrad and includes some interesting observations about student apathy toward the war:
People on campus don’t think about the war very much. It rarely comes up in conversation, either inside or outside the classroom. Some professors have encouraged me to share my experiences, and some students have expressed interest in my past. Last semester, one wrote an article about another Iraq veteran and me for the campus newspaper. And this semester I dedicated about 250 words of a 900-word paper to the problem of sectarian violence in Iraq for a class on international relations. But that was the first time in my three semesters here that I was asked to formally consider the war for a class.
Beyond that, my theology professor gave a lecture last year that challenged students to find God in Iraq. My philosophy professor used Baghdad to describe what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes may have meant when he said that life in the state of nature would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” But that’s about it. One student actually told me to stop thinking about Iraq. “You need to get rid of all that baggage and let yourself live,” she said. “We need to be shallow sometimes.”
I find it frustrating that Facebook is a bigger part of most students’ lives than the war. After my first semester, I decided to rejoin the Army by signing up with the ROTC. I felt a bit guilty for having done only one tour in Iraq while friends of mine have done two or three. And I didn’t want to forget the war. I may be prejudiced, but many of my college peers seem self-absorbed. I didn’t want to end up like that.
Behind the law school here is “Speakers Circle,” a free speech zone that does not require a permit for speeches, rallies or gatherings. By my own unscientific daily observations, about 80 percent of the speeches and events hosted there are religious preaching (by preachers from outside campus). I have not once in my four years here seen any student groups or outsiders use Speakers Circle for a discussion of the war. I am not aware of any student events or student-sponsored speakers at the law school organized around discussions of the war. To be fair, there is a separate part of campus called “Peace Park,” which was known as a gathering place for protests during the Vietnam War. Several community events (mostly non-university) protesting the Iraq war and/or supporting Iraq war vets have originated there. The most visible anti-war presence in town, however, is an off-campus weekly protest by a handful of Boomer-aged protestors, which usually is accompanied by a Boomer-aged group of war supporters responding from across the street.
I’d be interested to know what others have experienced on other campuses and in other states. How much have students lives been affected by the war? Has there been a marked change in interest over the past four years? Are we as faculty doing enough to use the war in our classes?