Civility bodes well for campus war dialogue

While peace protests in Europe and Australia turned violent Wednesday afternoon, the hawks and doves who gathered on Beinecke plaza managed to stay mostly civil for the hour they spent together supporting the troops. It was a welcome adherence to President Levin’s proposed rules of Yale war etiquette: Surrounded by the stone-carved names of Yalies who have died in battle, 200 students, professors and passersby acted out the first constructive war demonstration and counter-demonstration the campus has seen this year.

Coupled with Monday’s peaceful peace march to the Green and supplemented by an evening teach-in at the Law School, the Yale College Students for Democracy-organized event marks a much-anticipated change in how Yale discusses Iraq. The success of this week’s events and the prospects of those planned for next week just might mean campus dialogue on the war is alive and productive after all — something not especially evident before the war began. We hope it continues that way in the weeks to come.

Wednesday’s rally showed all the other trappings of a mannered political showdown: inoffensive buttons and unhysterical signs; factsheets, sandwich boards and clever but not antagonistic slogans. A few security guards stood calmly to the side; local children waved British and American flags; students walking through Commons decided to skip class and listen. Both sides were deliberately — and surprisingly — polite, though occasional outbursts betrayed a tension that they otherwise carefully and wisely suppressed. Beyond sporadic hisses, curses and interruptions from the left side of the podium and “go hug Saddam” responses from the right, it was the speakers that set a tone for the afternoon, which carried into the panel discussion at night.

Borrowing from the Vietnam era, when on-campus protests were often less civilized than yesterday’s, President Levin rounded up the trusty handful of resident diplomats and faculty experts for a panel in the Law School that drew — not surprisingly — an overflow crowd. Simulcast on closed-circuit television, the teach-in was a laudable University effort to focus the discussion on campus and to help ensure it is well-informed. That these panels, when they are organized and advertised, attract larger numbers of students than student-sponsored daytime events should be incentive for administrators and professors to organize more — especially if, as history professor Donald Kagan said at both the YCSD rally and the teach-in Wednesday, this war is a longer and more difficult one than we first imagined.

Finally students are coming together on campus and expressing clear opinions about what we have been waiting for, but not publicly debating, all year. Our first three days back have been a good start. Students have long needed different settings, different speakers, and different forums for discussing the war, and we will need them more as the battles intensify.


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