Last night marked the first in a series of teach-ins several Yale organizations plan to host in conjunction with the New Haven Peace Council to raise campus awareness of the complexity and fragile nature of U.S. international relations in the Middle East.
The lectures, entitled “Reconsidering the U.S. Policy in the Iraq war: a Series of Teach-ins,” are being organized by history professor John Demos, who said the series is intended to recapture the spirit of similar political movements during the Vietnam War era. Demos, who has also been organizing fellow history professors in a mobilization against the war, said the event, which was attended by over 70 students and Hew Haven residents, was a success. Raising the consciousness of the war through education is a direct attempt to re-energize the spirit of political activism on college campuses, Demos said.
“Many of the faculty remember the role of campuses [in the political arena],” Demos said.
The leader of Yale Peace, Jessica Harris ’08, said looking at these issues from an academic, historical perspective is an excellent forum for such groups to educate the larger community. Yale Peace, she said, stresses the importance of retrospective education in establishing an understanding of the conflicts that face our nation.
While such changes will take considerable time and effort to be enacted, ideally the time frame is months, he said.
“The war won’t wait,” Demos said.
The first teach-in was keynoted by professor Juan Cole, a specialist in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, spoke on the history of Iraq from the Ottoman Empire to the fall of the Baath Party in 2003.
Cole said the decisions of the U.S. government upon entering the war were misguided. Abbas Amanat, a professor of history who concluded the event, reenforced the themes in Cole’s speech.
Due to the “deflated” sense of political activism after the initial declaration of war in 2003, Yale Peace, along with the other groups, hopes that by making these talks more frequent and accessible, they can change the political tone of the campus, Harris said.
“A big name like Juan Cole will help gain the momentum [of political activism] on campus,” she said.
While the teach-in began as a playful account of Iraq’s colonial history was quickly transformed into a more serious, critical analysis of the role of the United States in the New Iraq. This careful scrutiny is the goal of the entire teach-in series, Harris said.
Cole also said the United States’ actions in helping create a constitution for the “new Iraq” have increased factionalism between ethnic groups in the nation.
“This is a recipe for continued social turmoil and continued global war,” he said.
While political discourse was the aim of the evening, some attendees said they came solely to be educated on foreign affairs. J.R. Siegel ’06, who is completing a yearlong political science senior essay on the relationship between the Iraq insurgency and democracy, said the lecture was beneficial, especially due to the nature of his research.
Demos and Harris said the hope of all the parties involved is that more and more students will attend the teach-ins, learn about the issues and spread the importance of an informed, global population.
The event was organized by the Council on Middle Eastern Studies, the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, along with the Department of History and the Yale Peace organization.