Point/Counterpoint: Seniors debate Blair protest

Standing on Class Day — for peace

By Yonah Freemark and Lea Krivchenia

We are two Yale seniors against the war. We will graduate in the year 2008, the fifth year of the conflict in Iraq. Like many of our fellow Yalies, we ended our high school years with an energy and determination to speak out against a war that we considered unjust. We both went to marches, we both wrote to our legislators, and we each organized walkouts at our respective high schools. One of us gave a speech at her high school graduation against the war. At that time, our outrage was not rare and our actions were not taken alone.

This weekend we graduate again, and yet no realistic end to the Iraq War is in sight. In the intervening years we, as well as other members of our generation, have lost much of our zeal and our impulse to speak out. Nonetheless, under the supervision of our government and that of the United Kingdom, led by Tony Blair, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, the vast majority of them noncombatants. The initial justification for the war has been proven fabricated. Five years later, we stand by our initial opposition.

We are protesting one of the primary instigators of the Iraq War. Class Day for us, like for everyone, is important. Our intention is not to disrupt. Rather, we hope to remind both our speaker and our classmates that this war continues. While Mr. Blair is no longer Prime Minister, he remains an influential figure in international politics. His speech will likely not address the Iraq War, but as students, it is our chance to directly voice our disapproval of his involvement in the war and to hold him accountable for his actions. This is an act of witness. As American citizens, and members of the global community, we are not innocent bystanders. Our leaders, using our tax dollars, directed this war. We are complicit and therefore we must stand up against the actions of failed, dangerous leadership.

We understand that graduation is important to students and to their families, and we deeply respect the work that has gone into our collective achievements. We recognize that we would not be here if it were not for many other people along the way, from parents to mentors, from teachers to friends. In planning our opposition, we deliberately chose actions that will not interrupt the speaker, and actions that will not block the views of our families and loved ones. We made these choices because we hope that we will not detract, but rather that we will add to the experience of our fellow graduates and guests.

It is true that our decision to conduct a protest during Class Day is a political one, but to not protest would also be political. The choice of Mr. Blair as speaker was that which originally politicized the event. It would be inexcusable for us to listen without demonstrating our sincere disagreement with his failed policies in regards to the Iraq War.

In fact, it is perhaps appropriate that Mr. Blair has been chosen to speak, as our generation has come of age in a time of war. Both of us can remember exactly where we were when our country began its invasion — it is a memory we will never forget, and it is not one we ever wish to repeat. Our Commencement marks our entrance into the world as we choose to define it — not through war, but through peace.

Yonah Freemark is a senior in Saybrook College. Lea Krivchenia is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.

From Senior Class officer, a response to Class Day protest

By Sabrina Howell

It is unfortunate that members of our class seek to politicize Class Day, putting a negative spin on what would otherwise be a purely festive and celebratory occasion (“Stand on Class Day — for peace” 5/24).

The Senior Class Officers, in conjunction with the Yale President’s Office and the Yale College Dean’s Office, did not invite Former Prime Minister Tony Blair because we agree with or condone every decision he has ever made. Instead, we believe that as one of the world’s most prominent statesmen and a superb orator, Mr. Blair could offer words of advice and wisdom that Yalies, en route to making hard decisions themselves, could take to heart.

Again, though our choice of speaker does not imply support of the Iraq War, we admire many of Mr. Blair’s achievements. Mr. Blair played a central role resolving bitter conflict in Northern Ireland in 1999. He is regarded as the most impassioned of the leaders who advocated NATO intervention in Kosovo. Without his efforts in both cases, untold lives might have been lost.

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr. Blair introduced a minimum wage for the first time in the country’s history and worked to raise the status of labor unions. Today, as the envoy of the Quartet (the UN, EU, Russia and United States) to the Middle East, Mr. Blair spends much of his time trying to improve the economic situation in the West Bank.

Regardless of whether we in the Yale class of 2008 support these policies, Mr. Blair has much to offer us. Even as we may admire or condemn specific decisions, we can learn from his experience. As we graduate, we might do well to consider Mr. Blair’s closing words in his 2007 Foreign Affairs article: “None of this eliminates the setbacks, shortfalls, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies that come with practical decision-making in a harsh world. But it does mean that the best of the human spirit, which has pushed the progress of humanity along, is also the best hope for the world’s future.”

Yonah Freemark and Lea Krivchenia write that Class Day “is our chance to directly voice our disapproval of his involvement in the war and to hold him accountable for his actions.” While we strongly approve of their desire to express their political views and hold leaders accountable, we do not believe that this is an appropriate forum to do so.

Class Day is a time to reflect on our Yale experience and draw inspiration from the guest speaker. We hope that the members of the class of 2008 who seek change in global politics will do so after Class Day—in a venue where they will have an effect.

Sabrina Howell is the Senior Class Treasurer.


  • Eli Against the War

    Howell's argument is terribly flawed. It is not merely that Blair himself is responsible for the illegal conduct and terrible devastation of this war. As Howell pointed out, Blair has many domestic policies to be proud of, in his many years as a statesmen.

    Rather, that he comes is an opportunity to raise, again, in the collective consciousness, a war that, for all intents and purposes, has been abandoned by the press and by America. With so few months left before Bush leaves office, it is hard sometimes to work up, and express, the same outrage, feeling that nothing can be done to change the conduct of people who whom the ends always justify the means.

    Bravo to the seniors, who at risk of being ostracized by some classmates who disagree, are willing to stand and, respectfully and silently, protest.

    I, for one, am glad that the speaker is controversial. It would be a shame if the Senior Class picked someone merely because they would provoke no outrage. But just as I expect Hugo Chavez, or a former member of the Black Panthers or the Weathermen, might provoke indignation on the part of a few conservatives, you can not expect that all seniors will go without outrage.

    The actions speak only for those who participate, just as Blair speaks only for himself. There is never "an appropriate forum" speech.

    These actions will most definitely serve their purpose. This is a perfect "venue where they will have an effect." Thousands of people, young and old, many of whom have likely not considered the impact of the war in far too long.

    Congrats to Freemark, Krivchenia, and the rest.

    And happy graduation to all.

  • Matthew M. Kracher

    I wish all the honerable graduates good luck in their futures. I enjoyed my stay in your town, I was recently there and looked around and I fell in love with the place. Having said all of that we have a problem in the Middle East and The Prime Minister is the Special Envoy to the Middle East. I am not against protests, yet at the same time I want the graduates to enjoy there day for themselves. Mr. Blair can endure whatever civil protest you throw his way, so what I would do is instead of a demonstration or protest, I would be polite and then after all is said and done tell him to get back to work his services are needed at his post.

    Matthew M. Kracher

  • Jared, Yale 07

    As a Yale alum, I am proud that Yale's seniors are making clear their disapproval of the most catastrophic (not to mention immoral) foreign policy decision in decades. As Americans we owe much to the Iraqis for destroying their country; making a very mild disruption at Class Day by holding signs is the least we could do.

    Congratulations to the class of 08. I wish I could be there with you.

  • Anonymous

    I think it's sad that a few attention seekers felt the need to make a school wide celebration all about themsselves.

  • Anonymous

    I think it's sad that #4 can't understand that the protesters were drawing attention to a major atrocity, not to themselves.

    Also, Howell's logic-- for lack of a better term-- could have been used during an appearance by Hitler during the early '40s. Indeed, not all of his policies were laudable, but he was a master orator and prominent statesman. And he restructured the German economy-- a major achievement. So it would have been unfortunate then, as now, for selfish students to "politicize" the occasion by drawing attention to his criminal record, an irrelevant matter inside the bubble. Only the uncivilized would have reacted with decent human impulses to his presence, while the rest-- the best educated, no doubt-- would have seized upon the opportunity to learn from his vast experience.

  • robert

    Can't anything be conducted without injecting the self importance of "protest" into it?

    Y '62

  • Hieronymus

    "Me! Me! Me!"

    Graduation is about Yale's Seniors as a group, but even there, the Lefties canna keep their big traps shut.

    "Me! Me! Me!"

    You wanna protest? Please, then, go act as a human shield in Iraq, rather than disrupting the parents' $400,000 dog-n-pony show. Weaklings.

  • Anonymous

    class day is not the right forum to protest the war. these people are ruining my idyllic happy class day. boo hoo.

  • Eli Mom

    It's very simple: if you don't want a politicized class day, don't pick a politician as your speaker.

  • anon

    ah, the old Hitler argument.

    "What if Hitler had come to speak? What if Mao had come to speak?"

    Well, thankfully we have had the oppressive Hu Jintao come to campus. And while many liberals kept silent for the arrival of this despot, they want us to raise a commotion when a (liberal) democratically elected politician comes to speak.

    The fact of the matter is that every time people talk about an "illegal" war, they're talking about how the UN didn't approve the war. As if that's what important. I'm a liberal Brit who has opposed the War in Iraq, but I have opposed it on rational grounds. I don't consider it 'illegal', just a mistake. And unlike genocide or authoritarianism, all politicians are guilty of mistakes.

    Blair's mistake was not that he thought Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (when Saddam was faking possession of them to deter Iranian invasion, every intelligence report said they were there, and he would not let UN inspectors in - look it up it's all true). It would have been irresponsible for him to do nothing.

    Blair's mistake was not about prosecuting the war without UN approval. Who cares about what China's dictators think about our foreign policy?

    Blair's mistake was to trust in the American handling of the second phase (fighting the inevitable insurgency) of the war. Blair's mistake was to go in while telling the people of our country that the road would be easy. Blair's mistake was to let the US deride international opponents of the war (like Germany, France) as enemies rather than merely idealistic.

    That is why the war has been a disaster thus far. Rational opponents of the war know that opposition to the war is better rooted in hard-headed realism about how the war was conducted than fantasy-land pronouncements about how it was immoral to remove a totalitarian sponsor of Palestinian suicide bombings, institutionalized rape, and horrendous secret police from power.

  • Anonymous

    it wasn't quiet when hu came.

    doesn't anyone remember most of central campus being untraversable BECAUSE of protests?

  • let freedom ring

    Why didn't anyone protest his trading British sovereignty to the unelected bureaucrats in the EU at the expense of the British people for personal power? What about the Orwellian "hate speech" laws that stifle debate on important issues in the UK?

  • Anonymous

    Central campus was either blocked off by police or blocked by non-Yale protesters (Falun Gong and bused-in Chinese Communists alike). As far as I remember, there was no Yale protest.

  • y08

    Students had every right to protest the speech…in a NON-disruptive manner on the sidelines, somewhere where they would not have been blocking the view of Blair for their peers behind them. As much as I cherish the constitutional right to protest, while I was sitting at Class Day looking at an anti-war poster instead of Blair, I would have relished seeing the protesters hauled off by the police and batonned if they tried to resist.