As much of the nation talks of aggressive military action and war, history professor and former Yale College Dean Donald Kagan said he believes professors urging caution are dominating the discussion at Yale — to the exclusion of a real debate.
Kagan wrote an opinion piece for the Sept. 18 edition of the Yale Daily News in response to Sunday’s faculty panel on last week’s terrorist attacks. In the column, Kagan criticized the panel, particularly history professor Paul Kennedy and international relations professor Strobe Talbott, for critiques of the United States that he wrote amounted to “blaming the victim.”
On Thursday, Kagan said he believes the faculty leans overwhelmingly to one side.
“There seems to be a very concentrated opinion in one direction,” Kagan said. “There is one received opinion which is repeated over and over again.”
He said other professors agree with him but may be cowed by a majority opinion.
“I don’t know why the other people are intimidated,” Kagan said.
But some faculty members disagreed with the notion of an ideological rift.
“Sure, there are divisions among the faculty,” history professor John Gaddis said. “[But] I don’t think there are firm ideological positions shaping up yet on this.”
Panelist Talbott said he only was trying to point out other possible causes, including economic factors, for the attacks — not defend the actions of the terrorists.
“I can’t understand their motives, I can’t understand the ways they justify it,” said Talbott, director of the new Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
At the same time, he said he believes the United States should not simply attack the problem from a military angle, and he advocated further support for development projects.
“If people are really poor and really desperate, they’re going to be really angry,” Talbott said.
Gustav Ranis, director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and a member of the panel, said he believes many Yale professors are less inclined to support a full-scale military action by the United States.
“I think that’s not how everyone on Main Street feels, but that’s how most professors feel,” Ranis said. “I hope it’s a very measured and a very limited kind of action.”
But Kagan placed much more emphasis on military solutions. He said the United States should strike back at terrorists and he also said America should attack governments, like the Taliban and the Iraqi government, that he said support terrorism.
“We must do everything we can to eliminate those regimes,” Kagan said. “There are risks in pursuing the policy I recommend, but in my view they’re infinitely smaller than the risk of not doing it.”
Ranis said he favored a much less forceful response, even suggesting that eventually the United States might make moves attempting to win the support of Arab countries. These moves included gradually withdrawing U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and pursuing what he called a more evenhanded role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“We don’t want to respond quickly and look like we’re giving in to the terrorists,” Ranis said, but he added that by eventually removing possible aggravations to Arabs, the U.S. might further isolate terrorists in the Arab world.
Kennedy declined comment for this story, and said he was writing a piece for Time magazine about the recent terrorist attacks.
While Ranis said he believes most Yale professors are advising caution, he said he also feels there is a diversity of opinion.
“We’re not monolithic,” he said. “Different people have different views.”