At this time last year, the debate on this page centered on whether the United States should retaliate against a government halfway around the world for wounds inflicted that were still raw. Over the din of mixed calls for war and for peace in newspapers nationwide, President Bush ordered air strikes on cities with names once unfamiliar, now household: Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kabul. The face of one man stood for evil, and the fate of this country seemed to be in the balance.
A year later, we find ourselves in a similar position, once again facing confusion about America’s place in the world.
As this is being written, the House has just authorized the President to use military force against Iraq, and the Senate is on the floor debating late into the night whether to follow suit. The public debate continues as it always has, played out publicly in Washington, on television, and on newspaper opinion pages everywhere. At Yale, though, the dialogue of war is different this time. To be sure, it is there in political science seminars; at dinner tables; among political activists, former think-tank interns, and anyone lucky enough to be in a class taught by John Gaddis or Charles Hill. But the campus-wide consciousness that began a year ago seems to have waned; the full company of public intellectuals that emerged after Sept. 11 has grown quieter again.
This University — with its Center for International and Area Studies and Center for the Study of Globalization — is in an ideal position to serve as a forum for debate once again when many here may feel detached from the day-to-day updates or uninformed about the grander implications of the ongoing war. Following Sept. 11 last year and again to some extent this year, Yale performed this task admirably. Students and faculty participated in countless thoughtful panels; residential college masters reached out to those who needed to talk; and the entire community engaged in a discussion of what was happening and what needed to be done. The feeling of unease that accompanies any time of war is unavoidable, but by providing more objective information and facilitating conversation, the University and its resources can do much to inform and to soothe minds.
We need not be inundated with panels on Iraq featuring our standard supply of experts, though one or two now would be helpful. The University, with the YCIAS and the globalization center, should collaborate to organize meetings, formal and informal, and bring in speakers to engage the Yale community in discussing the issues now weighing on everyone’s mind.
This Wednesday cognitive science professor Amy Arnsten sent her students an e-mail “not related to class, but important nonetheless.” In it Arnsten mentioned briefly the Senate debate that resolved itself in a vote last night and suggested students with concerns put them into letters. She ended simply, “It makes a difference.”
As a community, Yale professors and students should resume the conversations that first began more than a year ago. They will, in the words of Arnsten, make a tremendous difference in how we understand the outside world from inside the Ivy walls.