More than 100 students and professors crowded on the floor of a classroom for a teach-in on Iraq Monday, surprising organizers who expected an audience of about 20. Even organizers moved the event to a larger room, many audience members still stood in the aisles.
The unexpected crowd of students, faculty members and New Haven residents gathered for what was intended to be a conversation on American policy toward Iraq. With high interest in the event, participants said they hoped the discussion would become the beginning of increased student political action on the issue.
The speakers — among them professors Michael Denning, Benedict Kiernan, Vron Ware, Arjun Appadurai and Paul Gilroy — all touched on different consequences of war with Iraq.
Kiernan, an expert on Cambodian genocide, offered historical examples demonstrating that the most severely hurt in a war would be Iraqi civilians. He cited a recent poll that showed a majority of Americans do not support a war against Iraq in which large numbers of civilian casualties would take place.
The teach-in was organized by Alicia Schmidt Camacho, director of undergraduate studies for the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program and Shonu Gandhi ’03. They said it was modeled after an earlier teach-in held in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, which about 20 students attended. Students and community leaders are planning several other teach-ins and rallies against war this fall.
Camacho said a war would have serious implications for Middle Eastern bystanders, especially in the case of local minorities such as the Kurds.
Professors said they were encouraged by the large turnout for Monday’s teach-in. Many took the large numbers as sign of a sizeable group willing to resist war in Iraq.
“It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and each other, to find out about other parts of the world,” said Denning, who was pleased with the overwhelming attendance.
Other professors focused on the evolving U.S. security strategy. Denning emphasized the recent progression from deterrence to preemptive policies. He said a new war would be the culmination of a decade of military buildup and urged against war.
Denning argued that Saddam Hussein is not a new Hitler or “a great Satan.” Instead, Denning called Hussein a leader of an outlying “rogue state” amid a world of emerging powerful nations.
Ware, a professor of women’s and gender studies, highlighted the feminist view of militarism. She also urged audience members to think locally in their efforts to find ways to resist military action.
An enlivened Appadurai also emphasized the importance of action.
“Within the very heart of the American war machine what is going on is a battle between [those who are in the inside] about where all this world power is going,” Appadurai said. “This debate has us as bystanders, like some Greek chorus in the wings.”
After the panel, many audience members announced their own plans to prevent war, ranging from teach-ins to an Oct. 26 trip to Washington D.C. to attend a national rally against war.
“It became a signboard for everything that is going on — other opportunities to get involved,” said Kate Franklin ’05, a member of the Yale Coalition for Peace.
Other students said the teach-in was just the first step in many future actions against war.
“It was just the beginning of an ongoing campuswide debate,” Chesa Boudin ’03 said.