Iraq war, HLS reacts


Around 1,000 people gathered in Harvard Yard to protest the war.

On the first full day of the Iraqi war, student and faculty reactions to these turbulent times were marked by support, dissent, and a desire to openly debate and discuss these issues in a way that reflects why universities remain a bastion of thoughtful dialogue. From small groups of students gathered around televisions as the 48-hour deadline passed, to thousands of students gathered around the John Harvard statue to protest what they call an unjust and illegal war, it is clear that students are concerned about this war and feel that their actions can make a difference in how this war is waged and perceived.

Walking to class, eating in the cafeteria, or passing by a classroom, a person notices that students are intensely discussing the war. A debate has been raging within the walls of HLS–a “healthy conversation” as one professor told his class–as many students try to come to terms with the first major war of their adult life (the Kosovo conflict being limited to air strikes that were meant only to prevent ethnic cleansing, not regime change).

HLS Veterans Association set up a table in the Hark to pass out yellow ribbons to show support for troops in the Persian Gulf. Their message was that support for U.S. personnel should be a non-partisan issue.

Other students were more adamant in their opinions. “I think it is unfortunate that Saddam Hussein refused to accept exile and avoid a military conflict,” said Brett Joshpe, president of Students for Protecting America, a Law School group that favors the disarmament of Iraq through military means. Calling the lack of a second Security Council resolution “unfortunate,” Joshpe said that if “international law is to have meaning, the U.N. must be willing, at the very least, to enforce resolutions like 1441 that demand compliance or ‘face serious consequences.'”

The administration also weighed in on the matter. Dean Clark announced that televisions would be tuned to war coverage in both the Hark and in the Ames Moot Court Room Monday through Friday. He also encouraged students who may be feeling high levels of stress or anxiety to consider counseling at the Law School in order to cope.

In a statement to the Harvard community, President Summers said this was a “solemn moment for our community, the nation, and the world.”

“I hope and trust,” he continued, “that our university will be a place where individuals with different perspectives can air them freely and thoughtfully, and where each of us will make a genuine effort to listen and learn from the view of others.”

Summers also mentioned the risk of a domestic attack, even though the administration had “no evidence of any specific threats to the university community.” “[P]lease be assured that the security of our students, staff, and faculty is a paramount concern, and we will continue to take appropriate precautions with that concern in mind,” he said.

Student Walk-Out

A student walk-out to protest the war took place on Thursday at 12:30 pm, with over a thousand students from Harvard University and other educational institutions gathering at Harvard Yard. Sponsored by the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice, the rally began with several student and faculty speakers passionately articulating their reasons for not supporting the war.

Matthew Skomarovsky, a member of the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice, called the war an “intense bombing” against an “almost defenseless land.” Standing atop a chair to elevate himself above the crowd, Skomarovsky ridiculed President Bush’s statements that the war would liberate the Iraqi people. “Three thousand cruise missiles would only liberate the Iraqi people in a religious sense by separating the body from the soul,” he said. Skomarovsky hoped the walk-out would “set the record straight” that this country is not united in support of the war.

Continuing the speeches, and speaking like a preacher to his flock, Professor Brian Palmer pumped up the crowd with his own thoughts on the war’s purpose. Calling Iraq “a skirmish in what appears to be the real war between the Bush administration and the rest of the world,” Palmer linked the war to Bush’s efforts to win reelection. “Military war is a cover for class war,” he said.

“Regime change begins at home and we must recognize and end our own complicity,” Palmer emphasized to a cheering crowd.

An emotional moment during the rally came with a speech by undergraduate Mike Getlin, who, despite aspirations from childhood to join the military, withdrew his application from the Marine Corp on Wednesday in protest of the war. He said Bush’s strategy would only “sow more efficiently terrorism and war” and that if the United States continues its policies, “Iraq will not be the only soil over which this war will be waged.”

Among the protesters were students from various high schools and junior highs. Three students from Longfellow Junior High took a leave of absence from their classes to join the throng of protesters. One of the students, Yuri, said, “I’m against the war.” He praised the speakers for making several good points and was pleased with the size of the crowd at the rally.

Jake, another Longfellow student, called the rally “a great thing.” “You need to rally together in order to make a difference,” he said.

The third student companion, Xavier, said it was a good thing that so many individuals had come out to protest the war and that “we need to show that not everyone is for this war.”

On the other side of the issue were eight or nine students from Billercia High School who supported military action in Iraq. When asked what he thought of the crowd that had gathered for the rally, Dave Stimpson, who was holding an American flag, pointed at the crowd and said, “That is not representative of the population” in this country.

Ryan, another Billercia student, seemed more inclined to praise the soldiers in the Persian Gulf than criticize the protestors. “I support our troops because they are the ones who give these protestors the right to dissent.”

Spring Break as Usual

Despite the beginning of war and the high level threat of a terrorist attack, Law School students are not disrupting their spring break travel plans. One-L Russell Capone has been planning a trip to Paris for several months, and, although he was leaving on Thursday, he was not going to let the beginning of war prevent him from seeing his girlfriend.

One-L Elissa Hart is traveling to Switzerland for spring break. She said she was somewhat apprehensive about the trip, but reiterated that the most dangerous part was still “the ride to the airport.”

Others were keeping their appointments for a week on the beach, absorbing the sun and enjoying the tranquility of a peaceful land.

For more photos of Harvard’s reaction to the
outbreak of war see our associated photo essay.

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