February 20, 2003
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Adam Wartman, a fourth-year student at Antioch College, speaking at a Feb. 4 forum on the possible war on Iraq, as Jim Keen listened.

Residents debate Iraqi war at forum

Villagers addressed a local aspect of a pressing national issue Tuesday, Feb. 4, at a forum that asked whether the United States should attack Iraq and whether the Village and Antioch College should take a stand.

An audience of more than 100 people, mainly Antioch College students and local residents, packed the First Presbyterian Church for the forum, which was sponsored by the church. Facilitated by retired Antioch religion professor Al Denman, the event featured short presentations from Village and college officials along with an open discussion.

While the presenters offered differing views as to whether this country should attack Iraq, most in the audience clearly opposed that action, with many expressing anger at the Bush administration.

And while most panel members questioned the wisdom of either the college or the Village taking a stand, again audience members expressed with applause their support for both the Village and college taking stands against the war.

“I believe it is time that, village by village and university by university, we put an end to this war,” said Pat Mische, Antioch College professor of peace and world law, prompting considerable applause.

While she cautioned that a corporate stand against the war could undermine freedom of thought, Mische said that such an effect could be lessened if the Village and college “take a corporate stand only after lots of views have been heard.”

Several others echoed Mische’s concern that official Village and college positions would undermine diversity of opinion.

“The academy is the place for many arguments,” said presenter and Village Council member Hazel Latson.

Council president Tony Arnett, also a presenter, said that he was opposed to the Village taking a position on the war because “as a public servant the fundamental thing I try to uphold is your having a choice.”

If Antioch College took an official stand, the action “may do violence to the minority,” said presenter Jim Malarkey, director of humanities at Antioch University McGregor. Rather than taking a stand, he said, the college should do “everything in its power to provide academic opportunities to address the issues” raised by the possible attack.

“The role of the university is to encourage an honest and sincere search for truth,” said Maurice Meilleur, a political science professor at Antioch. “That search cannot take place if certain arguments are taken off the table by a corporate stance.”

However, several audience participants said, the gravity of the potential war on Iraq requires that both the Village and college take stands.

“I would ordinarily not want Antioch to take a corporate stand,” said Jim Keen, an Antioch professor. “But in this situation I believe our voices need to be heard, both individual and corporal.”

About 42 cities and towns in this country have taken a stand against the war, said an Antioch student. The actions “bring media attention, bring visibility to talk of peace,” the student said.

If Antioch took a stand against the war, the action would not necessarily squelch dissenting viewpoints but would rather provide an opportunity for everyone to speak out, said Antioch student Kya Kowalczyk. “It would create a forum for discussion,” she said, “and offer a community process that would promote unity.”

Making the case for the U.S. attacking Iraq was Meilleur, who said that “the costs of continuing the sanctions and doing nothing are greater than those of intervening” in the country. While he believes that Saddam will eventually fall from power, he said that a fall that takes place on its own “will lead to interparty chaos and murder,” as opposed to the more controlled transition of power that would follow a U.S. intervention.

The United States should also bring about a “regime change,” he said, because the U.S. was instrumental in bringing Saddam and his political party to power and therefore should assume the responsibility of removing them.

While we may believe launching a preemptive strike to be morally wrong, different standards of ethics must be used in dealing with Saddam, said Meilleur, who stated that normal standards of ethics are not effective when responding to a despotic ruler.

Audience member Malcolm Kelly cautioned participants to look toward history to better understand Saddam, especially regarding the Iraqi’s writings, which, he said, mirror those of Adolf Hitler in their desire for power.

However, said Wally Sikes, there are essential differences between Saddam and Hitler.

“Iraq is nothing like Germany,” he said. “It’s a tiny country, a poor country, with no infrastructure. People say we have to stop Saddam like we had to stop Hitler, but that comparison is erroneous.”

Hassan Rahmanian, an Antioch College professor of social and global studies, said that more, not less, world chaos will follow a U.S. war on Iraq.

“This action will not bring us peace,” he said, citing what he saw as consequences of the Gulf War. “Al Qaeda was built after the Gulf War. Bin Laden became our enemy after the Gulf War. This action will make 100 Al Qaedas,” he said.

If the United States launches a war, “it will kill hundreds of thousands of people, subject millions of Iraqis to misery,” Malarkey said. “This is a horror show about to take place.”

Several audience members said that the possible war felt close to home.

“This is my sons’ war,” said Tom Vondruska, who said he has sons aged 14 and 16.

Our country does need to consider the ethical implications of its international behavior, regardless of who the action involves, said local resident Dimi Reber.

“I don’t think it’s naive to believe that we can operate with the same moral principles” when dealing with Saddam or anyone else, she said. “I believe it’s essential. Pre-emptive strikes are not what we should be doing.”

Equating pursuing alternatives to war in Iraq with “doing nothing” is inaccurate, said Mische.

“It’s a failure of imagination if we assume that the only alternative to attack is to do nothing” she said. “The task of peace building is not passive but active.”

That activity involves working to increase understanding, Malarkey said.

“The road to solving the problems with the non-Western world is by understanding its people and treating them with respect,” he said. “It means inviting them to dialogue.”

Many expressed shock and anger at this country’s stance toward Iraq.

“The one thing in the end that sways me more than anything is realizing that terrorism is the targeting of civilian populations,” said Jim Keen. “Everything I hear about the military campaign that Washington is planning leads me to believe that we are becoming a terrorist nation.”

—Diane Chiddister