This Newsletter is aimed at providing members of Historians Against the War (those who have signed the petition calling for the restoration of cherished freedoms at home and an end to the US occupation of Iraq) with a vehicle for sharing notes on activities that we are involved in. To contribute, write to Margaret Power, a member of the HAW Steering Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In order to build and better coordinate our work and impact, HAW invites you to become a local contact and/or part of a regional network.
As a local contact or part of a regional network you could:
From its inception at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in January 2003, Historians Against the War has worked within both the AHA and the Organization of American Historians to support free speech and mobilize opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Seeking to avoid a divisive debate, HAW chose not to press the professional associations to adopt an explicitly anti-war position, but rather pursued a civil liberties agenda. The success of this strategy became apparent when the OAH adopted a HAW-sponsored resolution upholding free speech at its annual convention in April 2003. Meeting in Memphis just two weeks after the start of the bombing of Iraq, the OAH business meeting unanimously adopted the resolution affirming ‘the sanctity of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.’
Following up on this endorsement, HAW brought a similar resolution before the AHA annual convention in January 2004 affirming the necessity for “unfettered discussion,” “open debate,” and “open access to government records and archives.” Again, the resolution passed unanimously.
On the strength of these two victories, HAW proposed the creation of an OAH committee to investigate threats to freedom of expression. At the OAH convention in Boston in March 2004, the Executive Board chaired by Jacquelyn Hall adopted the proposal, and incoming President James Horton subsequently appointed HAW member David Montgomery to chair the committee.
Meanwhile, HAW has also been organizing opposition to the war within the professional associations. We have solicited signatures on our statement of opposition to the invasion of Iraq (approximately 2200 signatures by March 2003) and our revised statement of opposition to the occupation (approximately 1300 to date). In addition, we have handed out literature at the conventions and sponsored a successful panel on war resistance at the 2004 OAH. We expect to conduct similar activities in the future.
Alan Dawley (ADawley@tcnj.edu)
With a Presidential election looming over the semester, a crucial task for antiwar faculty is to devise campus events that go beyond traditional campaigns, raise significant issues and that can galvanize student engagement.
Last Spring faculty and students at Hofstra University stumbled upon an approach that proved to be amazingly exciting and successful. It offers a model, which we are attempting to build upon this fall and which might be useful at other institutions.
In creating our “Day of Inquiry,” we were responding to two longstanding problems that are not unique to our school: low attendance and a substrate of student suspicion that radical faculty members are attempting to impose their idiosyncratic views. On this occasion, we found a format that involved over a thousand students and generated remarkable good will and positive energy.
The structure of the day was deceptively simple – a series of events from early morning until late at night in which various aspects of the “Bush agenda” (e.g., war in Iraq, effect of the Patriot Act on our school, reproductive rights) were discussed and debated. Some of these sessions involved outside speakers, others featured our own faculty, while others were student directed.
There were some fresh elements that made this day work especially well:
1. Support from the Provost’s Office. In an election year, our Administration was willing to sponsor our program. This gave us excellent access to campus spaces, free publicity and (most crucially) the participation of numerous classes. While the Provost did not cancel courses for the day, his endorsement meant that professors felt free to bring their students, even when their subject matter had nothing to with contemporary politics. In exchange for the Administration’s support, organizers accepted the requirement that events be balanced.
2. Planning Process that Involved Students and Faculty. From the beginning planning for the day included progressive faculty and representatives from student organizations. This collaboration was immensely productive and yielded a range of ideas that were different from what faculty might have generated on their own. Once the project was launched, we invited representatives from groups we do not ordinarily work with – such as the Young Republicans, Hillel, and ROTC to be part of the process.
3. Reaching Out to ROTC. From early on, we contacted the ROTC office on our campus and engaged the people there in our planning. Liberal arts faculty had never connected to these folks and there were many negative stereotypes on both sides. After serious discussion, the officers at ROTC agreed to participate and encouraged all of their students become involved. Incredibly, most of us were unaware of how many of our students were already in Iraq and Afghanistan or were scheduled to go.
4. Diversity of Opinion. Although progressive faculty had a long history of inviting more conservative colleagues to participate in forums, most have been unwilling to debate. This time we recognized from the beginning that if we wanted different perspectives, we needed to involve more conservative students and speakers from off the campus. We received an unexpected boost, when one of our alumni, who was serving as Paul Bremer’s Senior Press Advisor in Iraq, agreed to participate. The result was a series of sometimes intense, riveting debates (including an unprecedented joint session arranged by the Muslim Students Association and Hillel) that made students as well as faculty eager to continue.
5. Starting the Day With Personal Experience. By last spring, it had become apparent that in addition to ROTC, many of our students had family or friends that were serving in Iraq. We began the day with an open forum, run by our chaplain, that was specifically geared to those who felt a personal connection to the war. This included antiwar activists as well as those involved with servicemen and women. By encouraging everyone to share thoughts and experiences in a non-threatening fashion, the days’ deliberations were grounded in a certain human reality. It also initiated a mood of exchange and reflection that set a constructive tone for the subsequent sessions.
While there were plenty of rough edges and glitches throughout the day, for many students and faculty it was our most rewarding experience of campus life, We are hoping to continue the momentum from last year, under the rubric of “Hofstra Votes.” Along with a large-scale registration effort, we are planning a second “Day of Inquiry” that taps some of the energy created by a Presidential contest, but which focuses on the substantive issues that will remain no matter which candidate wins in November.
Carolyn Eisenberg (email@example.com)
To kick off the weekend of the Republican National Convention, HAW organized a Town Hall Meeting of Historians on Saturday, August 28, to discuss how far to the right the Bush Administration has moved in its global war on terror. Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University, Renate Bridenthal of Brooklyn College (emerita), Thomas Bender of NYU, and Andrew Bacevich of Boston University considered the question: Have we broken with the mainstream American past?
While the panelists differed on whether or not the Bush administration represents a genuine departure from the past, they all agreed that it is pushing America in the wrong direction. Perhaps the most surprising response was from Bacevich, a self-described conservative and West Point graduate, who argued that the Bush administration’s foreign policy is an “arrogant” and “stupid” version of earlier attempts to expand the American empire. The eminent scholar of U.S. foreign policy confessed that he voted for Bush, but is distressed by the administration’s muscular unilateralism, preventative war and sheer lack of vision. However, Bacevich cautioned that the Bush administration’s allegiance to the notion that the U.S. is a benevolent superpower with the responsibility to transform the international order is integral to much of American history, including the Clinton Doctrine.
Schrecker drew our attention to parallels on the home front. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s restriction of civil liberties has deep roots in American history; one such predecessor is A. Mitchell Palmer’s raids following the First World War. Bender moved effortlessly through these themes, reminding the audience that the U.S. has long restricted civil liberties and waged wars for empire based on false pretexts, such as the Mexican War in 1846 and the Spanish American War of 1898. The Bush regime was the most recent representative of what Bender characterized as very deep and “dark” traditions in U.S. history, signaling a certain continuity, but one that is especially dangerous and in need of changing.
Renate Bridenthal’s call to differentiate between sterile comparisons on the one hand and analogies that can clarify our understanding of what is happening, on the other, was most helpful. Bridenthal’s analogy between Medieval Germany and current US policy, especially the trends toward privatization of imperial warfare was sharply drawn and clearly developed. The theme was repeated several times as moderator Van Gosse thought out loud about whether the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution, the Jacobins or the Bolsheviks, 1789 or 1917 offered pertinent and powerful analogies for understanding the current crisis and charting the direction of HAW. The conversation comfortably and coherently navigated through a variety of topics, from right-wing “backlash” to the Vietnam syndrome to the degree to which the U.S. foreign policy has become militarized.
The meeting lived up to its ambitious claim of harking back to Town Hall meetings of the past, with the audience offering engaging comments and challenging queries. Surely, the Bush administration has pushed the nation to the “right,” and such dialogues are essential in sorting out how far we have moved. The following day the Historians against the War led a contingent of roughly 100 people, who joined hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets on NYC to protest the Bush administration’s right-wing agenda. Perhaps steering committee member Ben Alpers, who came all the way from Oklahoma, best captures HAW’s role in mobilizing against a repressive administration: “Out of the archives and into the streets!!”
The Town Meeting was recorded by WNYC and a West Coast Pacifica affiliate, and by HAW. HAW is making a two-CD recording of the event available for $10, post-paid, or free if you can get it on the radio or otherwise use it as a presentation. Please, contact Andor Skotnes at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also planning to put audio segments of the Town Meeting on our website.
Buoyed by the success of this event with its distinctively non-academic format of open discussion, we are urging HAW members to stage their own town meetings on this question before the November election. It’s a great way to get people thinking about history, about right-wing politics and historical analogies. We’ll provide you with an outline of questions, a how-to for the town-meeting format, and a template of our color flyer, into which you can plug your local info. If you can pay for transportation, we’ll even attempt to arrange to have one of the speakers from the New York event, or a HAW Steering Committee member, participate. For assistance on organizing a HAW town meeting, contact Van Gosse at email@example.com.
Carl Mirra (Carl Mirra@aol.com)
In addition, HAW Co-Chair Van Gosse offers a personal perspective on the historical significance of the August 29 March, organized by United for Peace and Justice, in his essay “August 29, 2004: This Is What History Looks Like.” In June 2003, Gosse was elected as a representative of HAW to the UFPJ Steering Committee. To read this article, go to http://www.historiansagainstwar.org/van29aug04.html
Sergeant Camilo Mejia served in Iraq from March to October 2003 as a squad leader. At the end of a two-week leave in the States in October, he went underground. On March 15, 2004, Mejia declared at a press conference that he would apply for Conscientious Objector status and would refuse to return to Iraq. Later that day he turned himself in. Mejia was tried for desertion in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Attorney Louis Font represented him. On the eve of trial, the Army filed a so-called “motion in limine” which contended that Mejia should not be permitted to raise the issue of the legality of the war, because this was a “political question,” nor “irrelevant issues” such as his status as a conscientious objector and the dictates of his conscience.
After a three-day trial, on May 21 Mejia was convicted and given the maximum sentence of a year in prison, demotion to the rank of Private, and a bad conduct discharge. He is appealing to the Army’s court of appeals.
Military regulations concerning conscientious objection require the objector to oppose “war in any form.”
HAW will argue that the Nuremburg principles, on the basis of which leading Nazis were tried and executed, require soldiers to refuse to commit war crimes whether or not they object to war in any form. HAW will assert that the court should have considered Mejia’s perception that he was ordered to commit war crimes in Iraq and reasonably believed the same situation would recur if he returned.
The principal drafters of HAW’s brief are Staughton Lynd, Berenice Carroll, and Nicholas Turse. It is hoped that organizations that assist and counsel soldiers may wish to join in signing the finished product.
Staughton Lynd (SALynd@aol.com)
HAW invites you to submit news and suggestions from your area that you would like to share with other members. Let members of HAW know what you have done that has worked, or has not worked. Paul Buhle, a member of the HAW Steering Committee, initiates this column with some reflections on how to build HAW and an example of some of the activities he participated in organizing at Brown University.
The best thing would be for HAW members to form local chapters (see Local Contacts/Regional Networks article), formally or informally, of antiwar profs and grad students, meet occasionally and plan a lecture or political/scholarly event at least once each semester. In most places, however, even the historians (including those in other departments, such as Black Studies, American Studies, etc. who think of themselves as “historians”) who signed HAW appeals may not be especially willing to add another meeting to their agendas, let alone organize their colleagues.
The next-best thing is to piggy-back and/or find a way to co-sponsor events that can call some attention to HAW. This may be especially difficult but is especially important because the fall-off of antiwar campus groups after the beginning of the war has never seen much of an organized rebound, even when antiwar sentiment has deepened and made new openings to the vets, the families of soldiers more possible.
What are those local events? Here are a few examples from last academic year and the approaching academic year at Brown: a successful showing of The Battle of Algiers, introduced by a French grad student (after this showing, the film series died along with the faculty peace group); an antiwar poetry read-in with a jazz trio and a particular historical/cultural bent, featuring our poet-in-residence, Robert Creeley; a highly successful student-originated exhibit, “Underground Rhode Island,” with a series of public events, posing alternative culture past and present against official culture and politics; and upcoming this year, a centenary IWW exhibit/event with art and culture focusing on the need for transnationalism-from-below (anyone interested in The Wobbly Traveling Show, March-December ‘05, should contact me). The possibility of working with antiwar labor groups also has potential, thanks to USLAW.
I would also like to envision, for my campus or others, a HAW symposium called something like ‘The Antiwar Historian,” with some current prominent person (like Howard Zinn) but also comments on, for example, William Appleman Williams and E. P. Thompson. This would be important, at least, for graduate students and young Profs, but could be designed to attract a broader audience.
Nothing really substitutes for antiwar activities of all kinds. But in an extended moment when the turnout dwindles, we need creative ways to repose “history” beyond the classrooms, public history kicked up to a new degree. In my experience, that usually comes across best through, or at least accompanied by, a cultural expression of some kind. To find and work with allies of various kinds who can use our help is the key. There’s no contradiction in finding and building very different programs together with, for instance, hipsters of various ages, the Middle East Peace folks, the campus ministry and the emerging local Latino neighborhood associations. Every one of them-and a lot of others--has a historical antiwar connection of value and potential.
Paul Buhle (Paul_Buhle@Brown.edu)
Publications #1 and #2 already exist – see the home page of the HAW web site, historiansagainstwar.org – while the others are in the works or are under contemplation.
Publication # 1 Brief Bibliography of English Languages Sources and Studies on the Middle East & Muslim South Asia, by Stuart Schaar and Marvin Gettleman (first edition December 2003; second edition, March, 2004). To be updated periodically.
Publication # 2 We Won’t Go: Narratives of Resistance to World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the U.S.-Iraqi War of 1990-1991, and the Current Iraq War, edited by Staughton Lynd
Publication # 3 Antiwar Activity and the American Historical Profession, 1969 and 2003-4, by Marvin Gettleman and Jesse Lemisch
Publication # 4 The I-word: A Critique of Michael Walzer, by HAW’s SC & Advisory Group on Foreign Policy.
Publication #5 Let History Judge; Historians Against the War’s Statement On the War in Iraq, drafted by Alan Dawley and Van Gosse. Available on our web site.
Publication # 6 Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, by Brian Klug and Gidon D. Remba.
Publication # 7 A Guide to the War in Iraq, by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar.
Publication # 8 Torture and the U.S. State.. This pamphlet debunks the administration’s spin on torture by showing that Abu Ghraib is not an aberration. Articles examine the U.S. government’s use of torture in Viet Nam, the U.S. prison system, and Latin America, among others.
Publication # 9 The Patriot Act and Related policies of the Bush administration – their relevance for historians and other academics: a reworking (by Ellen Schrecker?) of material by Rogers Smith (scheduled for RHR), Elaine Scarry (recently in the Boston Review) and the AAUP’s Committee A report on Academic Freedom, published in Academe, November-December 2003
Marv Gettleman (firstname.lastname@example.org)