Iraq War Teach-Ins
Reports on the October–November 2006
Iraq War Teach-Ins
Note: This web page contains the written reports that were received by Historians Against the War (updated as of January 8). Click here for a complete listing of the events of which we have been informed.
October 18th, there were two events at The College of New Jersey dealing with
the war in Iraq.
It took almost two months to organize this debate because of the difficulty in finding speakers and a format that would provide genuine debate. Very few people wanted to argue for any version of the war or maintaining the occupation, and colleagues on my side of the argument ultimately pressed for making it a two-person affair, so as to guarantee fairness but also real contention. They proved to be right, as I think students heard a much more direct and hard-hitting (if completely dignified and collegial, since Rob Bresler and I like and respect each other) set of arguments around the three questions:
How to end the war?
How to protect ourselves from
What will happen next? What should happen next?
As usual at F&M, the College was completely supportive, as shown by Provost Ann Steiner (a classicist) not only sending out all the email notices to faculty, staff, and students, but welcoming the audience, with appropriate comments about the importance of unfettered debate to liberal arts education. Joel Eigen, one of our most senior scholars here, did a great job of keeping us on track with a “clicker,” to enforce time limits. We each made seven minute opening statements, and then we each were allowed a 2 minute rebuttal. Joel then collected questions from the audience, which took time but avoided it turning into a free-for-all as people made their own statements.
About seventy people were in attendance, mostly students. It got an excellent, extremely detailed write-up in the College Reporter, which was a plus since that doesn’t always happen. I think it served to keep a focus on the profound crisis of the war.
Van Gosse, email@example.com
Pierce R. Butler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Teach-In on Iraq War was held on Thursday November 2, 2006 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 pm. It was sponsored by the Department of Social Sciences. The teach-in was an academic event with all faculty members invited to make presentations. There were thirteen speakers from all three colleges representing a range of disciplines and points of view. Henderson State University President Charles D. Dunn sent a message to the teach-in criticizing the war as a costly mistake and government policy as “wrong headed and foolish” and wishing us well but saying that his participation in the event would be inappropriate because it might be construed as support for a political event by the institution. The event was well attended by students, faculty, and administrators.
Martin Halpern, email@example.com
Montana Tech’s Peace Seekers Club hosted two Tuesday night screenings of Why We Fight and Iraq for Sale (5 PM to 8:30 each evening) on October 17th and 24th. One week before the election, the club screened The Ground Truth. The general public was invited to all three evenings. History professor George Waring hosted the discussion afterwards. The average turnout was about 45 per evening. Students who spoke up expressed concern about a draft, about whether Halliburton was being treated fairly, and why Congress seemed so apathetic in the face of documented corruption. After the Ground Truth showing a pretty subdued audience expressed frustration about the general public’s lack of concern for the war.
Organizers of the screenings were glad that we could expose a larger audience to the message of these films. There was a consensus that Why We Fight and The Ground Truth were important films to show here in Butte.
Today I can report that this Montana county voted 3 to 1 to retire Republican Senator Conrad Burns and elect a Democrat who has promised to use Congress’s power to investigate to halt the no-bid contracts in Iraq and wind the war down.
Our October 17 teach-in attracted a spirited group of 150 people, nearly all of them undergraduates here at Mount Holyoke, the oldest women’s college in the nation. Organized by Jonathan Lipman, a member of HAW who specializes in modern Chinese history, the event featured four faculty members speaking from a variety of perspectives.
Chris Pyle, professor of politics, offered a devastatingly detailed critique of “A Nation That Tortures.” Speaking on the same day that President Bush signed the so-called Military Commissions Act, Pyle carefully outlined how the new law gives the executive branch the authority to detain people indefinitely, with no access to the courts to challenge their detention. He noted as well that the president—indeed any president—now has the legal power to decide how torture is defined. Pyle also discussed the work of his son Jonathan, an attorney who has been representing the Abu Ghraib prisoners victimized by their American jailers.
In his talk titled “No Weapons of Mass Destruction But Lots of Oil,” economist Fred Moseley insisted that the 800-pound gorilla of Iraqi oil be put back on the table of public debate. After all is said and done, he argued, the American desire for military hegemony in Iraq revolved around the world’s second largest known reserve of crude oil. He offered several examples illustrating how the power of Big Oil has consistently and cynically undermined efforts to democratize Iraqi life. But he also noted that the organized oil workers in the Basra have had some success in resisting that power and perhaps represent the kernel of a more progressive political bloc in Iraq’s future.
Stacey Philbrick Yadav, a visiting professor of politics, asked, “Does Fighting the Iraq War Mean Losing the Wider War?” Drawing on her broad knowledge of the region, where she has lived and conducted extensive fieldwork and research, Yadav reviewed the appalling, seemingly willful, ignorance of American policy makers. Their lack of knowledge and understanding about Iraqi history, language, religion, and culture has contributed mightily to strategic blunders that have in fact strengthened the influence of Islamist extremism.
My own contribution focused on “Iraq and the Shadow of Vietnam,” in which I argued that the continuing struggle over that war’s meaning—the battle for cultural memory, so to speak—has loomed over the Iraq war from the start. Indeed, I believe the debate—or more accurately, the lack of real debate—that accompanied the decision to invade Iraq reflects just how successful American conservatives have been in winning the war for the cultural memory of Vietnam. For today’s students, the Vietnam War seems like ancient history. But the absence of the draft, the promulgation of the POW-MIA myth, the erasure from public discourse of the powerful anti-war movement within the armed forces, the alleged threat of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons as a substitute for the historical reality of America’s massive use of such weapons in Southeast Asia—all of these connections need to be made for today’s students.
We had a very lively and at times emotional Q&A session following the speakers. I was struck by how worried and even scared many of the students are by the unfolding disaster of this latest American war. Many asked broad and at times deeply philosophical questions about political activism beyond elections—what can be done to reverse course? Some of us reminded the students that politics has never been limited to voting. There was also much discussion about an impending war with Iran and what might be done to stop it before it starts. We received a lot of positive feedback over the next few days, and we plan to hold another teach-in later this Fall. Thanks again to HAW for inspiring us at Mount Holyoke and around the country.
Daniel Czitrom, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Additional Note on
the Mt. Holyoke Teach-In:
Jonathan Lipman, <email@example.com>
Last week’s mid-term election was an exciting moment in history. The overwhelming call for change nationwide was encouraging. It suggests that our Constitutional system of government still works and that the American people have finally taken back the reins of government. We’re pleased to know that today’s college-age generation has had the opportunity to learn that their participation in the democratic process can really make a difference. We like to think that our event played a small role in that process.
The teach-in about the War on Terrorism was sponsored by Historians Against the War, the Omni Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology, and the Honors Program at the college. The focus of the event, which took place on October 17-19, 2006, was “Separating Fact from Fiction” regarding three issues related to the war: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and War Profiteering.
As part of the program, representatives of the three sponsoring organizations were on campus between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. each day to discuss the issues and to answer questions. Students, faculty, staff, and members of the community were invited to drop by the resource center to pick up literature about America and its latest policies, watch informative videos, enjoy some free food, relax in a comfortable setting, and openly discuss the role America is playing in the world today.
The first day of the teach-in got off to a slow start. We were the best kept secret in northwest Arkansas. The number of faculty and students who came to the resource room was small but just having the event called attention to the issues and proved to some of our more timid faculty and students that they can come out of the closet with their progressive ideas without having the sky fall down on them. By the second day, we had a steady stream of students and faculty and had some excellent discussions about the cost of the war – in terms of human lives, the erosion of civil liberties and human rights, and taxpayers’ dollars.
Some faculty sent students to the resource room for assignments or extra credit. Students especially liked having the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of our Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, and to answer a few simple questions to get their names into a drawing for some great prizes. For each question answered correctly (literature was available to provide the answers), participants got to put another ticket into the drawing.
But over and above the prizes, there was the wonderful dialogue we entered into with people from different perspectives. At times, we made good use of the “stress balls” available for the occasion and everyone left the resource room in one piece but with a few ideas they didn’t have when they entered.
Dick Bennett, Gladys Tiffany, and Melanie Dietzel, from the Omni Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology in Fayetteville, Arkansas, made the trip to Bentonville and showed by example how to engage the minds and hearts of those who are not yet convinced of the wisdom of peace, justice, and human rights.
Our screening of Iraq for Sale, the only part of the program that got adequate publicity, was a great success. We had about 100 participants (a couple even drove down from Missouri) and a wonderful discussion afterwards. We dispensed with the panel of experts and went right to the audience to hear their thoughts and opinions on the issues. Tate Marble, the NWACC student who was the inspiration behind the event, gave a wonderful opening statement that I’m attaching. We’re proud that he had the courage to say what he did before it was clear we were among friends.
Now that the election is over we all feel a little closer to peace than we were last week and would like to continue our awareness program with something a little less elaborate next semester. Some students are interested in putting on a program to examine the best course of action for our country now that the American people have taken back the reins of government. One possibility would be “Where Do We Go From Here: Impeachment or Reconciliation?” and include four components:
We’d like to put this together soon to convince the campus
community that this is not the time to sit back and watch but to make
participation in the democratic process a regular part of their daily
lives. However, it remains to be seen
if we can obtain regular sponsorship for controversial programs like this. One option might be to affiliate students
with the Omni Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology and put on the events as a
Edrene S. McKay, EdreneMcKay@cox.net
At Salem State College we held a Teach In, Speak Out on the
evening of October 17, 2006. It was
sponsored by our newly founded college peace club, Students of Salem for Peace,
shortened to SOS for Peace.
About 70 people attended including faculty, students, and activists from the community. Nearly 20 people spoke out. People told stories about being in New York City on 9/11, about friends and friends of friends killed and wounded in Iraq, and voiced opposition to US policies in Iraq. We even had a student who said instead of speaking out, he wanted to sing karaoke two peace songs, which he did.
In addition, after many people had spoken out, an African drummer from Senegal played the drums with his troupe. He said he wanted to speak about peace with his music. Everyone loved the drumming so much they jumped up and danced. This was a lively and unforgettable “break” during our Speak Out.
Finally, we ate pizza generously donated by a local pizza shop and also had a large cake decorated with a white peace dove with an olive branch in its mouth. Everyone loved the delicious food.
In summary, our event turned out to be informative, lively, and very social. Everyone seemed inspired and pleased by the entire evening. We’re grateful to Historians Against War for the idea to hold a Speak Out and the chance to get together and share our views.
INTRODUCTION: Dean Joel Kassiola, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences
Panel 1) 10:10-12 The Iraq War and American Politics
“The Nature of Iraq” Maziar Behrooz, History
“Where We Went Wrong” Mark Sigmon, History
“Anti-War Strategies: Vietnam and Iraq” Jules Tygiel
Panel 3) 12:10-1 The Iraq War and Civil Liberties
“A Personal Saga,” Mohammad Salama, Foreign Languages
“Torture and Popular Culture,” Laura Lisy-Wagner, History
Panel 4) 1:10-2 Organizing Workshop
Code Pink; California Peace Action
Panel 5 2:10-3 Open Forum
Moderators: Jules Tygiel
David Caploe Princeton Club/Harvard Club
I put out a call to members of the History Department to see who was interested in participating. The response was somewhat disappointing. Only five people expressed an interest. We did not seek speakers from outside of the department mostly because we had recently organized a September 11 forum of Middle Eastern specialists and we did not want to duplicate this event. I did ask Mohammad Salama of Foreign Languages, who had recently been detained for three months in Canada and not allowed to re-enter the U.S. to speak of his experiences. My colleague Sherry Keith arranged for Code Pink and California Peace Action to do an organizing Workshop. We also brought in David Caploe, who has been giving talks about the Middle East under the rubric of the Princeton and Harvard Clubs, to help chair the final session.
We had a rather small group to work on organizational details and especially publicity. Most publicity went out through e-mail requests to announce the event in classes and flyers posted around campus. We received a great deal of help from the Dean’s office. The Dean of our college not only distributed e-mails on his extended list, but volunteered to open the teach-in with introductory remarks. In the future, however, far more advance publicity is needed. We will need more lead-in time and to recruit students to help with the posting of flyers.
The teach-in started out quite well, with the morning session attended by about 35 people. I had anticipated that during the course of the day, students would leave to go to classes and others would take their place. This did not happen. Many of the original group stayed through most of the day. Few students dropped in over the course of the day. Hardly any faculty attended. The afternoon sessions were very poorly attended. I would guess that we had, in addition to the presenters, about 50 people who attended overall.
The most surprising element of the day was the reasons that students came. Since the San Francisco area is extremely liberal and the campus population even more so, we anticipated that our audience already had fixed ideas in opposition to the war and our job was to offer information that the attendees needed to get out into the community and mobilize. The students who did attend, however, sought information, not motivation. Many remained highly conflicted about the war, particularly about what the U.S. role should be in the future. There was no general sentiment, even among the panelists, favoring an immediate pullout. Future forums will have to keep this focus in mind. The most spirited discussions came in the morning session and revolved around the issues of neoconservatism and where U.S. policy went wrong. I expected more of a response to the session on civil liberties and torture as both presentations were quite good, but the students did not really engage.
Jules Tygiel, firstname.lastname@example.org
We completed the teach-in as scheduled on the flyer and more than 220 students, staff, administrators, faculty, and community members attended in all. Our largest session had 45 people and the smallest 9. It got good coverage in the local paper, though the student newspaper did not cover it. The Teach-in will be highlighted in the second annual College of Arts Letters and Sciences retreat in January.
Several sessions were attended by veterans of the Iraq War and by the staff person for our Veteran’s Center. This led to some heated discussions in which panelists or speakers were politely challenged or questioned and where veterans engaged each other in discourse.
Marshall, a town of not quite 13,000 continues to maintain a vigil on Tuesday evenings that began before the war and has not missed a week since. No matter the weather (and it is often bad) somewhere between 5 and 25 people stand on the corner of Main and East College Drive from 5:30 PM until 6:00 PM. Organized by the Marshall Area Peace Seekers, members of the peace community sponsor speakers and help families of soldiers in Iraq with household chores, by buying phone cards, and what ever else we can do.
Jeff Kolnick, Kolnick@southwestmsu.edu
Susan Strasser, <email@example.com>
The University of Louisville joined the national teach-in last October with an afternoon and evening teach-in Wednesday, October 18 on the war and the Middle East. We brought together faculty at Louisville and Cincinnati to talk about the issues behind the war, particularly oil, resources and development. We also added a session on the war in Lebanon.
Due to a mixup in who was doing what publicity we did not get the kind of turn out we had hoped. We had about 40 participants in the teach-in. The students were particularly interested in continuing activity.
Louisville has an active anti-war committee that regularly does demonstrations, vigils, etc. As a commuter school most of our students tend to be involved in these activities that are community-based rather than university-based. Our hope is to use the university as a source for information but for the focus of activism to continue to be in the larger community.
As the war escalates we hope to increase our activity perhaps with a spring teach-in linked to a larger community project.
John Cumbler, firstname.lastname@example.org
Our teach-in at the University of Maine on Tuesday evening, October 24, drew about 140 people, including both students and members of the community.
Brian Clement, an Iraq war veteran and UM student delivered the powerful keynote address of the night. Clement described his one-year tour of duty in Iraq and detailed how he became progressively more disillusioned with the war effort there. U.S. forces, he argued, often ended up destroying in battle areas that they had just rebuilt. Clement also grew skeptical about the amount of time U.S. soldiers devoted to building U.S. military bases and an infrastructure to support the U.S. presence there while Iraqi civilians remained without basic services such as electricity. Clement spoke movingly about a friend who died in Iraq and noted that he found it impossible to tell his friend’s wife that his death had been for a good cause. Clement received a standing ovation for his talk.
Several historians from the University of Maine’s history department also briefly spoke and provided important historical analyses of the war in Iraq that are rarely covered in the media. Alex Grab argued that many of the problems in Iraq today could be traced back to the way in which Britain artificially constructed that nation in the aftermath of World War I and included within its boundaries groups that had quite distinct heritages and conflicting agendas. He also explored European and U.S. imperial oversight of the Middle East in the interwar years and their exploitation of the region’s oil resources.
Nathan Godfried highlighted the U.S. drive for hegemony and oil in Iraq and the Middle East after World War II and discussed the destabilizing effects of these policies as well as the ways in which they provoked anti-American sentiment.
Beth McKillen talked about what the “losers” in past debates about national security could teach Americans about defining the nation’s security needs in the post 9/11 world. She particularly highlighted the lessons afforded by socialist and labor opponents of World War I, by the interwar women’s peace movement, and by the antiwar movement during the Vietnam era.
Ngo-Vinh Long offered a sophisticated assessment and comparison of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and Iraq. Long first noted the importance of understanding that Vietnam and Iraq are very different societies—a fact too often glossed over by Americans seeking to draw analogies between the two conflicts. He also noted that the U.S. casualties in Iraq are still dramatically smaller than they were at the height of the Vietnam war. But Long argued that the counter-insurgency techniques employed by Americans in Iraq are strikingly similar to those used in Vietnam and will have the same disastrous consequences for the United States.
Michael Lang spoke on the way the absolutist language of the Bush administration had often undermined democratic discussion of its foreign policies. He noted, in particular, the use of words like “evil” to describe Iraq and Korea and suggested that such language precluded a sophisticated discussion of the issues at stake and of the range of possible options in dealing with problems posed by the two states.
Local political activist Scott Ruffner concluded the presentation component of the night by discussing the possibilities of working within existing party structures in Maine to change Iraq policy.
A lively discussion followed the presentations, with many audience members focusing on what options were available to try to change Iraq policy. A majority of the audience remained for the entire two and one-half hour session and those of us participating in the panel were struck by our students’ interest in the Iraq issue. The campus media provided extensive coverage of the event, but we were disappointed that the Bangor Daily News failed to send anyone to cover the event.
Beth McKillen, Elizabeth_McKillen@umit.maine.edu
Here at UPT, a branch campus of the University of Pittsburgh (we’re in Titusville, Pa., in northwestern Pennsylvania) our Teach-In took place over several days.
Two Frontline programs were shown to students: Iraq: The Lost Year and The Torture Question. They were well-received. But our big effort was showing Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, the new Robert Greenwald film. It is powerful, makes its point clearly, and is a great tool for educating people as to the nature of this war. Students as well as local residents attended. All were affected by it and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that most were shocked to learn of the level of profiteering and its connections to congressmen and senators.
As events unfold, we here at UPT intend to hold events that will help bring this horrific war to an end. It’s amazing what happens to people when the scales drop off their eyes.
Mary Ann Caton, email@example.com
On Monday, November 6th, Wesleyan Students for Ending the War (SEWI) in Iraq showed the film Sir! No Sir! in the CFA Cinema at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, attracting around 50 attendees from the college and community. The group distributed information on the growing resistance of U.S. military personnel to the current war [see fact sheet], encouraging those in attendance to make connections between GI resistance during the Vietnam War and the public dissent of current military members like Lt. Ehren Watada.
The film was the second part of the Wesleyan group’s fall film series, following the showing of Iraq for Sale the previous Monday, which drew about 70 people.
On Friday the 10th, the Wesleyan group also organized a demonstration outside the New Haven, CT, office of Representative Rosa DeLauro. Rep. DeLauro, who was reelected on the 8th, is a Democrat who has consistently voiced an anti-war position but who, like numerous other Democrats, has thus far failed to take any concrete action to bring a speedy end to the occupation of Iraq. Around 45 Wesleyan students attended the demonstration, in addition to members of the New Haven Peace Council, Yale Peace, and New Haven residents. SEWI has focused recent efforts on getting Rep. DeLauro to sign H.R. 4232, which would end federal funding for the occupation.
We had an event on Wed Oct 18, “Iraq and the Unlearned Lessons from the Vietnam War” About 50 people attended. An article was published on our website about it. Here it is.
WALLA WALLA, Wash.—David Schmitz, the Robert Allen Skotheim Chair of History at Whitman, drew a number of parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars during a nationwide teach-in by Historians Against the War Wednesday evening.
Schmitz is a nationally recognized authority on U.S. foreign policy and the author of five books, including the The Tet Offensive: Politics, War, and Public Opinion (2005), and The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships, 1965-1989 (2006). His presentation of “Iraq and the Unlearned Lessons from the Vietnam War” at 7 p.m. in Maxey Auditorium was one of 50 teach-ins held on campuses across the country on Oct. 18.
The parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars are “stunning,” said Schmitz, even though there has been almost nothing in the media about the similarities. He attributes the silence to the fact that no one wants to bring back that ugly time in American history when “we were pitted against each other.”
Schmitz, however, found many parallels. Some are listed below.
Unfortunately, he added, American leaders have not yet learned the limitations of power even a superpower has. “These are unwinnable wars for superpowers. Can they drive us out? No, but it’s a war of attrition and they just need to wait until support at home wanes and we leave.”
“If in the 2006 elections, voters make a distinction between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq, then it will be a parallel to the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War,” he said, and it will be the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq. Right now, Bush still believes his own rhetoric, said Schmitz, and the president believes the United States can win the war in Iraq.
For more information, or to talk to Professor Schmitz, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We had a lively, well-attended, thoughtful Teach-In, characterized by an impressive turn-out of local community activists and residents. The important contributions of activists in Vermont, Williamstown, and North Adams helped give this forum the feeling more of a New England town meeting than an academic debate, energizing most of us there and giving us hope that – with more of such initiatives – we can begin to build a peace movement that can actually have some impact on future government policies.
Our four speakers, each an activist in his or her own right, helped set the tone for our discussion. Professor Lawrence Wittner, an historian of peace movements and American foreign policy from SUNY Albany, began by outlining the various times in American history when peace movements have made a difference, influencing and changing government policy, and ended with a brief overview of why and how the United States has gotten into the war in Iraq . Rev. Rick Spalding, Chaplain at Williams College, gave a number of thought-provoking reasons why he did not think this war was primarily about religion. Ed Bloch, a WWII veteran and a Williams alum, gave a moving account of his own involvement with war crimes – committed in the American army in China at the end of the war – his subsequent life work of atonement, and his important activities in Veterans for Peace, whose membership has quintupled since the onset of the Iraq War. Finally, Tela Zasloff, a local Democratic Party activist, surveyed a number of important contested congressional and senatorial races in the upcoming elections, focusing especially on a number of races in which veterans are running and their positions on the war.
A very thoughtful discussion ensued with lively audience participation. A number of speakers expressed concern with the shortcomings of the Democratic Party on the Iraq War and their fear that even should the Democrats win on November 7, we may not see peace in Iraq. There was an especially intense interchange concerning the case of Lieutenant Watada, who is refusing to serve in Iraq, the adequacy of the preparation our soldiers receive before going to Iraq, and the increasing role of privately employed armed guards in Iraq. Equally important was the troubling question of youth involvement – or lack thereof - in the anti-war movement, especially compared with the anti-war movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, and the related issue of how much Americans are being asked to sacrifice for this war. Perhaps the most dramatic intervention was that of an Iraqi, whose moving personal testimony, combined with a strong critique of American actions, such as the early disbanding of the Iraqi army, made it clear to most of us that a quick withdrawal is in the best interests of both Iraqis and Americans.
We urged individuals to sign up to help us plan another Teach-In, to get involved in the Massachusetts referendum campaign against the war, currently on the Nov. 7 ballot in 36 districts, and to attend a free showing of Iraq for Sale at Images Theatre in Williamstown on Oct. 30. Strong positive response both at the Teach-In and since showed us that although our work has just begun, we have a real chance to build a strong peace movement that will continue to pressure our government to get out of Iraq, to make peace in the Middle East, and to prevent the extension of war to Iran.
Shanti Singham, email@example.com