Beyond Our Borders
by Margaret Nilsson
While normalcy prevailed—with seniors scrambling to finish their theses and projects, with faculty giving their final lectures of the semester, and with prospective students cramming Admission’s hallways—thoughts and extracurricular activities focused on the war in Iraq and its aftermath.
Members of the community struggled with how to best express their own beliefs, and many talked of the need for sensitivity toward those who held opposing views. The atmosphere, on the Scripps campus, as well as at many other colleges across the nation, was one of civility and restraint. These were not their mothers’ Vietnam protesters.
Nancy Y. Bekavac, March 20, 2003, from her “Statement on the Iraq War” sent to the entire Scripps community: “It is imperative in our community—where reason, learning, and debate are central to our mission—that students, faculty, and staff continue to respect each other’s right to voice any opinion, however painful to the hearer, however contrary to the majority’s view.”
From outward appearances, it might seem the entire Scripps campus was anti-war. On March 5, a large contingent of Scripps students gathered on the Pomona campus with other Claremont Colleges students for a peace rally. Students wearing peace symbols and carrying signs spent hours in the sun chanting, singing, or just hanging out. The Motley, the student-run coffeehouse, closed for the day, stating “not business as usual.” Two days earlier, the Classics Department at Scripps had presented Lysistrata, a Greek comedy written by Aristophanes as a “theatrical act of dissent.” During spring break, 44 students from The Claremont Colleges, including several from Scripps using their own funds, flew to Washington, D.C., to protest the war against Iraq. And, on April 15, “Claremont Professors for Peace and Justice” called for a strike/teach-in/demonstration against the Bush Administration’s policies that featured a march from the Claremont McKenna campus to the Claremont School of Theology. A teach-in with speakers from grassroots organizations and political parties followed.
While anti-war sentiments ran high, the Scripps community was divided on this issue, as might be expected on a college campus.
Several members of the faculty offered their own personal views of the war on Iraq in late March and early April, while others declined to comment.
“I am greatly saddened to see that U.S. foreign policy is being directed in a militaristic direction,” said Donald Crone, professor and department chair of politics and international relations, “at a moment when U.S. influence is at a high point that could be used to achieve some of the ideals that this country claims to support in a peaceful manner.” (A Navy lieutenant in Vietnam, Donald Crone served as a senior advisor to a Vietnamese unit responsible for coastal and riverine security at the northern border.)
Kerry Odell, professor and department chair of economics, offered this view of the current nationwide discussions: “Someone at home flew the flag in support of my grandfathers, who fought in World War I. Someone at home flew the flag in support of my uncles, who fought in World War II. Someone at home flew the flag in support of my father, who fought in the Korean War. And now someone at home—me—fliesthe flag in support of my niece’s fiancé, who has been deployed to the Middle East. Today, cheap knee-jerk epithets are replacing hard-thoughtcivil discourse. One side yells “Anti-American Commies!” The other side yells “Pro-War Baby Killers!” Political leanings are terribly entangled with ethical standards. And no one seems to recall the commitment to free speech that was part of our country’s foundation. So please respect me, whether my banner shows stars and stripes or a peace sign, and remember what Voltaire said: ‘I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'”
Thomas Kim, assistant professor of politics, offered a strong opinion:
“Professors are scholars who appreciate good arguments, and there was never a convincing argument for why we should start a ‘preemptive’ war on Iraq. The preemptive U.S. attack on a sovereign state is being watched closely by all of Korea and by Korean Americans because U.S. foreign policy toward Korea will definitely be influenced by what happens in Iraq.”
Kim added: “On campus, I see students gaining valuable experience and education through their organizing activities, and I think it’s great that so many Scripps students already recognize that collective organizing is not just possible but necessary to make a difference in people’s lives… Getting a superior liberal arts education demands that we work actively together and see opportunities to learn and grow both inside and outside the classroom.”
Julia Liss, professor of history and director of the Humanities Institute, offered the following:
“Historians prefer to look backward rather than to tell the future, but I have been struck by certain distressing similarities and connections with the recent past. The repression of dissent during World War I and the system of international alliances that World War II produced, for instance, seem particularly important to our present situation.
“I have talked about the war when it has been relevant in my history class [which focuses on the U.S. in the 1920s]. I feel concerned about acting as if the war did not exist, and I also feel a responsibility to provide a place and space for thoughtful discussion on campus.”
Thierry Boucquey, professor of French and humanities, and chair of the French Department, is “disturbed by our Administration’s actions and its thoughts and reasoning for justifying them.” He taught a French class this spring on “Headline News,” in which he and students follow and examine the news from a French perspective. Not surprising, said Boucquey, “This class has generated very interesting and extremely apropos discussion this semester.”