College Protests Against Absence of War Led by Professors

Come gather round people wherever you roam.  And admit that the bullshit around you has grown.

Students used to get out of tests and assignments by explaining to sympathetic professors that they had been busy protesting the war on Vietnam.  The times they are a changin.

Today college professors lead teach-ins to protest the absence of an all-out U.S. war on Syria.  Back then, the public and the government trailed behind the activists.  Now the public has grown enlightened, and in a significant but limited way won over the government, blocking the missile strikes, but it’s not just the U.S. President who looks mad enough to spit over the casus belli interruptus.  Professors are pissed.

The University of Virginia’s law school has another law school next door belonging to the U.S. Army.  The University has built a research “park” next door to the Army’s “Ground Intelligence Center.”  State funds are drying up, and the Pentagon’s tap has been left all the way open.  This Central Virginian military industrial academic complex is where Washington finally had to turn to find anyone willing to pretend the famous aluminum tubes in Iraq might be for scary, scary nukes. In defense of that record, this week is Iraq War Beautification Week at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, always a gung-ho proponent of militarism.

Much of this is expected and typical of U.S. academia these days.  But the promotions of attacks on Syria have become slicker and more insidious.  Here’s an announcement of an event held on Thursday:

Teach-In on Syria & Fundraiser for Refugees
Thursday, Sept 26, 6:00pm – 7:00pm
University of Virginia: Nau 101
Moderator: Joshua M. White, History
Panelists: Ahmed H. al-Rahim, Religious Studies, “Islamist Ideologies in Syria”
Hanadi al-Samman, MESALC, “The Syrian Revolution and the Plight of Refugees Today”
Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, Politics, “Civil War in Syria”
Elizabeth Thompson, History, “Religion and War since 1913”
David Waldner, Politics, “Syria, Before: Dictatorship and the Growth of Public Opposition to the Regime”
And a film presentation on the refugee experience
Co-sponsored by the Arab Student Organization

This announcement doesn’t advertise a pro-war event aimed at promoting the deaths of large numbers of people.  Peace groups sent around this announcement.  I sent it around.  I attended.  And here’s what happened:

Thompson spoke well about World War I and sat silently as her colleagues promoted a new war as barbaric as what she described from a hundred years earlier.

Waldner described the early, non-violent Arab Spring in Syria, breaking into tears, and then sat silently as his colleagues pushed for greater violence, using his stories of early nonviolence to justify it.  (Somehow the opposite never happens: we never have to justify nonviolent activism on the grounds that its participants once killed a lot of people.)

The other panelists demanded more weapons for Syrian rebels, more U.S. military involvement, more war, and the violent overthrow of the government.

Students sat there silently.  Professors in the audience who say they oppose war sat there silently and told each other afterwards that their complaints about what just happened should remain confidential.  It wouldn’t be polite to speak up. 

I spoke up at the event.  I questioned the panelists’ fantasies about the glory of violence, their willingness to see many more people die in order to overthrow a government that would not thereby be replaced with something better. 

Schulhofer-Wohl said that U.S. weapons would overwhelm the government of Syria and its Russian backers.  I pointed out that the Russians have more weapons too, but this professor clearly thinks this is another Cold War and that this time Russia will give in easily and cheaply, there will be no blowback, and the pawns in the game will all benefit.

Or, rather, the evil of one side of the war justifies the other side, and the consequences be damned.

Students sat there silently.

We can laugh at academia marginalizing itself.  We can celebrate the greater wisdom of the masses.  But these professors, speaking in a building where a former CIA “historian” now works, are having their way.  The CIA is arming the war in Syria and escalating it, against the will of the U.S. public.  Students are being subtly indoctrinated with acceptance of war and with contempt for democracy at one stroke.

UVA founder Thomas Jefferson would be outraged, unless someone told the old slavery profiteer how much money wars make for a certain little group of special people.  Then he’d understand perfectly.  When UVA’s Dean of Arts and Sciences was promoting war on Libya, she held up Jefferson’s own war on Libya as a model.

This is our heritage, boys and girls.  And its days are numbered.  People are not going to stand for it much longer.  Academia is going to have to accept it that soon they’ll be drenched to the bone.

Some of those silent sitting students have brains in their heads.  Their professors forget that sometimes.




Dear David Swanson,

Thanks for coming to the Syria Teach-In and for challenging the pro-war views of two panelists.  Although they voiced their support for a military strike, I did not read the event as a pro-war rally.  Most of the hour was spent describing the suffering of the people.  It was an event for the refugees, and for paying attention to their plight, and for collecting humanitarian aid for them.   I agree with you that the silence of the crowd was puzzling.  I’d expected them to have more questions about the needs and status of the people themselves.
I am disappointed that you have chosen to distort the event to your list and to readers of War Is A Crime.   I got the idea for the teach-in as a response to the blatant hypocrisy of our own President Obama who responded to deaths of children in the Ghouta with a pledge to kill more people.   He appealed to Americans who are not even aware of the suffering, of the humanity of Syrians.  The Teach-In succeeded, I think, in redressing that.  If we care about Syrians, we must respond to their suffering, not divert it into a proxy for battle with other Powers.  And yet you have done just that.   I am very sorry that you decided to sabotage the effort of people who share your views.   I personally remain unconvinced by the logic of a military strike, but at this event– intended to focus attention on the Syrian people–  I didn’t want to divert the conversation into one about Americans.  I cannot speak for the other panelists, but I feel you unfairly cast me as a collaborator in the war effort you fantasize.
I welcome your peacemaker series and I believe we should mount another event on Grounds to debate American militarism and proposals for intervention in the Middle East.  It is too bad that you have turned the opportunity for  an ongoing public conversation into acrimony.  You are not practicing the peaceful methods that you preach.
If you wish to redress your unfairness, you may post this note to your blog.
Elizabeth F. Thompson
Associate Professor of History
University of Virginia
Be happy to post this and would love to see a better event
Am also delighted to hear that you hold beliefs that your silence did not reveal to anyone
I hope you will speak up and I would love to help in any way
I don’t think you can accept a war that will produce more refugees while claiming to be focused on the refugees
I think you need a consistent position



here’s your post

i am sincerely sorry that good intentions aren’t visible in a bad event

your comments were quite good, but your ensuing silence just persuaded the students watching you that a smart person would find no reason to speak out against warmongering

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