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September 26th, 2001 Joe Henkin, Brett Weinstein, Marianne Reid | News Stories
 

AIN'T GONNA STUDY WAR

College students, once more, ask, "What are we fighting for?"

     
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Student Jon Gilbert inscribes anti-war lines from Aeschylus on a memorial at Reed College.

As our national leaders gear up for a yet-undefined retaliation, not everyone is happily marching on to war.

On Sept. 20, about 400 student activists at Lewis & Clark College, Portland State University and Reed College took part in a "National Day of Action for Peaceful Justice" on their respective campuses. Like many from the Vietnam generation that spawned them, the students voiced skepticism that the military will offer a lasting solution to current problems, balancing their sympathy for the victims back East with a harsh critique of recent national foreign policy.

"A lot of people have asked me, 'Aren't you sad?'" says PSU senior Jason Lander. "Of course I'm sad. But I'm also sad every time the Israelis bomb Palestine and sad every time a Palestinian suicide bomber runs into Israel. I'm sad every time we bomb Iraq."

His dovish response may carry more weight than most: Lander, who did a four-year stint with the U.S. Marines, knows what it's like to sit behind a machine gun. "I wouldn't say that I don't support our troops," he says. "They are putting themselves in harm's way. But I don't support military action. I just think it's insane that we're repeating this vicious cycle of violence. It just needs to stop."

The call to reconsider arms did not sit well with some local hawks.

Nelson, the mono-monikered DJ at Rosie 105 FM, went on the air early Thursday morning to blast the college rallies. Fearing that the student peaceniks would steal the day's headlines, he organized a noon "Pro Military/Pro-America" Rally in a parking lot near the east end of the Morrison Bridge. The flag-waving crowd of about 150 cheered as Nelson said, "God damn it. I'm sick of seeing only one side of this. The peace rallies are disrespectful to the nation. We're here to make sure the true voice of America is heard today."

By evening, when he hosted a second rally in Beaverton, Nelson had toned down his verbal volleys directed at the peace rallies, but he was still peeved at the college students. "I don't want those guys to have the headlines," he told one crowd member, adding, "Mission: accomplished."

In contrast to Nelson's view of the student rallies, one local professor says the call for a peaceful response is not a call for inaction.

"People here want to see a response that changes from the typical military one," says Elliott Young, professor of Latin American History at Lewis & Clark. "I believe that the people who are responsible should be brought to justice. Trying them under the U.S. judicial system would be fine, but it would be better politically if we could establish a set of international norms to do it in the world court. If we are talking about this as an attack on the world and humanity, which is what the president said, then let's try them in an international court."

Lander says people need to question whether the resounding desire for retribution has to translate into war.

"Is our objective war, or is our objective peace?" asks the ex-Marine. "If our objective is war, then go for it. Go kill innocent people. If our objective is peace, then let's work toward peace. I don't know what bombs and peace have in common at all."

 
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