December 18, 2002: On the Campus

All quiet on the campus front
Students stay focused on their studies despite a possible war with Iraq

By Kristin Roper ’03

James “J.J.” Saulino ’03, a Woodrow Wilson School major from Akron, Ohio, recalls watching the Gulf War as a child. He remembers the footage on CNN of Patriot missiles lighting up the night sky, flashing like Fourth of July fireworks or a video game sequence. “We watched the first Gulf War as 11-year-olds, and watched passively because we were so young. Waiting for war in Iraq feels so similar,” he says.

As the specter of war in Iraq hangs in the background like a diaphanous scrim, students eager to understand the situation gravitate to lectures and public debates. So far, few students have done much of anything beyond listening and absorbing; few are actively involved, and certainly there’s little, if any, discussion about the possibility of chemical or biological attack on the country.

Only two campus groups, both small, are dealing with the issues — the Princeton Peace Network (P.P.N.) and the Princeton Commitee Against Terrorism (P.C.A.T.). These two groups take opposite views on a war in Iraq, and neither group has more than a handful of active participants.

During October and November, P.P.N. sponsored weekly peace vigils in Palmer Square, to which approximately 10 students came.

P.C.A.T., which supports President Bush’s position, publishes American Foreign Policy, a student publication that covers international affairs with a conservative angle. When P.C.A.T. invited former presidential candidate and CEO of Forbes magazine Steve Forbes ’70 to give a speech, “What Happens After Iraq?” on November 5, students filled the lecture hall, but there was no large student contingent voicing dissent or support.

This semester, Woodrow Wilson School professor and former inspector general of the C.I.A. Frederick Hitz ’61 discusses the historical analogues between the Cold War and a war in Iraq in his course Cold War and Intelligence. “For the most part, students in my course are interested in the war. For the general population of the university, interest varies. Students are pursuing their particular concerns – midterms, staying healthy in the changing weather,” Hitz says.

During the month of October, the Woodrow Wilson School sponsored two lectures featuring speakers opposing a war in Iraq. Both talks filled Dodds Auditorium’s 200 seats. Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector for the U.N. who worked in Iraq until 1998, asserted that Iraq could not be close to having weapons of mass destruction, and that the upcoming war has little to do with national security.

Michael Walzer, political philosopher and professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, spoke about a war in Iraq in terms of ethics and international affairs. He concluded, “The administration’s war is neither just, nor necessary.”

Civil engineering major Jason Houck ’03 attended the Ritter lecture in an effort to learn more. “I wanted to educate myself about the issues surrounding war in Iraq. It exposed me to viewpoints I hadn’t heard in the media,” he says.

Even though Houck opposes a war in Iraq, he admits to feeling helpless. “Now that Congress has given Bush the power to act militarily, what can we do? It’s like you’re just waiting for someone to stand up,” Houck says.

Saulino, also against a war, says he keeps up with the news by reading the papers and discussing the issues in his classes. “There are definitely students who don’t care at all. For the others, people still put a lot of blind trust in the government, or feel like there’s nothing they can do.”

Kathrin “K.C.” McWatters ’03, a student in the university’s R.O.T.C. program, has also noticed a lack of passion about the issue. “I believe that the apparent apathy on campus has two causes,” she says. “We are taught to analyze things so critically that it would be illogical to expect students to assume any position too hastily. The other is that since the government’s announcement that there would never again be a draft, our society has witnessed a growing chasm between American elites and those who serve in the military.”

Hitz agrees that students are taking their time looking at the situation. “I think students recognize that it’s a complex question. I don’t think many doubt that Saddam is a bad guy. Students I’ve talked to understand that the issue was raised in September and October of an election year, and it drew attention away from a sputtering economy,” Hitz says.

Kristin Roper ’03 is an art and archaeology major from Alpine, New Jersey.


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