Web Exclusives: On the Campus...

November 20, 2002:

All quiet on the campus front
With a possible war looming, students are getting informed but feel powerless

by Kristin Roper '03

As the possibility of war in Iraq grows more certain each day, students attend lectures and public debates about the issue, but few are willing to voice an opinion. The issues are complex, and the conflict is only in the earliest stages of development, but some wonder if these excuses do not satisfactorily justify what I can only call apathy for lack of a better word. Students are interested in the issues, but few do anything about them beyond attending a lecture or two.

Two campus groups, the Princeton Peace Network (PPN) and the Princeton Committee Against Terrorism (PCAT), take opposite views on the war in Iraq, but provide the handful of students who are involved in each group with opportunities to become informed, discuss their opinions, and act accordingly. PPN sponsors weekly peace vigils in Palmer Square and worked with local peace groups to send students to the October tk peace rally in Washington, D.C. PCAT publishes American Foreign Policy and invited former presidential candidate Steve Forbes '70 to campus on November 5 to give a talk on the topic "What Happens After Iraq?"

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

During October, the Woodrow Wilson School sponsored two lectures designed to educate the Princeton community about the issues surrounding the war in Iraq, both of which more than filled Dodd's auditorium's 200 seats. On October 16 Scott Ritter, a weapons inspector for the U.N. until 1998, asserted that Iraq could not be close to having a nuclear weapon, and that the upcoming war has little to do with our national security. Michael Walzer, a political philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study, on October 21 spoke about the 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 with Iraq. It exposed me to viewpoints I hadn't heard in the media," he says. Houck argues that Princeton students are probably more aware of the issues than most of the nation because of the faculty's knowledge, but adds, "the debate is still very internal as people are feeling out their views."

Even though Houck strongly opposes the 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.

Woodrow Wilson School major J.J. Saulino '03 attended the Ritter and the Walzer lectures and 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 others, people still put a lot of blind trust in the government, or feel like there's nothing they can do." Saulino says, "It's hard on this issue because national leaders are not speaking up. We're on our own. We watched the first Gulf War as 11-year-olds, and watched passively because we were so young. This feels so similar."

Hitz agrees that there are several reasons why a large number of dissenting voices have not been raised yet. "I think students recognize that it's a complex question. I don't think many students doubt that Saddam is a bad guy. He has used chemical and biological weapons in the past, and against his own people. Students that I've talked to understand that the issue has been raised in September and October of an election year, and it's drawing attention away from a sputtering economy. Nonetheless, they don't shrink from the fact that Saddam is an issue," Hitz says.

For Hitz, the point that raises a more heated expression of opinion, from both students and the faculty, is whether the U.S. should wait to work through the U.N. within the rubric of international law. "If you do have articulate questioning about the war, it's on the question of whether we move unilaterally or in the company of the U.N. and our allies. If it's clear that we're going to quick pitch this and not wait for the U.N., you might see some strong opposition from students and faculty," Hitz says.