In 1966 Barry Sadler had a number- one song with “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” his paean to “Fighting soldiers from the sky, Fearless men who jump and die, Men who mean just what they say, The brave men of the Green Beret.” Four years later Edwin Starr came out with “War” with its chorus: “War, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” Both songs struck a chord across the nation and on college campuses across the country, during a decade in which the Vietnam War centered America’s focus on a continent an ocean away.
Now, a generation later, war an ocean away was again on the minds of a nation and on the minds of college students, people whose age-group peers are serving in the military. And so, across college campuses, including Calvin, students and faculty gathered to debate the issues.
This past spring those discussions took place in many formats. There were the classic coffee shop conversations—shades of the 60s—and their impromptu yet wide-ranging arguments about the morality of war, the threats of terrorism and the broader problems of the Middle East. There were extended e-mail and Internet discussions, new technology lending a hand to old debates. Student senate passed a resolution pleading with politicians to look for alternatives to war with Iraq and then saw a petition drive to overturn the resolution, all of which culminated in a campus-wide vote on the issue. A support group was begun for students with friends and family serving in the military. And there were several organized forums on campus, including a panel discussion and several teach-ins.
Calvin vice president for student life Shirley Hoogstra believes students at Calvin should be discussing significant issues like terrorism, dictators, regime change and war. It is, she said, part of the learning that takes place at Calvin both in and out of the classroom.
“We don’t live in a bubble here at Calvin,” she said, “tempting as that might be sometimes. War is obviously an issue that touches our nation. And it touches our students. It was very heartening to me to see students take advantage of opportunities to engage the issues, both on their own and with the assistance of Calvin professors.”
One of those opportunities, a panel discussion held prior to the war, featured students and faculty both against and in favor of a war with Iraq. More than 250 students packed the Commons Lecture Hall for almost two hours of presentations on the issues and a question and answer period. Taking part were students Jimmy Osborn and Andrew Storteboom, professors Adel Abadeer, Robert DeVries, Terry Etter and David Hoekema and former military chaplain Herman Keizer, a recent winner of Calvin’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
All of the panelists agreed that Iraq and its people would be better off without the rule of Saddam Hussein. But they disagreed on the appropriate way to remove him from power.
Hoekema, a philosophy professor and just war expert, said Iraq is living under a brutal and repressive regime, but he does not believe war with Iraq would constitute a just war. He asked a series of rhetorical questions: Is war the last resort? Will the post-war conditions be better than the pre-war conditions? Is there a credible and immediate threat? These, he said, are the types of criteria that need to be met for a just war. “They have not been met,” Hoekema said.
Abadeer, a native of Egypt who teaches business, said he supports effective intervention. “There is risk involved,” he said, “in intervening, but there is also risk in doing nothing. If we do not intervene, do we expose ourselves to unknown outcomes in the future?” Abadeer said he supports the removal of Saddam for the sake of the Iraqi people. He also believes that there is terrorism in the making in Iraq, a development that has worldwide implications.
The students, Osborn and Storteboom, also agreed that Saddam must go. Osborn, however, supports a surgical strike, but not a full-blown war. Storteboom argued that the people of Iraq live in fear and brutal oppression. He cited an Amnesty International study on secret jails in Iraq, where prisoners are summarily executed with regularity. “We must recognize that the cost of inaction may far outweigh the cost of war,” said Storteboom.
DeVries, of the political science department, sketched for the crowd some of the political and foreign affairs implications of war with Iraq. “Where does it take us?” he asked, citing countries such as North Korea, Pakistan, Libya and the Sudan as places that have weapons—some biological and chemical weapons, some nuclear—and that have demonstrated some willingness to use weapons against their neighbors and others. DeVries dismissed Iraq as a threat to the U.S., noting that its military is now one-third of the size it was in 1991 during the Gulf War. He also said that war with Iraq could actually be a recruiting bonanza for Al-Qaeda and that it could be a significant source of destabilization in the Middle East.
Etter, a business professor and veteran of the Vietnam War, began his remarks by addressing the students directly. “I pray,” he said, “that you will never have to go to war and that you’ll be peacemakers.” Etter confessed that the issues surrounding war with Iraq are incredibly complicated and said he’s doing all he can to be educated. But, he said, he fears he cannot know all there is to know. So he remains committed to praying for both the U.S. and Iraq and to supporting the president and the military.
Keizer, with almost four decades of service to the military, picked up on that theme. “Every officer and enlisted solider,” he said, “is trained in just war theory.” There is a presumption, he noted, that elected officials have the right to use force. But that doesn’t mean it’s always right to use force. “It’s not a Democratic or Republican issue,” he said.
— Phil deHaan is Calvin’s director of media relations.
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