Antiwar Activism Spreads in US
From Montana to Boston, students and communities are protesting involvement in the Gulf. `WE WON'T GO'
WILL the American people give President Bush what he obtained last Thursday from the United Nations Security Council - consent to use military force against Iraq? In Missoula, Mont., 1,000 townspeople and students from the University of Montana rallied Friday in favor of a peaceful resolution to the Gulf crisis.
Also Friday, Eric Hayes, a lance corporal in the 24th Marine Reserve Division, refused to report for active duty to his unit in St. Louis.
Saturday in Massachusetts, 8,000 people marched to Boston Common to protest an eagerness they perceive in Mr. Bush to fight Iraq.
The nation's largest university student group, which advocates a nonviolent solution, is planning several hundred ``teach-ins'' around the country this Friday.
Out of numerous fragmentary actions a national antiwar activism appears to be networking its way into existence. But if the United States didn't intervene against military aggression in places like Lebanon or the West Bank, they ask, should it in Kuwait? Campuses Against War, which held a regional organizing conference at Harvard yesterday, has adopted the motto ``Just Say Why.''
How large and influential this activism will become remains to be seen. Gauging its present size requires putting anecdotal evidence into perspective, leading some to charge that the news media exaggerate the activism, others that they minimize it.
Consider Mr. Hayes, a psychology major at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. He is one of fewer than 20 people out of the 100,000 members of the National Guard and military reserves called to active duty who have sought to avoid it, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Doug Hart says.
On the other hand, the Student Environmental Action Coalition, which is behind this week's teach-ins, gave rousing approval to an antiwar speech when 7,000 SEAC delegates convened in Illinois in October. ``It seemed very apparent to us that this is an environmental war,'' says Helen Denham, a SEAC media coordinator for the teach-ins.
``We never had 7,000 students together in the '60s,'' marvels Ruth Rosen, who protested the Vietnam war while a student.
Comparisons are inevitably drawn between antiwar movements then and now. Todd Gitlin, who as national president of the Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1960s was a leader in antiwar activism, is surprised at the size of opposition before combat has even begun.
Ms. Rosen has helped launch a Women Against War telephone chain, in which women call the White House and then get five more women to do the same. White House operators have been startled by the number of calls, she says.
Rosen is intrigued that this time lesser-known campuses like Missoula are in the forefront of the activism. ``Everyone wants to know what's happening at Berkeley. But it's not happening there.''
Rosen adds that she wonders if the students at less-prestigious campuses are more likely to know someone who has been called to active duty since today's all-volunteer army draws heavily from the lower-income segment of American society.
``I don't think that would necessarily be the case for this campus,'' says George Dennison, president of the University of Montana. Rather, the 10,000 Montana students ``take the issues seriously,'' he says. Eleven percent are international students, and that ``may have an impact'' on awareness, he adds.
Missoula hasn't escaped the call-ups, though. At the start of school, three students and an assistant professor were called up for duty. ``That might have been a catalyst'' in making the Gulf crisis the biggest issue on campus, says Tom Walsh, who edits the student newspaper. ``Any war will hit home here. There will be casualties, and some of them are very likely to be people we know.''
One departure from the '60s, at Missoula at least, is that students, faculty, administration, and local community largely agree. ``We share that view that we ought to have a negotiated settlement,'' Mr. Dennison says.
Antiwar sentiment has even been spotted at Texas A&M University. SEAC-sponsored demonstrators carried signs and chanted ``Hell, no. We won't go. We won't die for Texaco.''
Although the mid-November protest rallied only 20 of Texas A&M's 41,000 students, ``the fact that it happened at all is pretty significant,'' says Timm Doolen, managing editor of The Battalion, the student newspaper. ``We're such a conservative university.''
The places may be new, but some of the faces are not. Daniel Ellsberg, who revealed the Pentagon Papers in 1971, addressed Saturday's rally in Boston. Former Sen. George McGovern, who opposed the Vietnam war, has spoken out against using military force in the Gulf. And Ramsey Clark, a US attorney general in the Johnson administration who made a controversial visit to Hanoi, has established an antiwar coalition that operates out of his New York law offices.
``I oppose wars,'' Mr. Clark says, adding that in moving troops to the Gulf so quickly, ``the president paid no more respect to the Constitution than any military dictator would.''
New to antiwar activism is Alex Molnar, whose son is a marine in Saudi Arabia. A deluge of support following publication of an angry letter he wrote to Bush persuaded Mr. Molnar to form the Military Families Support Network. Kuwait, he says, ``is not an American problem.''