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Return of college peaceniks

Students join antiwar protests, but many are skeptical their action will alter US policy on Iraq.

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It's a sun-drenched morning amid the red bricks and ivy of Harvard Square – and the signs of student protest against US policy on Iraq are sprouting fast.

"Drop Bush, not bombs," reads one placard. "Are we prepared to build Iraq after bombing?" says another – this one dangling around the neck of Harvard Divinity School student Brian Nichols.

He has just rolled out of bed and grabbed a granola bar, and is now taking a stand against President Bush's plans to attack Iraq, mostly, he says, over oil and "to distract from domestic issues."

And so it goes in the quadrangles, classes, and dorm rooms of this famously peace-loving enclave. It's a far cry from the massive draft-card-burning protests of the '70s, but debate about Iraq on America's college campuses is revving up fast.

And now the student protests are growing – including marches yesterday at Harvard University, New York University, Boston College, and several other schools. Suddenly the antiwar culture, with its teach-ins and talk of peace, draft dodging, and "American imperialists" is spreading across the nation's campuses – albeit with 21st-century twists.

• Peace petitions, for instance, are now posted on the Internet. One such document has some 19,000 student and faculty signatures – and receives a new one, on average, every 30 seconds.

• Some students are already talking about whether they would dodge a draft – and how. At Harvard, one junior jokingly wonders if the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy means he wouldn't be drafted if he claimed he was gay.

• Teach-ins have sprouted on campuses from Berkeley to Yale. Organizers of a recent session at Drury University in Springfield, Mo., expected 100 people – but 250 came and sat in the hot sun for three hours.

Clearly, without US troops being killed or hurt – or the serious prospect of a draft – the issue isn't fully consuming America's academic hubs. In fact, today's dorm-room discussions "are probably pretty much like those of 1964" – before President Johnson dramatically escalated the American presence in Vietnam, says Maurice Isserman, author of "America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s."

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