A few days ago I wondered what to do if war started. Wear a black armband? Hold a teach-in? Join students nationwide who plan to walk out of class? The suggestion to protest by skipping school made up my mind.
I won’t join them. I am teaching my classes, and I am teaching what is in the syllabus.
Why? Because as a law professor, I train people to think and question — activities that might have led us to better alternatives than war. At the least, serious inquiry should have preceded such a momentous decision.
Congress, the institution designed for the robust debate that could have enlightened us, fell down on the job. Our representatives appear paralyzed, unable to question a questionable war for fear of looking “unpatriotic.” Such fear insults our intelligence.
Yet we, too, have failed to demand answers to a horde of questions that reasonable people would ask.
We have not questioned why Bush officials will wage war despite failing to prove to any reasonable degree that Saddam Hussein threatens the U.S., that UN weapons inspections were not working, or that inspections could not work if given a chance. The Bush Administration has failed to overcome the logic that Saddam Hussein would never attack or blackmail us, directly or through terrorists, unless backed into a corner, because to do so would result in his own annihilation.
We have not questioned the contradiction between President Bush’s claim that he will “protect innocent life” and the Pentagon’s claim that, once war starts, “there will not be a safe place in Baghdad.” The Bush Administration announced it will “shock and awe” Iraqis with the most devastating bombardment in history.
We have not pinned down the price of war and rebuilding. It appeared nowhere in Bush’s recent budget proposal. On March 6, President Bush simply told reporters that he would submit “a supplemental budget request” when appropriate, and we would learn the amount then.
We have not demanded to know the specific plans for post-war Iraq. Last month, the Pentagon’s Doug Feith refused to tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which countries, if any, have pledged to help us rebuild after American and Iraqi blood stops flowing.
We have not questioned the contradiction between the Bush Administration’s claim that this war will “spread democracy” throughout the Middle East and the reality that, if Iraqis voted, a majority would probably pick a Shia Muslim theocracy like that in Iran. Or why the same democracy-trumpeting Administration ignores the overwhelming majorities of people in nations worldwide who oppose this war, as well as the majority of Americans who oppose war without UN approval.
We have not listened to allies France, Germany and Russia, or neighbors Canada and Mexico. Instead of dialogue, our politicians rename French fries “freedom fries” in the Congressional bistro. We have not asked the Bush Administration why it has rejected pleas by practically all of the world’s religious leaders, who condemn this war as immoral, unnecessary and unjust.
We have not asked how our soldiers will be protected from another “Gulf War Syndrome,” the illness that has debilitated thousands of young veterans. We have not asked how sending our military into conflicts where it will be shot at and exposed to radiation from U.S. depleted uranium weapons constitutes “supporting our troops.”
We have not asked our leaders how they will safeguard us from the terrorist attacks that CIA Director George Tenet warned will be inevitable if we invade Iraq. Why invade a country in the name of our security when the invasion itself will increase terrorism?
These questions simply reflect common sense. The lack of answers should have stopped this war dead in its tracks. Why are we so passive?
Out of curiosity, when President Bush and his war council spoke from the Azores last Sunday, I flipped channels. Every network but CNN doled out motor racing, basketball, info-mercials, movies. Apparently, these things are more important to us.
We need better “job training” as citizens. We need education. History books will flog us for doing so little to understand the world. We have had unprecedented, enormous opportunities to learn and inquire.
I will teach my class as the bombs kill and maim innocent people in Baghdad. I will teach my class in the hope that the skills my students learn will make them better citizens, who will ask questions and demand answers before they let their country be led into war.
It’s the most patriotic protest I can make.
BRIAN J. FOLEY is a professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. He can be reached at Brian.J.Foley@law.widener.edu.