Veterans, Professors Speak at Teach-in (Columbia Spectator)

Veterans, Professors Speak at Teach-in
By Caroline Kao and Melissa Repko

More than 150 students assembled in Lerner Hall for a teach-in on the Iraq war as part of Thursday’s day of action, led by the Columbia Coalition Against the War.

The panel, consisting of seven veterans, activists, and professors, spoke to the crowd on a broad range of issues related to the war, and welcomed questions from the audience.

Mark LaChance and Jose Vasquez from Iraq Veterans Against the War began the event by stating their concern for all victims of the war, demanding immediate withdrawal, adequate health care for returning veterans, and reparations for Iraqi victims.

Vasquez, a reservist who is working to obtain conscientious objector status, spoke about his change-of-mind after the release of the Abu-Ghraib photographs.

“After being in the military for four years, I decided I didn’t want to kill anymore,” Vasquez said.

The Veterans called on the country to support Iraq war resisters.

Following the Veterans, history professor Richard Bulliet asserted that it was the intention of the U.S. to set up a military dictatorship puppet regime in Iraq and to manipulate ethnic rivalries to justify a war in Iran. “To curtail the war, you also have to think about what’s happening in the war,” Bulliet said. “‘Bring the troops home’-that’s a good slogan. ‘Send the troops somewhere else’-that’s not a good slogan.”

Many observers said that the teach-in was more extreme than the rally in the views of its speakers. Some of the panelists tied the U.S. occupation of Iraq to racist imperialism. “The war in Iraq is not, and has never been, about weapons of mass destruction or terrorism, let alone bringing democracy to Iraq,” said Michael Letwin, a representative from New York City Labor Against War. “It’s always been about U.S. intent to dominate not only Iraq, but the entire Middle East.”

Carlito Rovira, from the Act Now to Stop Racism and End War (ANSWER) Coalition, stressed the importance of unity among activist groups and the need to support resistance in its many forms, “be it the ballot or be it the baseball bat. Struggle is struggle,” he said.

Barnard professor of women’s studies Rebecca Young called attention to issues of gender regarding foreign policy.

“It’s been very, very clear from the beginning of this administration that they have cynically and very cleverly co-opted certain aspects of mainstream feminist language,” Young said, sharply criticizing the administration for its misappropriation of women’s issues in Afghanistan and Iraq as a justification for war.

Towards the end of the teach-in, Edward Said Professor of modern Arab studies Rashid Khalidi, who was not a confirmed speaker, made an appearance. He talked about how the war has negatively impacted the lives of Iraqis, including the escalation of sectarian strife.

“There are trends that have been created by this war, not just in Iraq but in the region as a whole,” Khalidi said. “Iraq was a secular country. Iraq was a country which had all kinds of differences in its population, but people were not cutting one another’s throats … on the basis of what your identity card said your religion was.”

“Remember that this is not something that started without the direct intervention of the U.S.,” Khalidi said. “Long after all of this is put in the past, the evil sectarian consequences will still be there.”

To see a video documentary on the protest, click here:

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