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To the Editors of The Crimson:
In late October, Jonathan S. Cohn wrote an article which explored the similarities and contrasts between protests over Vietnam and current protests over U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf. In it, he noted that there was no significant protest over Vietnam until the graduate school deferment and other deferments ended.
This suggests strongly that Harvard students did not deeply involve themselves in debate over Vietnam until they were personally threatened. Even then, as James M. Fallows '70 has noted ("What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy," The Washington Monthly, October 1975) Harvard students minimized risk to their careers by deliberatedly flunking draft physicals or by skirting service in Vietnam by other strategies (e.g. gaining remaining physical deferments, joining the National Guard or Reserves).
Had they been arrested for refusing to serve, their anti-war position would have been more credible and influential.
Today, leaders of students opposed to U.S. involvement in the Gulf, such as Rosa A. Ehrenreich '91, lament the lack of student interest in the current Middle East situation. The apathy that she notes bears a striking and disturbing resemblance to the Harvard students during the Vietnam war; for all their vocal protests, they were driven primarily by self-interest.
This apathy is particularly disturbing in light of recent events. On October 8, President Bush significantly escalated the U.S. commitment to the Gulf by announcing his decision to send additional forces to the region which would give the U.S. an "offensive capability" insteady of simply a defensive capability.
The problem with this is twofold. First, Bush did not sufficiently and completely articulate his reason for such escalation. Second, and more importantly, we have yet to establish a national consensus--one way or the other--around increased commitment.
Bush must call the Congress back from vacation and ask it to debate the following proposition: Should the U.S. prepare to take back Kuwait from Iraq by military force, if necessary? Congress should render its decision in the form of a resolution, thereby indicating if the American people support such a proposition and indicating if Congress will pass a declaration of war in the event of an armed conflict with Iraq.
Failing such action, President Bush has overstepped his proper role. Congress has only given its support to a defensive role in Saudi Arabia (in a resolution about two months ago). Bush should not be allowed to assume that Congress and the nation will automatically lend their support to his action.
In the light of Vietnam, the current situation is alarming in at least two respects. First, we fought in Vietnam without a clear mandate of Congressional and public support for our intervention. That was unjust and unfair primarily to the soldiers we sent to fight, for they were sent to fight without well-defined strategic goals (the absence of which would have at least been highlighted by full national debate); and when society turned against the war, our soldiers returned to a nation which did not welcome them. We must--for the benefit of the men and women who wear the uniform--define our goals and justifications now, before we go to war.
Second, our elected representatives should demand that they be allowed to validate or reject Bush's decision to escalate. That is their job; they have no higher obligation than to represent American opinion, particularly when American lives are most directly threatened.
One likely reason that there is not such an outcry has been recently suggested by Mark Shields, a former Marine and a columnist for The Washington Post. Because our military is comprised overwhelmingly of lower-class Americans, the great majority of our country's decision-makers do not have children in the Gulf.
Columnists, reporters, higher level government employees and elected officials should all be actively questioning precisely why we are in the Gulf--if only to formulate more clearly our policy, and thus to define more clearly the strategic goals which would dictate specific military actions.
History shows that such clarity in definition of strategic goals would greatly contribute to more effective use of military force, if the situation requires it. But our leaders are not relentlessly pursuing such clarity, and their laxity is a result of their insulation from the American deaths that would result in the event of war.
I am a Marine Corps officer candidate, and I regularly deride both the content and rhetorical form of the liberal cause-of-the-week that dominates headlines, editorial columns and kiosks on the Harvard campus. I say that because I want to emphasize that I would not lightly criticize the formulation of American foreign policy; after all, I will soon be the instrument of that policy.
The specific process by which our country decides to go to war with Iraq is hugely important; it is bigger than us, bigger than what jobs we will get next year, bigger than the issues which usually dominate and divide this campus.
This process is important not only because we may be drafted, but also because it indicates whether the democratic ideals of our nation are alive or only for show. We should be ashamed of ourselves if we embody the same self-interest and lack of concern with the public life of our nation of which Fallows and his peers were guilty. Janar Wasito '91
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