Teach-In at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 10/18/06

 

We had a lively, well-attended, thoughtful Teach-In, characterized by an impressive turn-out of local community activists and residents. The important contributions of activists in Vermont, Williamstown, and North Adams helped give this forum the feeling more of a New England town meeting than an academic debate, energizing most of us there and giving us hope that with more of such initiatives we can begin to build a peace movement that can actually have some impact on future government policies.

 

Our four speakers, each an activist in his or her own right, helped set the tone for our discussion. Professor Lawrence Wittner, an historian of peace movements and American foreign policy from SUNY Albany, began by outlining the various times in American history when peace movements have made a difference, influencing and changing government policy, and ended with a brief overview of why and how the United States has gotten into the war in Iraq . Rev. Rick Spalding, Chaplain at Williams College, gave a number of thought-provoking reasons why he did not think this war was primarily about religion. Ed Bloch, a WWII veteran and a Williams alum, gave a moving account of his own involvement with war crimes committed in the American army in China at the end of the war his subsequent life work of atonement, and his important activities in Veterans for Peace, whose membership has quintupled since the onset of the Iraq War. Finally, Tela Zasloff, a local Democratic Party activist, surveyed a number of important contested congressional and senatorial races in the upcoming elections, focusing especially on a number of races in which veterans are running and their positions on the war.

 

A very thoughtful discussion ensued with lively audience participation. A number of speakers expressed concern with the shortcomings of the Democratic Party on the Iraq War and their fear that even should the Democrats win on November 7, we may not see peace in Iraq. There was an especially intense interchange concerning the case of Lieutenant Watada, who is refusing to serve in Iraq, the adequacy of the preparation our soldiers receive before going to Iraq, and the increasing role of privately employed armed guards in Iraq. Equally important was the troubling question of youth involvement or lack thereof - in the anti-war movement, especially compared with the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s, and the related issue of how much Americans are being asked to sacrifice for this war. Perhaps the most dramatic intervention was that of an Iraqi, whose moving personal testimony, combined with a strong critique of American actions, such as the early disbanding of the Iraqi army, made it clear to most of us that a quick withdrawal is in the best interests of both Iraqis and Americans.

 

We urged individuals to sign up to help us plan another Teach-In, to get involved in the Massachusetts referendum campaign against the war, currently on the Nov. 7 ballot in 36 districts, and to attend a free showing of Iraq for Sale at Images Theatre in Williamstown on Oct. 30. Strong positive response both at the Teach-In and since showed us that although our work has just begun, we have a real chance to build a strong peace movement that will continue to pressure our government to get out of Iraq, to make peace in the Middle East, and to prevent the extension of war to Iran.

 

Shanti Singham, ssingham@william.edu

History Department