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ISSUE 117 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/19/2004

Iraq one year later

By Diana Frantz
Copy Editor

Friday, March 19, 2004

One year ago, the walls of Buntrock Commons were plastered with posters reminding the St. Olaf community to "Support our troops" or to "Say no to the war in Iraq." There were tables outside of Stav Hall where students could grab red, white and blue ribbon pins to show their patriotism or Day-Glo arm bands to support peace -- that is, if they could even make it up to the third floor of the Commons. Over the lunch hours on many Thursdays during February and March, war protesters blocked the stairway leading to the cafeteria. Largely, students who were on campus last year agree that one-year after the war, political dialogue and awareness at St. Olaf are much less visible. However, they gave varied explanations for this phenomenon. A number of students felt that the debate over whether to invade Iraq or not was a simpler issue than the questions U.S. officials are facing today as they begin to rebuild the Iraqi government. "It was easy to take a stand [before the war]. It was either 'we should invade, or we shouldn't,'" Dan Schramm `04 said. "Now the solutions [to the problem of rebuilding Iraq] are so complex. People just lose interest." Others agreed with Schramm, expressing the opinion that students have grown indifferent to the situation in Iraq. "People just seem really apathetic to me," Emily Dahl `06 said. Kyla Bauer `06 also felt that the complexity of the problems in Iraq played a role in the diminishing talk of the subject on the St. Olaf campus, but she does not believe that students have actually lost interest in Iraq. "Students just don't know what to do, Bauer said. "We should get more knowledgeable, and then talk about the complexities of the situation so this won't happen again." The isolationist tendency of the St. Olaf campus was mentioned, by a number of students, as a reason for waning discussions of the situation in Iraq. "I attribute it to the fact that we're in "the bubble," said Amy Miller `05. Another student also referred specifically to "the bubble." "I feel like for a while, right when it happened, we became interested and engaged, whether we agreed or disagreed, whether we thought painting on the water tower was a good idea or not. Now, we have gone back in 'the bubble.' We have distanced ourselves," Laura Holway `04 said. On March 14, 2003 the words "No war" were graffitied on the water tower. Students both supported and decried this instance of vandalism. For at least one student, the graffiti represented the political fire that he believes should return to campus. "Someone needs to paint the water tower again," Jonathan Lindsley `06 said. Lindsley performed at the "Pause for Peace" to support a revival of political awareness on campus. But what would a new artist-turned-criminal write? There is no war to protest. The United States has gone to Iraq. Without a war to protest, students don't have many grandiose political issues over which they can argue. "[The United States] can't pull the troops out [of Iraq] until they have a government. There is no real pro or con in debating when to pull out the troops," Dan Honl `05 said. The war protests on the stairs are also noteworthy events that occurred on campus one year ago. Those in favor of the war, as well as hungry students hoping to grab lunch, were aggravated that the path to the cafeteria was obstructed. Even after a year, feelings surrounding the "stair protests" run hot. Many students continue to question the effectiveness of the protests. "I think people were really shocked with the [protesters] on the stairs. It didn't really accomplish anything," Sara Anderson `06 said. Further controversy ensued when President Christopher Thomforde sat on the stairs in solidarity with the protesters. His opinion on the impending war had already been revealed to the St. Olaf community through a highly controversial sign in his yard that read, "Say no to war on Iraq." Dahl looked back on the president's participation in the protest and the sign placed in his yard with fondness. "I thought it was honorable. Just because he's president doesn't mean he should forget his own values," she said. Bauer recalled the "stairs protests" with appreciation for the debates that occurred between protesters and others. She enjoyed the dialogue that resulted from the protests. "I remember people coming up and debating right there on the stairs," she said. Other students also reflected on the political fervor of last spring at St. Olaf with fondness, despite the fact that the country was on the brink of war. "I have to admit that part of me loved it. I loved the energy of it. I loved that people really cared," said Jenilyn Swett `04. "I'd like to see people get like that again." She referred to St. Olaf Mothers Against Drunk Driving (SOMADD) as a group that is currently starting to show some of the positive passion, directed toward a relevant cause, that she witnessed last year. Whether they were for or against the war last year, students see the need for political awareness and education at all times. They observed that since the end of the war, political enthusiasm has decreased to undesirably low levels. "Students are uneducated and unaware. They need to see the necessity of being aware. Look at what's happened in Spain and Haiti. We have distanced ourselves from these situations, just as we have done with Iraq," Holway said. "In comparison to last year, we are way less politically aware." The information that the public receives, however, is dependent on media coverage. Brandon Turner `04, a participant in Tuesday's Bush debate, cited the media as a reason for the lack of dialogue concerning the ongoing conflict in Iraq -- the media has shied away from coverage of events in Iraq since the end of major combat in April. "If the news addressed it, we would probably care," Turner said. While heated political discussions on campus may be simmering for the moment, with a presidential election imminent politics on campus just might start to boil again. Maybe there will not be protests on the stairs or graffiti on the water tower, but the war is definitely expected to be an issue in the upcoming election. Voters are critical of, democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry's change of position on the war. In a December interview with "Rolling Stone" Kerry tried to defend his change of heart. "When I voted for the [Iraq] war. I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect George Bush to [expletive] it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did," he said. The Bush campaign recently began running a commercial in West Virginia that capitalizes on Kerry's war related voting record: "Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops. Though John Kerry voted in October of 2002 for military action in Iraq he later voted against funding for our soldiers." The war is also a touchy subject for the President because the weapons of mass destruction he claimed would be found in Iraq have not turned up. The Bush administration recently announced a pre-election plan to "pull out of Iraq before our 2004 election." Democrats see this announcement as a ploy to distract the American people from the "Iraq issue." Political Awareness Committee Coordinator Janine Wetzel `05 gave some predictions regarding the atmosphere of St. Olaf as the election approaches. "It is easy to see that people are aware when there is a hot issue like the war. I think that people are still pretty aware, but there is not just one issue. There is nothing as publicized, emotional or national as the war. I think that homosexual marriage might become a hot issue in this election," Wetzel said. Many St. Olaf students will vote in their first presidential election this year -- next school year. Maybe they will bust out the buttons and the signs or attend rallies and protests. However, whatever the outer signs of political awareness, it is knowledge that truly matters. Even citizens living in the St. Olaf "bubble" are responsible to educate themselves before casting their ballots in November.

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