“Dr. Osborne, may I take an incomplete grade in this class?” asked one of my students in a trembling voice. He explained that his National Guard unit had been activated. He looked scared to death. I told him of course he could take an incomplete; for an instant I saw my own two young sons and flashed on the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers poised for combat in the Arabian desert. This incident got me going. It was time for action.
Our college’s Beyond War Club, for which I am a faculty adviser, decided to write a one-paragraph letter to the five Orange County members of Congress calling for a nonviolent resolution of the Persian Gulf crisis. We then collected 1,000 signatures in support of the letter and delivered the package to the county’s congressional delegation. To leverage our effort a bit more, we also mailed it to the Speaker of the House, and the Senate majority leader.
The letter urges our local congressmen to insist upon Saddam’s withdrawal from Kuwait. But rather than resorting to war, the letter says that “sanctions should be continued"--a position very close to that of two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff and many foreign policy experts who have testified before Congress.
Students were very supportive of the letter. About three-fourths of those approached signed it, with strong support coming from our Southeast Asian students, many of whom had already encountered the ravages of war. It only took nine days to reach our goal of 1,000 signatures. The signers included the student body president, the chancellor of our college, a vice chancellor, some deans, the president of the Faculty Senate, and a member of the Board of Trustees.
Various explanations were given by those who refused to sign. They ranged from the visceral “We have to kick butt,” to the more intellectual “credible threat” doctrine that Saddam Hussein will evacuate Kuwait only if he is convinced that the U.S.-led coalition against him will use massive and decisive military force. One campus administrator expressed this view to me, adding that there are worse outcomes than war.
When the discussion moved from war in the abstract to war in the personal, from anonymous soldiers dying to the prospect of losing one’s own son, the administrator became noticeably more hesitant about waging war. I recalled this exchange when I read that Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) believes that restoring the emir of Kuwait to his throne is not worth “one American life.”
Our club’s campaign to wage peace has been completed. Rancho Santiago College may be the first college in the county to speak out unofficially on the Persian Gulf crisis, but it surely won’t be the only one. As the countdown to Jan. 15 continues, there may be such a deluge of mail from students and the public that Congress might go on record and insist that the Administration take more initiative in finding an alternative to war.
This crisis presents not only grave peril, but also tremendous possibility: a major conflict could be resolved through international cooperation in a way that affirms human life and dignity. By exerting its power to reach a negotiated settlement, America has an incredible opportunity to validate the peace process that must become the cornerstone of the new world order heralded by President Bush and other leaders.