One question asked after the attacks of Sept. 11 remains to be fully answered: How will the United States respond? As the nation’s reactions to the attacks continue ,ranging from military actions abroad to policy changes at home, many have paid close attention to the opinions of the University community.
President Bush’s announced War on Terror has been the subject of only muted criticism on campus, while activists who support and oppose Bush’s policies agree the student body remains divided.
“I was shocked and horrified of the events of Sept. 11,” said Helen Fox, chair of the Ann Arbor human rights commission and an RC professor.
“I was even more shocked and horrified to see our president’s and our government’s response,” Fox said. “The inflamed rhetoric: The evil vs. good, the us vs. them … the whole axis of evil idea that if we only just crushed certain individuals and organizations. … This depressed and frightened me.” Fox added that she joined a community peace organization and plans to teach a course on nonviolence during winter term.
Music sophomore Amy Ridenou had a very different reaction to Sept. 11 – she enlisted in the Army.
“I felt so drawn to serve my country and to back up my opinions on military action,” Ridenou said. She joined the Army on Oct. 20 and skipped classes winter term to attend basic training. Ridenou said some of her friends had lost loved ones in the attacks, and she believed in pursuing those responsible with military force.
“A lot of people are blown away that I would do that,” said Ridenou, who added that her friends have been supportive. “I don’t want to make myself seem noble, but everyone takes our country for granted. … Sept. 11 changed my life.”
Both peace activists and those who support the Bush administration’s policies said they expected U.S. involvement in Iraq.
“I think we are going to war in Iraq,” Fox said. “The facts that thousands of innocent civilians are going to be hurt when we go in with ill-defined goals … troubles me.”
However, Ridenou saw the matter differently.
“My unit is one of the first to go on mission, and it’s very possible that I could be leaving the (University),” Ridenou said. She added that it “scares me but I embrace it completely, it’s such an opportunity to go into a country – Iraq or Afghanistan – and serve. … I love it and I’m so happy that my love for it hasn’t dwindled.”
Some students were troubled by the Bush administration’s policies.
“My reaction is that calling it a ‘War on Terror’ was Bush’s first mistake,” said Kirsten Schwind, a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and a member of the Ann Arbor Committee for Peace and Justice. “The word “war” … pretty much foretold a lot of bloody killing of innocent people.”
Schwind added that she thought the Bush administration should have pursued non-military options through the United Nations or the International Criminal Court.
“This War on Terror, it is our War on Terror, based on our country and our constitution,” said Adam Haba, president of College Republicans. “We are held accountable to the (United Nations) and those rules second to our Constitution. We look out for number one first, we look out for our democracy and our way of life first.”
Early responses to both Sept. 11 and military actions in Afghanistan stirred mixed reactions on campus.
On Sept. 20, 2001, about 300 people participated in a peace rally on the Diag. The group was counter-protested by 30 vocal demonstrators organized by the campus Young Americans for Freedom.
Fox said that she received an enthusiastic response to a lecture she gave on nonviolent alternatives to the War on Terror. “There are many students that share the opinion that violence and oppression is not the way to form a safer society.”
After the commencement of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan last October, the Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution affirming their support of the U.S. government’s policies.
“It seems that people are divided into different groups. … There are a few people who are anti-American altogether, and there are a few people who are very pro-America,” said Dean Wang, leader of the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. “The campus is still pretty patriotic.”
Students on both side of the issue noted that there is no student group on campus that advocates strictly for peace.
“We had heard that there were student groups organizing,” said Mary Beijan, a leader in the Ann Arbor Committee for Peace. “My understanding is that some of that campus energy dwindled somehow.”
Schwind said that early tension between Campus Greens, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, and the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight For Equality by Any Means Necessary complicated the creation of a peace organization.
“I think there were a lot of people who didn’t know quite what do think,” Schwind added.
“I think this campus is really crying out for a good (peace) organization,” she added.
Fox noted that the patriotism surrounding Sept. 11 might have muted campus debate.
“I fear that there is fear among students to say some of these things because it can be interpreted as unpatriotic,” Fox said. “The history of wars is that the peace movement might be active until we actually go to war, and people turn on those that advocate peace as un-American. I know that it makes the Muslim and Middle Eastern community think before speaking up.”
Some students thought campus was divided on the issue.
“I think this campus is split on foreign policy,” said Wang, who added he thought only a small group of students were strongly opposed to the War on Terror.
“I guess it’s pretty evenly divided between people who are behind Bush and people who are not ready to do what the Bush administration wants to do,” Haba said.
All agreed that some sort of response to the attacks was needed.
“I agree we can’t just lie down,” Fox said. “The challenge is to learn how we can act in nonviolent ways to really understand why these kinds of groups are now springing up.”
“To be the most powerful country in the world, we need a strong military,” Ridenou said. “My friend’s father was at the Pentagon that day. … For those things to happen and people to say ‘Don’t strike back,’ then it will just happen again. It will show we are weak.”