I don’t want to pause for the war in Iraq either, especially since it seems to be one of those nondescript wars where no one wants to admit it’s being fought and there’s no end in sight. It is a quagmire, a Vietnam. But there’s this boy – this man, rather – who’s being deployed to Iraq at the end of the month, and it just so happens that he is a very good friend of mine. A best friend, really. And my first kiss too.
The war that began when we were in high school – while we sat together in AP American History and listened as Mrs. Altman taught us an animated lesson about the Vietcong – was supposed to be a three-month blitz. But the three-month blitz just celebrated its third birthday. And the class clown, the ladies’ man, this best friend of mine, is off to fight in it.
It is unsurprising that the antiwar demonstrations that took place from Turkey to Tokyo yesterday replicated themselves on the University’s Diag as well. After all, we like to think of ourselves as the heartland of American activism. But the rally was poorly publicized and featured a shamefully small number of students. Organized by the College Democrats, Michigan Peaceworks and Veterans for Peace, it seemed more a fixture of Ann Arbor life than an impassioned call for peace and justice from the student body. It has occurred to me that my friend Lucas deserves more.
Activism is not dead at Michigan. From the Coke Coalition to the Stonewall Democrats, this campus bursts with the extraordinary efforts of individuals committed to change – which makes the general lack of concern among the student body over the war in Iraq all the more puzzling. After all, I would venture to guess that the number of students who actually believe President Bush and his administration when they lie blatantly to the American people, assuring us that things in Iraq are just peachy, is very small and dwindling by the car bomb.
On a campus where students fight doggedly for this worthy cause or the next, apathy cannot sufficiently explain the absence of outrage at yesterday’s rally. The ugly truth is that we are a campus as out of touch with our non-college-educated peers as the Bush administration is with a general sense of reality.
This war is still being fought, but by the have-nots of our generation, the kids who, like Lucas, could not afford to go to school without taking a tour or two of the Persian Gulf first. And while their sacrifice deserves our respect, the endless, unwinnable war for which they are being sacrificed deserves nothing less than our outright indignation.
Last month, one of Iraq’s holiest Shiite mosques was destroyed by insurgents, inciting riots and car bombs, retaliatory attacks and summary executions. On March 15, The New York Times reported that the bodies of 85 men had been found in one of Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhoods. The severely beaten faces of the men, the gags they wore and the rope burns that scarred their necks indicated that they had been tortured.
The elections that took place in the country last October – heralded by President Bush as the first step toward democracy – have been rendered essentially meaningless by the increasingly violent sectarian clashes; the country teeters precariously on the brink of civil war.
In a way, we are war-weary here at the University as well. We fight daily battles against funding cuts and intolerance, gender discrimination and genocide. And it can be exhausting. But there is a war going on, and we have the power to end it, the ability to channel the talent and passion for a more just society that has helped to make the University and its home city a force to be reckoned with and a vehicle for change.
The war that is costing Americans $200 million a day has created a fertile breeding and proving ground for terrorists. But unsurprisingly, it has done little to produce a stable government. Almost three years after President Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, over 2,300 American soldiers have died, thousands more Iraqis have lost their lives, and my best friend is being asked to give his life to protect a democracy that does not exist.
Even as the Pentagon whispers of sending more troops to Iraq, this campus marches on, unmoved. A few lucky students still harbor a tan from their spring break extravaganzas, warmer weather is just around the corner, and this weekend’s Saint Patrick’s Day festivities went on without a hitch. The streets of Ann Arbor were filled with students clad in leprechaun green, already inebriated but looking for more. A necessary activity, perhaps, in a world where a privileged version of “normal” manages, somehow, to drown out our collective conscience without skipping a beat.
Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org