As anti-aircraft fire lit up the Baghdad dawn yesterday, our generation reached its defining moment. The frenzied and unexpected images of daylight raids on the Iraqi capital brought to reality the abstract discussions that have enveloped the globe for the past 18 months. For most undergraduates, this is their first experience with a war of this scale. Everyone will remember where they were when they first heard reports of air raid sirens howling through the deserted streets of Baghdad. As Tom Brokaw said last evening, “this will probably be the most televised event of all time.”
Here at the University, we are confronted with a special obligation to probe, ponder and discuss the meaning of these events. The responsibilities of homework and exams have become secondary to concerns of political destabilization, human casualties and the sobering images emblazoned in our minds. It would be nice to think that in the comfortable environs of Ann Arbor – sheltered from the most frightening effects of war – we should carry out our daily routines. But, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers massed on the Iraqi border and untold civilians entrapped in the line of fire, the University should devote this day to critical analysis. As students who will soon inherit the responsibility of shaping the world, we have a special obligation to participate in an unrestrained discussion without the everyday pressures of academic life. Today, we are challenged to confront both our fears and hopes.
As of last night there were encouraging signs that we would meet this challenge. The Michigan Union was plastered with flyers urging students and community members to join together in protest. War is the first word on everyone’s lips and each individual, in his or her own way, has already been permanently affected by that word. And everyone should have adequate time to discover, within themselves, how best to respond. When the University administration cancelled classes on Sept. 11, its primary concern may have been the safety of its students, but the decision allowed for students to gather together and pour out inner-feelings that may have remained concealed otherwise. With last night’s preliminary attacks still fresh in our minds, the latent energy of anger, disillusionment, fear, depression, patriotism, hatred, duty, peace and war have lit campus on fire.
Our vibrant community of 38,000 students, accomplished scholars and respected leaders is uniquely qualified to dissect the intricacies of war. The University has one of the largest populations of Iraqi students in the nation. We have an obligation to walk amidst our peers in the spirit of intellectual inquiry and engagement. Moments spent in class today are moments wasted.
The objective of the University is to prepare students for world citizenship. Lecture and section meetings provide the framework for this enterprise, but at these moments our responsibility as human beings is not to remain passive observers. Instead we must decide what is right. At a time when confusion and uncertainty reign, we should challenge ourselves to reject the impulse of relativism and equivocation. History will judge us on our response.
– Peskowitz is an editor of the Daily’s editorial page. Piskor is an associate editorial page editor.