As more than 400 anti-war protesters faced off with a smaller group of war-supporters on UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza Monday, the professors and students who study peace and conflict at the university were divided about which group to join.
Professor Jerry Sanders, whose peace and conflicts studies class met just as the protest began, canceled class. Instead, he asked his students to attend the protest and form their own opinions about the validity of either of the two sides.
August Hoppler, a first year student in the class, knew which side she would stand with. “America deserved the attack” of Sept. 11, she said, a sentiment echoed by some of the anti-war protesters. “We’re blind to what is going on in the world.”
As for a response to the attacks, Hoppler feared that a military retaliation would lead to a widening of the war. “I see that as useless,” she said. In her view, America’s response should be increased safeguards at home, not retaliation abroad.
Daniel Durazno, another first year student in the class, was less certain. Military action is sometimes necessary, he said carefully, but not the bombing of civilians. “Until (Sunday), I was proud of how (the United States) had reacted.” Now he’s not so sure.
A different kind of uncertainty was felt by some professors.
“Is this war?” asked Beth Simmons, an associate professor in the political science department at UC Berkeley. Simmons felt more comfortable calling it a “defensive war,” and suggested that different moral standards may apply to a war fought in self defense.
As for the protesters’ demand to stop the bombing, she said that much of it was “naïve.”
Sanders also found fault with some of the protesters’ claims. He called their description of the war as racist a “misnomer.” “Just because they happen to be Arab doesn’t make it a racist war,” Sanders said. In response to protesters’ characterization of the war as rich against the poor, he pointed out that Usama bin Ladin came from a wealthy, elite background. “We like to think about things like commandments and absolutes, but the truth is there is a gray area,” Sanders said.
One of those gray areas was whether the bombings were in violation of international law.
According to Sanders, the United States is within its legal rights to attack if it does so in a “proportional manner.” Purposefully targeting civilians would be clearly illegal, he said, yet the incidental killings of civilians does not necessarily violate the law.
With little or no firm information about the effect the on-going bombings, Sanders said on Monday he believes it’s too early for both the protesters and those in favor of attacks to pass judgment.