War and Peace:

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War and Peace:

Dan Nuebel, Contributing Writer

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A panel of SRJC instructors discuss causes and implications of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

SRJC faculty engaged students and the public in a dialog about the issues of War and Peace in Iraq and Afghanistan at a forum held on Sept. 27 at the Doyle Library’s media center.
Seven faculty members from seven academic disciplines presented their current analyses of America’s ongoing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Each presenter concentrated his or her remarks on one of the political, moral, economic or psychological impacts of these conflicts.
Many of the 70 attendees of the three-hour forum came at the request of their instructors. Ten of the attendees were also veterans. “There are 800 veterans studying under the GI Bill at SRJC,” a spokesperson from the campus’ Office of Veterans Affairs said.
Marty Bennett, an SRJC professor and historian, organized the first War and Peace Forum four semesters ago.
“All of the faculty that have come together, believe [that it is] critical to have dialog at the college about these wars, why they occurred and their consequences,” Bennett said. “We have arranged this forum specifically so that dialog can occur.”
The SRJC Arts and Lectures Committee sponsored the forum. The questions posed in the two, three-hour long workshops spurred dialog and personal stories from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Presenters focused their remarks on a few questions each.
Is war inevitable? What are the roots of aggression? Why do people join the military?
“I believe that the more we know about the psychology of war, the closer we are to peace, and to world peace,” Dr. Marilyn Milligan, a psychologist and SRJC instructor, said. “I believe that experience and culture are much more important influences on our aggressive behavior than what is built in.”
Dr. Milligan said people join the military to get away from a lifestyle, for the college money, a job to support their family and for other reasons. She asked past students why they joined. One responded, “I wanted to be out on my own with no chains holding me down and no one telling me what to do.”
What is the role of religion?
After examining some features of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures, religion professor Eric Thompson said, “The religious component is real, is independent of the others [political, economic, etc.] and it is extremely complicated. One of the things that we need to do is face it with some honesty.”
He cited examples from the scriptures of the main three monotheisms that clearly promote violence. He said that the best thing about religion is that most believers choose to follow the good parts, rather than the bad.
Why the wars in Iraq and           Afghanistan?
Marty Bennett told the audience that the U.S. has a defense budget that is 30 percent higher than at any time since WWII and has doubled in the past decade. He contends that even though public opinion is now against our involvement in Afghanistan, we don’t have the active engagement of everyday citizens protesting the war.
“A huge difference, between these wars and the Vietnam War, is that now there is no draft,” Milligan said. “Back then the anti-war movement was centered on campuses, students knew of other students who did not come back.”
In dialog with a student, Bennett said, “I don’t think there is any intent to establish a real democracy in Afghanistan. I think it is to maintain an American domination and access to the natural resources there and, particularly, to have military bases in Afghanistan to project our power.”
Why are Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Libya and Syria experiencing social revolutions?
Scott Fuller, SRJC sociology professor, explained nonviolence techniques and specifically “principled nonviolence,” a mutual learning process that Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela embraced. Using video footage, he showed how activists in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere attribute their successes to these techniques.
“One of the hardest things about principled nonviolence for us Americans to understand is the very idea of sustaining the blows, because our tendency is to fight back,” Fuller said.
What are the history and       politics of these wars?
Geri Gorski, an SRJC political science instructor who described himself as not a pacifist, said, “I tend to look at global and strategic terms. I try to take a value-neutral perspective.” In response to the question of whether this mission is accomplishable on the ground in Afghanistan, his short answer was “No, for nuts and bolts reasons.”
“It is unlikely to be an important factor in the 2012 election,” Gorski said. “Unless we can see an extraordinary event like the recovery of the economy.”
What are the wars’ costs and impacts on the economy? What are the long-term consequences of the war?
Margaret Pennington, SRJC economics instructor, presented the most current operational costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and the opportunity costs, the best alternatives that are forgone.
Three sources examined were a 2008 book “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,” by economists Bilmes and Stiglitz, “The Cost of War Report, 2011” by the Eisenhower Study Group at Brown University and the National Priorities Project, http://costofwar.com/en. She said, “Current estimates are consistent across multiple sources that the combined costs of both wars range between $3 and 5 trillion.”
Iraq veteran Marybeth D’Aigle said, “An American enlisted soldier making $1400 per month and working seven days a week–which is very possible in the military–makes less than half of minimum wage now.”
What are the psychological and human costs of war?
Narmeen Nasseem, SRJC psychology professor, provided data from experts to prompt dialog about war traumas; subjects included suicide, drugs, retention, survivor’s guilt, depression, stigmas, peer pressure and psychotropic meds that have an altering effect on perception, emotion or behavior. The recently discharged veterans responded with stories from their personal experience.
Stephen Lewis, an Iraq veteran, said, “I am affected by the PTSD. It has affected my relationship with my mother, my sisters, my girlfriend, everything. I can’t work because I can’t control my own emotions. When someone crosses me, I jump. It’s not good.”
Nasseem added, “Shocking to me is that (in 2009 and 2010) more people have died as a result of suicide than have died as a result of combat. More soldiers, active and inactive, even army recruiters, are killing themselves.”
Nasseem said families and friends of active duty military suffer a trickle down effect. D’Aigle is an army combat medic discharged in 2008 who lost her fiancé, an infantryman, to suicide. “When someone enlists, they enlist everyone they know and care about,” D’Aigle said.
“The reason I actually got out was that, even though I loved the Marine Corps, anybody who is in the service, loves the service, but my son is 7 years old now,” Adrian Lopez, a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars said. “Although I kind of wanted to stay, I really didn’t want to not be around any more. So I got out. I love the Marine Corps, but I love my son more.”
Lewis described some issues about discussing depression. “The professional help I think they do have is good, but the problem is that there is a lot of buddy peer pressure with terms like ‘Suck it up,’ ‘Drink water’ and ‘Bend over and take it’,” Lewis said. “I think in the military the stigma is probably 10 times worse than it is in the civilian world. If you have thoughts of suicide while you are in the military, you are under watch, so you can become a ‘prisoner’ just for your depression. It is frowned upon; why would you want to put yourself in that situation?”
A DVD recording of the forum is available at media services in Doyle Library.

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