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COLUMN

A Call To Action: Walk Out On War

The MIT Anti-War Coalition

No matter what anyone says or does, the Bush administration seems determined to drive the United States into war against Iraq. Meanwhile, most of our key NATO allies and many of our top generals (not to mention global public opinion) are firm in their opposition to any war lacking broad international support. Such support will not be forthcoming. It is in this context that nationwide student walkouts will occur if full-scale war on Iraq begins.

But why should MIT students leave class; what can walking out accomplish? To answer these questions, the reasons for this war must be explored. By now we are all familiar with the script that President Bush and his team have offered the American public: Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction; he is linked to al-Qaida; he is an evil dictator. While no one disputes that Saddam is a murderous tyrant, the arguments for invading Iraq are not backed up by the facts. In making his case for war, President Bush unequivocally asserted that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors had found Iraq to be only six months away from developing a nuclear weapon. However, the IAEA said the report Bush cited does not even exist. Nor is there any evidence of a link between Saddam and al-Qaida. The CIA and FBI both looked hard for meaningful ties and despite the pressure they were under to find them, have found none.

Most recently, Colin Powell presented evidence to the United Nations describing Iraq’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. Soon afterwards, however, British and American experts agreed the aluminum tubes were not the type used for enriching uranium, as Powell had claimed. More shockingly, the United Nations’ chief nuclear weapons inspector recently revealed that the documents provided by the US and Great Britain proving Hussein’s attempts to buy uranium were forged. Forged. Not only has the American public been misled about the reasons for war, but no serious discussion of alternatives has taken place. There are many other valid reasons to oppose this war: the United Nations predicts a humanitarian catastrophe for the Iraqi people; pre-emptive war is illegal under international law; the war will cost hundreds of billions of dollars at a time when funding for education and health care is frozen; there is reason to believe that control of global oil resources is a key motive for this war, as Iraq has the second largest reserves in the world; a U.S.-led invasion will destabilize the Middle East; several top military leaders assert that attacking Iraq will actually increase terrorism: Marine General Anthony Zinni, former Head of U.S. Forces in the Middle East, said: “We are about to ignite something in the region that we will rue the day we ever started.”

But the recklessness of this war does not speak directly to why public protest is necessary. Protest and dissent are essential components of a true democracy. Social progress is impossible without them. So when our own government endangers our safety, divorces us from the world community and squanders our resources, we must take action.

And we have. Our history is full of examples. Ending slavery, gaining women’s suffrage, stopping child labor, halting the war in Vietnam and advancing Civil Rights could not have been achieved without massive public pressure. More recently, on Feb. 15, 2003, the largest globally-coordinated protests in history sent war plans skidding backwards. This pressure by people on their governments has pushed the “final deadline” for war back repeatedly -- and might just stop it altogether.

A walkout by America’s students will send a powerful message to the world -- and the White House. When MIT students walk out, we will not be walking out on our school, our professors or our education, all of which we value. We will be walking out on Silence. We will be walking out on Complicity. We will be making a statement that we cannot simply go about our comfortable routines while our military unleashes what might be the most intensive bombardment of all time upon people who have done nothing to us. If we ignore the enormous human suffering being inflicted in our name, with our money, we are ignoring our own humanity.

Over seven hundred MIT students, staff and faculty have already pledged to walk out in the event of war. When we do, we will not be alone. Millions of students around the world will be acting in unison. Here in Boston, Harvard and Tufts students will come down Mass. Ave. to meet us. We will then march together across the Harvard Bridge and join a dozen more Boston-area schools at a huge rally at Government Center. The power and energy of this event will amount to a stunning demand for peace.

But a walkout is just one way of taking action. MIT students have participated in protests in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Boston. Many of us will also join the March 15 convergence on the White House, the March 22 mobilization in New York City, and the March 29 rally on Boston Common. To be sure, the walkout will not be the end of student activities against war -- just the beginning.

This column was submitted by Jean Walsh G on behalf of the MIT Anti-War Coalition, which is made up of campus groups and individuals spanning all of the Institute’s departments. To get involved, please visit http://nowar.mit.edu.