History has recently been made. In an unprecedented step, a group of professional academics has come out in open opposition to the war in Iraq. The American Historical Association, or AHA, announced a resolution March 12 denouncing the ongoing U.S. involvement in Iraq and “condemning government violations of civil liberties linked to the war in Iraq,” according to their press release.
“The outcome indicates the deep disquiet scholars feel about damage done to scholarly inquiry and democratic processes by this misbegotten war,” said Alan Dawley, professor of history at the College of New Jersey and a former winner of the Bancroft Prize. He was also the initial mover of the resolution.
This kind of opposition to U.S. foreign policy has never come about in AHA history, some 118 years, according to current members. Never before has an entire group of academics, for that matter, spoken out publicly against a war, even during the unpopular Vietnam War. This could mark a turning point in one of the most unpopular wars in American history, or it could just as well end up another distant dissenting voice in a closed eardrum.
“Nothing’s going to change because of this,” said David Foote, a junior at Castleton State College. “I’m a pessimist and a cynic when it comes to this country.”
Dawley, however, has more optimistic hopes for the resolution and its future.
“The American Studies Association has taken a similar stand,” he said. “We are urging our colleagues to press their professional bodies for similar action.”
“We had gotten free speech resolution passed in 2004 and we knew there was strong objection among scholars to violations of civil liberties,” Dawley continued. “We believed it was important to link those to the imperial behavior of the Bush administration …We drafted a statement that could be supported by members across the political spectrum.”
Voting on the resolution was held March 1-9, 2007, and results were announced March 12. It was originally accepted for voting by the Council at the Jan. 6, 2007 annual council meeting in Atlanta. The resolution was originally proposed by members of Historians Against the War, of which Dawley is a member. It’s a national network of more than 2,000 scholars on more than 400 campuses. The vote was 1,550 (75.61 percent) in favor and 498 (24.29 percent) opposed.
This is, however, a small portion of AHA members. The represented voting members made up only 14.67 percent of active members.
The resolution included a message to members “to do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.”
Carrie Waara, a history professor at CSC and member of AHA, was excited to discuss the resolution and what it might mean for the anti-war effort. She had supported the resolution on the ballot and was proud to be part of such a groundbreaking event.
“Historians Against the War alerted me to the fact that they were trying to put this on the ballot,” she said. “They (HAW) offered a rationale and explained why they thought this was important and I was immediately supportive.”
Waara feels that there is a distinctive link between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War, a key reason she supports the resolution.
“Both wars could only be won by destroying the countries,” she said. “Thank God we stopped short of total destruction of Vietnam. I wonder if we will be smart or caring enough to stop short of utterly demolishing Iraq.”
“My father was a two-time Vietnam veteran,” she went on to say. “Having grown up in the military, it’s important for everyone to understand what Ground Zero in a war zone is. Once you grasp the human and physical destruction that war is, you cannot be pro-war.”
Waara made sure to clarify, however, the difference of not being pro-war, but recognizing that sometimes they are inevitable.
“There can be necessary wars,” she said.
Joseph Ransmeier, a history major here at CSC, wasn’t very surprised by the resolution.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “There are a number of similarities between the current conflict and the war in Vietnam. Most historians have judged that war as a mistake, so they will most likely look back at the war in Iraq the same way.”
Dawley, from a historical perspective, explained his stance a little more:
“Historians are the keepers of collective memory. They remember earlier instances of false claims and distortion of evidence in order to pull the wool over the eyes of citizens. They feel a moral obligation to prevent a recurrence of such abuses of power.”
Foote agrees and feels that this renowned group of historians has a bit more credibility than your average Joe in denouncing the war.
“It’s good if you want to open debate,” he said. “It’s not just a group of people like Mothers Against Iraq or something. Since it’s professional historians, they have more credentials.”
The AHA was chartered by Congress in 1889, making it the oldest professional association of historians. It is also the largest such group. Past presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were members of AHA, being former historians themselves. President John F. Kennedy was also a member.
For more information on these associations and the resolution, go to www.historians.org or www.historiansagainstwar.org.