Iraq War Protest and Counter-Protest

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On March 26, 2003, Columbia students convened on the steps of Low Library to hold the first large scale university protest since the announcement of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Anti-war protesters were met by a counter protest consisting of students supporting the Bush administration's decision to enter Iraq. Anti-war protesters paraded around College Walk to Low Steps, carrying posters that decried war profiteering by the Bush administration, supported patriotic dissent, and the legitimacy of the Bush administration's case of entering into Iraq. Counter-protesters did not identify themselves as Pro-War, but instead chose to rally around statements of patriotism, anti-terrorism, and a number of large American flags. The event was peaceful and lasted most of the day.


Following the war protest on Low Steps, members of the faculty organized a teach-in against the War in Iraq. It was at this teach-in that Professor Nicholas De Genova spoke against American militarism, imperialism, and the culture of patriotism that fuels it, leading him to make the now infamous comment, "I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus... U.S. flags are the emblem of the invading war machine in Iraq today. They are the emblem of the occupying power. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military." . Professor De Genova wrote a letter to the Columbia Spectator which ran on March 31st, 2003 contextualizing his comments [1].

De Genova's comments prompted a flurry of media coverage, prompting a number of colleagues to distance themselves from his comments.

"I disagreed strongly and I said so. If I had known what he was going to say I would have been reluctant to have him speak." - Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History

"He and the press have hijacked this teach-in, and I'm very, very angry about it... It was an utterly irresponsible thing to do. And it's not innocent. ... This was a planned undermining of this teach-in... At the last minute someone couldn't speak [Law Professor Kimberle Crenshaw], and he just kind of appeared, He ended up on that platform by accident, almost by manipulation." - Jean Cohen, Professor of Political Science [2]

"I am shocked that someone would make such statements," Bollinger said. "Because of the University's tradition of academic freedom, I normally don't comment about statements made by faculty members. However, this one crosses the line and I really feel the need to say something. I am especially saddened for the families of those whose lives are at risk."- President Lee C. Bollinger

The U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University also issued a statement to President Bollinger in response to Professor De Genova's comments, asking for a formal apology and redaction of his comments.[3]

While most reactions to Professor De Genova's comments have been negative, others have voiced their support, urging a contextualized interpretation of his comments.

"Most outrageously, the Editorial Board criticizes De Genova's "scholarship," calling his statements "rooted in emotion and rhetoric." To make this general claim is to--as Spectator has done in articles about De Genova's statements--ignore completely the historical analysis that went with his remarks. De Genova used numerous historical examples to illustrate the detrimental effects of both United States patriotism and victories for U.S. imperialism abroad. His comments were the conclusions of a historical analysis with which I and many others agree." -Peter Petraro, CC '06 [4]

Counter Protest Redux

On April 2, 2003 the Columbia College Republicans, the Students United for America, and the Columbia College Conservative Club (the Columbia College Democrats declined to co-sponsor the event) organized a demonstration in support of U.S. military personnel. Then President of the College Republicans, Megan Romigh, BC '03, stated "we are not here to debate the politics of this war, but rather to celebrate the efforts of our troops...". Attendance was estimated to be 300-400 students and participants.

Scott Zakheim, CC '05, vice president of Students United For America and the College Republicans, read the names of soldiers missing in action in Iraq followed by names of prisoners of war and those killed in action. Both anti-war and pro-troops demonstrators remained silent while the names were being read.

Non-Columbia affiliated guests at the event included one time New York Senate hopeful, Michael Benjamin, Patriots for the Defense of America spokesman, Robert Begley, state commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Karl Rohde, The Guardian Angels, and a handful of New York City firefighters.

While the intention of the event was intended to be a rally of support for the troops, it was reported by Columbia Spectator Associate News Editor, Megan Greenwell, that the majority of speeches given at the demonstration were "justifications for the U.S. involvement in Iraq or those appealing to demonstrators' emotions in order to prompt vocal reactions from the crowd".

Counter-Counter Protest

Anti-war protesters were also present at the Pro-Troop demonstration.

"A small gathering of anti-war protesters began assembling during the early stages of the rally. Students knelt behind Alma Mater to draw posters with popular war opposition slogans including "No blood for oil" and "Support our troops, bring them home."

The counter-demonstrators sat on the Low steps holding their signs until two of the war supporters moved in front of them, holding a large American flag that obscured the students and their signs. The anti-war protesters then stood up and became more vocal, booing loudly at some of the more controversial statements during the speeches.

"We didn't want to be confrontational," said Suzie Schwartz, GS/JTS '05 and a member of the Columbia Anti-War Coalition who participated in yesterday's counter-protest. "That's why we didn't want to be interrupting their rally."" - Megan Greenwell, Columbia Spectator.

Images 3/26/2003

Images 4/2/2003 (courtesy of the Columbia Spectator)