Last week, The Spectrum assigned me to cover a forum on the war with Iraq. Unlike previous forums on the issue, the format of this was more similar to a debate, and I looked forward to hearing educated opinions from both the pro- and anti-war sides of the issue.
From a journalistic standpoint, I was quite disappointed with the speeches and responses to questions on the part of the anti-war speakers. Neither professor, who I am certain have had in-depth discourses on the issue, answered the questions directly or in an easily decipherable manner. I am sure that there are a 1,001 reasons why the war in Iraq was a bad idea - but one would have never known any of them by attending the forum.
A similar incident appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Friday, April 18, in the piece titled "The Most Hated Professor in America," by Thomas Bartlett. I was most intrigued when I read the interview with Nicholas De Genova, assistant professor of anthropology and Latino studies at Columbia University.
For those unfamiliar with De Genova, massive outrage ensued after Newsday reported that De Genova, at a teach-in with 3,000 students and faculty, said he hoped Iraq defeated the United States and wished for "a million Mogadishus" - a 1993 conflict in Somalia where19 U.S. soldiers were killed.
When I first heard about De Genova's remarks, I was shocked that an untenured professor would say such things and in front of a large audience. I understand that not all reporters are entirely accurate and that sometimes, comments are taken out of context.
Then I read the interview. De Genova's responses to Bartlett were as understandable as someone trying to speak with a Gucci loafer lodged between his teeth.
De Genova told Bartlett his comments were taken out of context. Bartlett then noted that many of the people present "condemned" the professor and one of the teach-in organizers said De Genova's comments were "idiotic."
To this De Genova replied: "To defensively denounce what I said as 'idiotic' merely contributes to the pro-war campaign of vilification. There are people with a very vested interest in exploiting this issue and manipulating it for their own ends, and attacks against me are therefore attacks against the entire anti-war movement."
When Bartlett asked De Genova if he would describe his comments as "healthy and helpful," De Genova replied: "There is an impulse to jingoistic, patriotic hysteria during wartime that will seek to discredit the anti-war movement."
Can you say, "egomaniac?" Rather than addressing the questions, De Genova waltzed around them, criticizing supporters of the war and referring to the backlash against him as if it were part of some elaborate right-wing conspiracy.
People weren't "discrediting" the anti-war movement; they were criticizing De Genova for remarks they thought were stupid and offensive. He is not the first professor to express his opposition to the war - but he is the first (the public knows of) to wish U.S. soldiers dead. The big words he uses do not address that point.
For De Genova to say that attacks against him "are therefore attacks against the anti-war movement" is self-centered and inaccurate. The vast majority of anti-war protesters do not want to see Americans killed for a cause they do not support. When Bartlett asked De Genova why he chose to express the above sentiment in the terms he did, he said: "I was interested in contesting the notion that an effective strategy for the anti-war movement is to capitulate to the patriotic pro-war pressure that one must affirm support for the troops."
Part of effective debate is using the opponents' language against them. For anti-war protesters to say they are being supportive with American soldiers' lives - which pro-war supporters demand people do - is a persuasive tactic. De Genova's remarks, however, only made people angry.
When Bartlett asked De Genova to put his comments into context, De Genova made an analogy between Mogadishu and Vietnam, saying, "They were defeats for U.S. imperialism and U.S. military action against people in poor countries that had none of the sophisticated technology or weaponry that the U.S. was able to mobilize against them."
The conflicts in Iraq, Somalia and Vietnam are very different. The United States was in Somalia because there was massive famine and genocide, and an angry mob killed soldiers who were part of the intervention. De Genova's statement that "the analogy between Mogadishu and Iraq is simply that there was an invasion of Somalia and an invasion of Iraq" is asinine and does not serve to clarify his point.
Previously, I condemned the extent of the backlash against Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines for saying she was ashamed that President George W. Bush was from Texas. Maines never wished anyone harm. But De Genova made a direct reference to an event in which American soldiers were slaughtered and wished for a million more such incidents. That's a lot of dead servicemen.
One of the last questions Bartlett asked was whether De Genova thought the backlash could "interfere" with De Genova's chances of achieving tenure at Columbia.
De Genova: "I really have no comment on that question."
That was the only part of the interview that made any sense, and his reply to that question was the same as to the others: Nothing.