Academics, audience disagree over Iraq war

As Chico State philosophy instructor Tom Imhoff described the “just war theory” to about 100 people at the Harlen Adams Theater on Nov. 7, the audience members looked like they might have been wondering if they were at the right event.

Like much of what was said at the Center for Applied and Professional Ethics-sponsored workshop on the morality of a possible war in Iraq, Imhoff seemed to be making a case for war, while the audience seemed to expect the opposite viewpoint.

“The only legitimate reason for a just war has to somehow come back to protecting the innocent. … It’s the idea of self-defense,” Imhoff said. Also, a “just war” must be initiated by competent authority.

“[You may] speculate whether George W. Bush really qualifies as a competent authority,” said Imhoff, making a joke at the expense of the president, who before Sept. 11 was not considered knowledgeable in foreign affairs.

The next speaker, Jim Claflin, of the Geography Department, showed a geopolitical map of the three main territories in Iraq occupied by the rivaling Sunni, Shiites and Kurds. The arbitrary placement of those groups shows the ethnic tensions created in Iraq by the haphazard way its borders were drawn up by the British after World War I. Saddam Hussein has stayed in power over the years by systematically repressing and marginalizing certain ethnic groups to the benefit of others.

“[Hussein] does seem to very much be a survivor,” said Claflin. “He’s a back-alley boy, and he lives in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the world.” Claflin said the United States has some responsibility for the innocent Iraqi citizens left as a result of “intentionally cornering him.”

“[He has] no way out except in a pine box. … If we take down Saddam Hussein, what happens after?” said Claflin.

Jim Jacob, professor of political science at Chico State, started his speech with a disclaimer. “I’m not here to defend the Bush administration,” he insisted, though he did assert that “there is a case to move Saddam Hussein from power.”

Jacobs said that the pending war would not, in his opinion, be about oil, though it would be a definite benefit for America in terms of securing oil supplies should we conquer Iraq. After recalling accounts of heinous crimes committed by Hussein involving a wood chipper and a human shield of women and children, Jacobs said, “Evil can be measured by acts of men, and I believe Saddam Hussein is evil.”

But none of the panelists knew the unpredictability of war from a battlefield perspective in the way that Doug Campbell, of Recreation and Parks Management, did. Campbell, a military man during Operation Desert Storm, insisted that leaving Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction was more of a threat due to the “evolving nature of war and peace.” He said new war tactics, as used by terrorists and likely to be used by Hussein, include attacking civil and commercial areas in violation of the Geneva Accord.

“Perhaps this may be the peace we have to get used to,” said Campbell.

Still, with the speeches done, the “question of the night” would not be asked until the final five minutes of the discussion that followed the speeches.

Paul O’Rourke-Babb, a Chico nurse practitioner, has spent a total of 24 days doing humanitarian-aid work during two visits to Iraq over the last four years.

“This panel is thick with hyperbole and fantasy,” he said. Continuing, he described his personal experience with the devastation left after Desert Storm.

“The question is: Can this war be ethical?”

To this, the audience responded with a defiant "No!"