Representatives from the Maine Peace Action Committee, the Sustainable Energy and Economy network and the American Friends Service Committee were among the speakers who addressed the United States’ and university’s role in the rebuilding Iraq at Saturday’s teach-In.
At the “War and the Economy, Too Many Guns, Not Enough Butter Active Community Teach-In,” speakers addressed an audience of roughly 75 people in 101 Neville Hall about the situation continuing in Iraq. The purpose of the teach-in was to raise awareness in the community about the role of contractors and universities in the rebuilding of Iraq.
The teach-in began with a speech by keynote speaker Peter Lems, program associate for Iraq at the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia. Lems stressed that a majority of lawmakers have no real understanding of the situation in Iraq because the delegations of congressional representatives that visit Iraq remain behind the “green zone,” an area blocked off by U.S. troops surrounding Saddam Hussein’s former palace structures. Lems warned that there was little interaction between the Iraqis living in Baghdad and the individuals in the “green zone.”
“There is no flow of information going back and forth between the two areas,” Lems said.
A major focus of Lems’ speech was the necessity for U.S. troops to pull out of Iraq as soon as possible.
“Our belief is that the only institution that will bring relief to Iraq is the Iraqis,” Lems said.
Jim Valette, research director for the Sustainable Energy and Economy network, also spoke at the teach-in. He focused on the role major corporations have played in the controversy with Iraq, including the Bechtel Corporation, which was involved in the petroleum consortium in Iraq.
“The end result of these insider games is that they have left thousands of Iraqi troops and hundreds of Iraqi citizens dead,” Valette said.
Another speaker at the teach-in was Professor Doug Allen, of the university’s philosophy department. Allen talked about the university’s role in rebuilding Iraq, referring to a conference which was planned for last November and then canceled.
Titled “Doing Business in Iraq,” the conference was to be co-sponsored by the university, along with the U.S.-Iraq Business Alliance and the William S. Cohen Center for International Policy and Commerce, a unit of the college of business.
“The reason we’re here is because of the struggle last fall [to prevent the conference] and the university’s willingness to sponsor a conference,” Allen said.
Allen said university President Peter Hoff outlined five reasons why it was appropriate for the university to hold such a conference, but eventually postponed and then canceled the conference because the agenda violated all five reasons.
“Every speaker that was planned [at the conference] was from the military industrial complex,” Allen said.
Hoff has stated that the conference was postponed because one of the planned Iraqi participants was unable to attend.
The university was expected to be a servant of the ‘”military industrial complex,” and the chancellor of the university system, Joseph Westphal, has a background in the Pentagon, not in education, Allen said.
“At the university, we’ve been largely corporatized. I’m not naive about that,” Allen said. “However, we have much more freedom than other people have. This is not the University of MBNA. This is not the University of Coca-Cola, nor is it the University of the Military. It’s not even the University of the board of trustees. This is a university of students.”
Allen said that the war on Iraq is not all it seems.
“When you deconstruct all the ideology about freedom and democracy, there seems to be only one true freedom: the freedom to exploit,” he said.