Gulf War sparks short-lived peace movement

By Mark McGowan

Thoughts of college students and peace movements are nearly synonymous. Pictures culled from Life Magazine of anti-Vietnam rallies at Kent State University and Berkeley are burned into memory.

When this country stood on the brink of war again last year, similar images might have been expected. But while the peace movement rose again and found a home on college campuses, it didn’t flourish as it had in the 1960s.

“Students didn’t have the experience as those in the 60s. Here it was short-lived. There was no time for it to develop into something larger,” said the Rev. Dave Schmidt of NIU’s Wesley Foundation.

Older generations “tried to step back,” Schmidt said, giving the students “some valuable experience. I feel good about that.”

Most people feel the lack of the draft, one of the strongest fuels for the anti-Vietnam movement, weakened the student peace movement. The peace movement “would’ve been a groundswell” if there was a draft, Schmidt said.

“I was getting two to three calls a day. People were remembering about the draft and coming for draft counseling,” Schmidt said. “I was the primary coordinator for the draft counseling effort.”

However, it soon became clear the war wasn’t going to take long and fears of the draft disappeared. Still, by the war’s end, Schmidt had trained about six others in draft counseling.

Sociology instructor Kay Forrest, faculty adviser for the NIU Community for Peace, said draft worries brought out many people when the fighting began, but any concerns were quickly dropped.

“The greatest reason (to join the movement) was for solidarity to quell their fears. When the war looked like it was on its way out, student participation dwindled,” Forrest said.

Despite this, most have a feeling the peace movement was a success. Cele Meyer, member of the DeKalb Interfaith Network, said she was not disappointed.

“The peace movement at the time was building up and raising consciousness. My only discouragement is that it didn’t last. “We didn’t have as long to organize. We didn’t believe in August we’d be going to war,” Meyer said.

“What was mobilized was encouragement to educate and maintain interest,” she said. “But we didn’t find a clue to keeping students involved.”

Meyer said press coverage of the peace movement generally was good, but said she was disappointed that a few pro-war supporters often were featured over larger numbers of anti-war protestors.

“I felt excited,” Schmidt said. “People were willing to get involved.”

But Schmidt said ideological differences split the movement, which weakened it.

“The congregating of students at the time the hostilities were breaking out represented a wide variety of students with their own agendas that brought along an ideological struggle” which made communication difficult, he said.

Schmidt said there were “small groups of students that tried to bridge that gap, but the war was too short.”

Forrest, however, was not so pleased.

“I had several disappointments,” she said. One was that NIU was no different from other college student bodies. Also, she said, she felt The Northern Star did not report enough on the peace movement.

Students and faculty alike had a great acquiescence to the status quo, she said. “Faculty usually were silent. When they did speak out, they were chastised,” she said. “There was no real incentive to rally to the call.”

After the cease-fire was announced in March, student interest dwindled even further, she said. The only ones remaining were those who always are concerned with peace, and those who jumped on during the war left.

“I’m not surprised,” Forrest said. “Our educational system does not encourage open debate or difference of opinion—no questioning of authority.”

Forrest said there was no way to tap student awareness and that “something is wrong with this picture. Democracy must be kept alive on college campuses.”

Democracy was in action, however. NIU’s Student Association debated and passed a resolution supporting the troops in Desert Storm, which was sent to the families of NIU’s reservists overseas.

Robert McCormack, SA president during the war, said the SA was committed to the students and not taking an official position on the war.

“Our main concern at the SA was to make sure that any students called up from our campus were protected financially and academically,” McCormack said. “We supported the students called up from the campus.”

McCormack said he doesn’t remember the SA getting any calls from people looking for help in anti-war movements or wondering why the SA hadn’t taken a vocal anti-war stance.

Lara Cipolla, last year’s SA public relations adviser, said most calls to the SA were to commend the NIU Huskie Salute, which raised three flags to support the troops.

However, Cipolla said senators did approach her from both sides of the resolution, some saying the SA shouldn’t be questioning federal policies, something Cipolla said she, too, believed.

Patriotism like that is instilled in elementary schools, Meyer said. Children grow up with war toys and a war mentality and took hold in “yellow ribbon fever,” she said.

“I’m discouraged there’s no (permanent) peace movement on campus,” Meyer said. “But we’re thankful for the ones who did do something.”