This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Opposition to war spurs peace group

UB Faculty and Staff for Peace aims to stimulate dialogue about global issues on campus

Published: May 15, 2003

Reporter Assistant Editor

Opposition to what at the time was an impending war in Iraq brought them together, and since their first meeting back in January, members of UB Faculty and Staff for Peace (UBFSP) have sought to stimulate discussion among faculty, staff and students about the complex issues surrounding the United States' political and military efforts to topple Saddam Hussein.


Members of UB Faculty and Staff for Peace: (from left) Bill Wachob, Hank Bromley, David Gerber, Roger Des Forges, Jim Whitlock and Paul Reitan.

The group published a letter to the editor in the March 6 issue of the Reporter outlining its opposition to the war, and also presented a lecture by Dave Robinson, national coordinator of Pax Christi (the national Catholic peace movement) after his visit to Iraq in December as part of a delegation of religious leaders. Along with UB's Newman Center and the Western New York Peace Center, UBSFP hosted multiple events on campus during January and February, including a discussion on the environmental and medical impact of depleted uranium tank munitions—bombs that were used against Iraq in 1991 and 2003—and a panel discussion about the countries named as members of the "Axis of Evil," by President Bush.

An anti-war speak out in February kicked off a week of protests and demonstrations that concluded with a trip to New York by many from UB to participate in massive protests against the war.

More panel discussions and forums are anticipated for the fall and throughout the coming academic year.

Six members of the peace group recently sat down with the Reporter to discuss the goals of the group and why—individually and collectively-—they believe it's important to speak out against the war and what they see as unilateralist policies used by the U.S. government to justify its actions.

This was not a group of table-pounding ideologues given to interrupting each other with every breath. No one hijacked the interview as a bully pulpit; members were collegial and expressed the desire to better inform themselves on the issues. There was friendly, but passionate disagreement within the group—which is not surprising, given that members are dedicated to the ideals of a liberal education and free speech.

Group members operate from the premise that, as American citizens, it is their responsibility—their patriotic duty, according to Paul Reitan, professor emeritus of geology—to respond to the war and the ongoing crisis in Iraq.

Living in a democracy "gives us a responsibility to be accountable for the actions of our government," says Hank Bromley, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the Graduate School of Education. Being part of the peace group doesn't require that members agree on everything, Bromley noted. A more appropriate goal for the group, he says, is to engage people, to talk about a variety of issues from different ideological, political, philosophical and geographical perspectives and invite the university community to listen to what the group has to say.

Putting it simply, Reitan says their activity is "an act of deep patriotism."

"Our objective is to help ourselves and others to be better informed so we can make up our mind about what's happening around us," he says. "As educators, we care about this ideal of helping people learn."

David Gerber, professor and director of undergraduate programs in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences, doesn't always agree with members of the group—in fact, he disagreed with several points made by Bill Wachob, assistant dean for resource management in the School of Nursing, during the interview with the Reporter, but says he values the process that brought them together as a group.

"At our very first meeting, we had a discussion about whether we were going to form an anti-war group or a pro-peace group and we decided that an anti-war group was easier because we were all united on that, (but) even then for different reasons" Gerber says.

Jim Whitlock, director of the Western New York High Performance Networked Video Initiative, sees the diversity of views expressed by members of the peace group as one of its strengths. Those differences, however, also pose a great challenge, he admits. "How do we build the kind of cohesiveness that can result in effective action?" asks Whitlock, whose own political motivations are drawn from the philosophical roots of humanism and Quaker pacifism.

Bromley, though, believes the peace group doesn't need cohesiveness in quite the same way as a political action group.

"Our role is to stimulate discussion and awareness on campus and the panel discussions we're sponsoring are a fine example of an appropriate role for this group," he says.

Whitlock hopes that Western New York groups that do not normally work together will be able to build an effective coalition for peace as a force for change at the community level through a range of community-based events.

As he strikes up conversations with perfect strangers to gauge the mindset of his fellow citizens, Whitlock says the two most common questions people have are: "how can I find out what is going on" and "how can I help?" While standing in a freezing drizzle for four hours handing out fliers may be an essential part of being actively involved and informing others, it is not the only way—there are more modest ways to make an important contribution to a cause, he believes.

Whitlock says the educational mission of UBFSP is an essential part of what could become a more effective strategic alliance of Western New York activist groups. "We had a glimpse of the potential for collaborative activism in the historic global outcry against war before the first shot was fired; our challenge is to build on the remnants of that solidarity before it dissipates, and to become more effective in engaging people with more modest interests in addressing the issues that lead to war," he says.

A more general malaise regarding political awareness and activism occurs, Gerber points out, "because the population of this country has become increasingly depoliticized over the last 50 years-—less than 50 percent of registered voters actually vote. This kind of disengagement from political awareness is "the enemy of democracy," says Gerber, something he blames, in part, on politicians who sway voters with savvy ad campaigns only to later abandon the very people who put them in office.

On-campus panel discussions sponsored by UBFSP this spring promoted open dialogue, notes Roger Des Forges, professor of history.

"We included people (in the forums) who were knowledgeable about the many and various views that exist among other societies, whether in countries like Iraq, Iran and Korea that are the current targets of the Bush administration warriors, or Britain, France, Germany, China, Japan and Latin America, which include states that have supported the U.S.-led war, as well as those who have resisted it.

"I see the primary goals of the group being to inform our fellow citizens about what is being done in the Middle East and around the world in our name, to mobilize us to exercise our constitutional rights to speak out and demonstrate and so influence the evolution of public policy, and, ultimately, to use the democratic process still available to us—however much it is corrupted by money and threatened by intimidation—to take back the government from the tiny minority who own the great preponderance of wealth in this country so as to achieve a more genuine form of democracy," he said.

In addition to their activities with UBFSP, Whitlock and other group members are involved, on their own, in community-based political action—fund-raising, signature collection, polling, support for rallies, gatherings and vigils, publishing newsletters and promoting on and off-campus events, such as Regional Globalization Issues Week. They also hope to coordinate political action during the 2004 presidential elections and are considering the cost-effectiveness of a volunteer owned and operated printing press.

"I intend to spend my time in 2004 looking for a candidate who is going to make unilateralism an issue and will support that process so they're a credible force in whatever party they present themselves," adds Gerber.

Anyone interested in the group's upcoming activities can subscribe to the mailing list at and watch for calendar listings of events, forums and guest speakers at