The time is right for marching in the streets, but I find myself terribly reluctant to travel that path again. Today, anti-war activists around the world are issuing their pleas for peace to a Bush administration that seems bent on attacking Iraq regardless of what UN inspectors find.
For me, it is a disheartening echo of my college years when George Bush senior pushed the Gulf War upon us. Those who can’t see the linkage between American Middle East intervention (particularly as it relates to both Israel and the Gulf War) and the 911 attacks on the US really aren’t looking hard enough. Militants who are willing to throw away their lives in the cause of death and destruction aren’t doing so because they’re bored. We’ve provoked them in any number of ways, and our on-going complicity in this will be our undoing.
So today, as thousands march to people the streets, there are a great many good reasons why I should be with them. Certainly, I’m with them in spirit: I fervently protest this unprovoked and unwarranted arms build-up on the Iraqi border. I believe absolutely that another war with Iraq is another long-term disaster for the US (like I continue to believe that the last one was).
But I’m not in the streets today for a reason: If I have a chapter to my life I’d rather not revisit, the Gulf War years are it. The experience took a huge psychological toll, and even now I have to very carefully monitor my thoughts about that time because I carry a deep frustration from it. I don’t carry many regrets in life, but one that heavily weighs upon me is this: When push came to shove during the Gulf War, the “Christian” university I chose to attend opted to support war despite hundreds of years of philosophical and moral teachings to the contrary. I’ve never forgiven them for that hypocrisy, but given that nothing’s changed this time around (and that they still have ROTC on campus), I doubt I ever will.
So over the years I’ve distanced myself from the University of Portland. For those interested, here’s why:
- I used to thrill to watch their soccer teams, for example, and during my time there I saw virtually every home game played by both the men’s and women’s teams. I don’t follow them any more, or at least not to the extent that a real sports fan follows a team. I’m glad the women won a national championship, but I didn’t tune in for the game. I have no animus toward their sports teams other than it reminds my of the pain of my college experience. For the most part, that alone has proven enough to keep me at a distance.
- I was forever beaten down by the Student Activities Committee which controlled most of the extracurriculars, failing to impress them at various points for positions in the newspaper staff, the radio station, and the yearbook. (I continue to believe they were wrong in at least two out of three of those cases.) Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time on the newspaper, at the radio station, and on the yearbook even if it was never in the capacity which I might have chosen. I don’t harbor much in the way of disappointment or bitterness here, though I think its contributed somewhat to my feeling of being unsupported by the University during my time there.
- Academically, the University was pretty weak. The vast majority of classes I skated by with little effort, though there were exceptions. There’s no way I should have been able to emerge with a 3.5 GPA. While some classes took an incredible time commitment (welcome to video production), rarely were academic standards so high that I felt pushed toward achievement. It’s hard to feel great about a place that doesn’t help you actualize your potential.
- UP’s theological and philosophical course requirements were hampered only by the hit-or-miss nature of the instructors and, ultimately, the hypocritical actions of the institution itself. My worst professors were in philosophy and theology, but so was one of my best. (Sadly, they denied him tenure, and he left UP a few years after I graduated.) I now appreciate the spiritual formation I went through at UP, despite it being the at the core of my anguish: I have never been able to reconcile what I was taught about Christianity with the actions and attitudes of a University administration intent on supporting war.
There are, of course, any number of good memories. I had great dorm roommates (hi Dave! hi Bret!), I enjoyed the Honors Program a great deal, I made several very close friends in college, and, hey, I met Erin. Usually those happy thoughts are enough to keep the bad thoughts at bay. Maybe not, though, if Gulf War II is set upon us. For now, the spector of history is enough to keep me off the streets.