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History prof reflects on war as faculty nationwide take up the debate

February 26, 2003

Titled Taking a Stand on War With Iraq: Professors and Pre-War Debate, the cover story in the Jan. 24, 2003, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses at length the dilemma facing faculty members.

While faculty in universities across the nation debate whether they, as individuals, as Faculty Senates or as a national body, should renounce the impending war, Dr. Malcolm Muir, professor of history and resident expert on military history, takes a more reflective stance based on the lessons of history.
February 26, 2003

Titled “Taking a Stand on War With Iraq: Professors and Pre-War Debate,” the cover story in the Jan. 24, 2003, edition of “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” discusses at length the dilemma facing faculty members.

While faculty in universities across the nation debate whether they, as individuals, as Faculty Senates or as a national body, should renounce the impending war, Dr. Malcolm Muir, professor of history and resident expert on military history, takes a more reflective stance based on the lessons of history.

“I share with many people doubts about the course we are taking,” Muir says. “War should be a last resort but, if force is off the table altogether, we are headed for even bigger trouble.”

Muir's somber words come on the very day that Maj. Gen. David H. Patraeus, commander of the nearby 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, departed for the Persian Gulf, with local newspapers publishing Patraeus's open letter to surrounding communities.

Patraeus, who holds a doctorate from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, thanked area citizens for their support of the soldiers and their families.

Patraeus ended his letter: “Based on what I've seen in recent weeks, I am certain that, as our soldiers prepare for the Division's next ‘Rendevouz with Destiny,' our neighbors in the local communities will once again do all that they can for those we have left behind. Thank you for that.”

As a scholar, Muir can view war with a more philosophical perspective. He says, “Few events concentrate a nation's attention more than war. No human activity is so fraught with uncertainties, none so important. The final appeal to force can spell the difference between the very survival and destruction of nations, indeed of cultures.”

According to “The Chronicle of Higher Education” article, faculty members have been among the most vocal critics of the Bush administration's war plans, mirroring the historical precedent of faculty activism during the Vietnam War.

Although several Faculty Senates nationwide have decided not to take an official stand, last fall the Faculty Senate at the University of Montana-Missoula passed a resolution opposing the invasion of Iraq “unless all avenues of peaceful resolution are…exhausted.” A few days later, the same body at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville passed a similar resolution.

According to “The Chronicle of Higher Education” article, Dr. Nancy Kanwisher, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posted an antiwar petition on the Web. As of late January, more than 32,000 people had signed the petition, about half of them, faculty.

About such opposition to war, Muir says, “Some who shrink from warand what sensitive person does notdeclare that it ‘solves nothing.' But such a statement, no matter how well intentioned, is simply wrong.

"To pick a few examples, war solved quite definitely whether there would be an independent United States, whether slavery would continue as a blot on this country and whether such savagely racist regimes as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would dominate the world.

“War, with all of its destruction, is inherently interesting, containing as it does the extremes of human depravity and self-sacrifice. War also poses the most wrenching ethical dilemmas faced by human beings.”

During Muir's 25 years at APSU, he has filled several prestigious guest appointments, including secretary of the Navy's Research Chair in Naval History, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C. (1987-88); Visiting Professor of History, U.S. Military Academy, West Point (1988-89, 1989-90); Visiting Professor of History, Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base (1996-97) and Edwin P. Conquest Chair in Military History, Virginia Military Institute (2002).

Muir says the recent large demonstrations remind him of the large crowds in London and New York City during the late 1930s, when demonstrators demanded conciliation with Hitler.

"Saddam rightly regards the masses of protestors as a major force in support of his regime. The effect, of course, is to buttress in power torturers,” Muir says. “The immediate victims are the Iraqi people. And if history is any guide, in the longer term, further victims will include the French, the Germans and Western civilization, in general.

"As Winston Churchill said, following Chamberlain's capitulation to Hitler in Munich, ‘France and Britain had a choice between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They shall have war.' And so shall we, but with odds weighing more heavily against us.”