Co-Lin discussion yields varying opinions on Iraq

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Important lessons learned in the aftermath of World War II could instruct and inspire Americans as the country’s political and military leaders huddle to make decisions about post-war Iraq.

That conclusion and many other thoughtful ideas emerged from the weekly informal discussions history instructor Jim Wiggins hosts at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez.

On this Friday in early April, as coalition forces neared Baghdad, the Iraqi capital city, students and other guests aired their views on the U.S.-led efforts to unseat the regime of long-time Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

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Questions centered on topics including media coverage of the war, how war efforts might affect other countries in the Middle East, whether terrorism such as the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, will be more likely now and how occupying forces can harness a land divided by the diversity of its people.

Floyd McCalip, active in Co-Lin’s Institute for Learning in Retirement, was in Germany at the end of World War II and remained there as work began to rebuild the country.

Will members of Saddam’s party be useful as rebuilding begins in Iraq? What about prominent Iraqi exiles who have supported ousting him?

&uot;We had to use the Nazis to make it work,&uot; McCalip said of German reconstruction. &uot;But I’m a little leery of the exiles.&uot;

Wiggins said it makes sense that members of Saddam’s Baath Party will be useful. &uot;Just think about the guy running the water purification plant. He’s probably a member of the Baath Party. Who else is going to know how to run that plant?&uot;

Co-Lin student Marquis Knight wondered what changes would take place in Iraq in the aftermath of a Saddam regime. &uot;I hope change will come. I do believe Iraq will benefit from democracy.&uot;

Still, Wiggins threw out the often repeated fear that Iraq without a tyrant at its helm could fall apart.

&uot;If no one steps up to the plate, chaos could ensue,&uot; he said.

One thing is sure, McCalip said. &uot;Things will never be the same.&uot;

That relates not only to Iraq but to the entire Middle East, Wiggins said. &uot;I believe other countries will change. I believe Saudi Arabia 10 years from now will not be the same country it is today.&uot;

The United States had spectacular success in rebuilding Japan and Germany. McCalip said the comparison between that era and today may not be a fair one.

&uot;Europe had something to build on,&uot; he said. &uot;What does Iraq have?&uot;

Wiggins answered quickly, &uot;Iraq has oil. And it has a fairly well educated people by Middle East standards.&uot;

Still, most important may be the attitude of the world toward the U.S. role in Iraq. &uot;The world was on our side in Japan. The Japanese people thought we were right and accepted what we were doing,&uot; Wiggins said.

Earlier that morning, one of his classes looked closely at the post World War II period, he said. &uot;I don’t think we realize what kind of commitment that was. We put something like 8 percent of our entire budget into the rebuilding program.&uot;

That kind of commitment is what it takes to move effectively from war to peace to recovery. &uot;That’s the way to end the war,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s the way to make the world a more stable, safer place. Win the war. Win the peace.&uot;

Before peace can come, the worst of the war may lie ahead for both the coalition forces and the Iraqi people. Student Dorrell Robinson wondered whether American troops would have to change their tactics if the conflict leads to fighting in the streets of Baghdad.

&uot;When you fight on the street corners, can you play by the rules,&uot; Robinson said, going on to talk about the care American soldiers and Marines seem to be taking not to break the time-honored rules of war. &uot;When you’re fighting someone with no rules, maybe you have to change your tactics.&uot;

Mark LaFrancis, journalism instructor and public relations director at the community college, said that Vietnam had proven the U.S. military should not veer from tried and true tactics.

&uot;We tried that in Vietnam, much to our shock and dismay,&uot; LaFrancis said. &uot;It became almost a free-for-all. Our own troops were slaughtering women and children.&uot;

Will the march into Baghdad and post-war occupation set off a round of terrorism attacks such as the events of Sept. 11?

Student Maggie Brown said she thinks not. &uot;I think there is apt to be less terrorism. I think they are more disorganized now.&uot;

Still, there are fears to combat. &uot;I’m not afraid personally, but I am afraid for people in other part of the world, particularly over there,&uot; Brown said, referring to countries of the Middle East.

She said studying the Middle East has made her skeptical about any quick fixes for the area. &uot;After a year with Mr. Wiggins learning about the Middle East, I believe we can’t expect democracy to work right away.&uot;

LaFrancis said that once the world begins to see what the Iraqi people have been enduring under the Saddam Hussein regime, attitudes will change. &uot;If the world sees the Iraqi people embrace a new sense of freedom, we will have created a more stable place.&uot;

Student Mary Johnson said, on the other hand, the actions of the United States may cause continued ill will among many other countries of the world. &uot;It may make people more angry with America. They already view us as a tyrannical and greedy society.&uot;

Wiggins said he is surprised that no terrorism attack has occurred since the march toward Baghdad began. &uot;I thought that would be one consequence. I thought it already would have happened.&uot;

Johnson wondered whether terrorists still might attack but be waiting to carry out something on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks.

&uot;Or maybe they will plan instead of one big attack, 10 small attacks on Middle America,&uot; Wiggins said. &uot;We feel safe down here in little Natchez, Mississippi, but if there is an attack on a shopping mall in Dubuque, Iowa, I don’t think we’ll feel so safe any more.&uot;

Robinson recalled his reaction to Sept. 11, when he was working at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. &uot;I never really thought about being safe or not.&uot;

LaFrancis put the conflict in terms of ferocious dogs. &uot;We live in a world of Rottweilers and pit bulls. We’ve just put one of the biggest pit bulls in the pound.&uot;

Wiggins cautioned, however, that &uot;one mad individual can be a terrorist.&uot;

Student Morgan Mizell said the dramatic attacks of Sept. 11 gave her a new way of looking at self defense. &uot;I feel safe. I know how to protect myself. Since 9-11, the resolve of America has been solidified. People learning how to take care of themselves will make America a stronger place.&uot;

Mizell said she expects Americans to go on about their daily activities despite any threats. &uot;If I’m going to pray, why should I worry about it? If I’m going to worry about it, why should I pray? We’re the top dog. And our country appeals to a lot of people. We’ve made it work with a diverse society.&uot;

Robinson agreed, pointing out that walking into any neighborhood illustrates the diversity of race, religion and other traits among Americans. &uot;Something good has already come from 9-11. It was good to see people parade around town with flags on their cars. It brought us close together. Now it’s not a race thing, not a religious thing, but an American thing.&uot;

Accomplishing that same feeling of unity in Iraq may take a very long time, Wiggins said. &uot;We have spent a long time beating up on each other to get to this point in our country,&uot; he said.

&uot;Will the Iraqis accept what majority rule means? In the North, the Kurds will never win an election. Will they ever think, ‘I’m an Iraqi first’? They’ve never done that before.

&uot;How long can we stay to make sure that happens?&uot;

LaFrancis said America’s success in Iraq will come in seeing the nation begin to enjoy its freedom.

&uot;When the dust settles, if we can help a nation live in peace without fear Š and demonstrate to the world that we’re not imperialistic but caring and if we can show the world America stands for the principles our founding fathers gave us, we will have won.&uot;