NORTH NEWTON, KAN.- "Demonization of the enemy is one of the first steps to war," J. Daryl Byler told the Bethel College community Oct. 8 during an all-day teach-in on the topic Alternatives to War with Iraq. "But Jesus told us to humanize our enemies."
Byler, who is director of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington, D.C. offices, was keynote speaker for the event, which was planned as a way to encourage dialogue with the broader community. He reported on his most recent trip to Iraq at the end of May, pointed out that economic sanctions continue to punish the Iraqi people, especially children, and shared reasons why the United States should not go to war.
Byler believes that there are many viable alternatives to war, which the U.S. has not yet tried. He suggested the U.S. restore respectful dialogue with Iraq because the only dialogue between the two countries has happened through the media. He would also like to see the U.S. work with the United Nations to reintroduce weapons inspectors, and he suggests the use of international tribunals to address war issues.
Other speakers included students, professors and guests. Although classes met as usual, more than 130 people attended Tuesday's sessions, including 80 Bethel students.
Speakers for the session on "Faith, Ethics and Alternatives" were Bethel professors Duane Friesen, Don Lemons and Penelope Moon.
Reminded of the previous Sunday's World Communion and of the more than one million Christians in Iraq, Friesen said, "We belong first of all to the body of Christ, a cosmopolitan group of people from all over the world. When we take communion together, that is a political act because it stretches beyond the boundaries of any one country."
Friesen is troubled with President George W. Bush's eagerness to take the country to war. "When a president mixes Christian symbols and national symbols, it's a total blur to the integrity of Christianity," said Friesen, professor of Bible and religion.
In the afternoon session that focused on the costs of war and also on political strategies, Bethel College economics and business professor Bruce Bradshaw cited figures that a war with Iraq would cost as much at $100 billion.
"Can we afford to fight a war?" Bradshaw asked. "If we do, we will do so at the expense of education, health care and other major development indicators. The economic development indices of the U.S. lag behind most other industrial nations, indicating that the U.S. cannot afford a war."
One of the speakers for the Tuesday evening session was John McConnell, a Gulf War veteran. He is current director of the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, located in Wichita. McConnell believes that the United States is already amassing troops to fight a war with Iraq, and, because of the expense, some politicians may believe that "we can't afford not to attack." McConnell encouraged anti-war advocates to "keep the opposition up" through letter-writing and other efforts.
"Dick Cheney gave me permission in 1990 to kill Iraqis because they were Iraqis," said McConnell, referring to the current U.S. vice-president, who was secretary of defense at the time. "How brutal it was. The reality of that situation changed me."
Other speakers at the teach-in were Manfred Menking, Wichita, who is with the Physicians for Social Responsibility organization, and several Bethel College students.
Maria Tschetter, freshman from Freeman, S.D., reported on the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq and spoke about her visits with legislators in Washington, D.C. last summer.
Jason Schmidt, junior from Whitewater, and Lowell Wyse, junior from Camden, Mich., reported on the MCC United Nations seminar they attended in New York Oct. 3-5. The seminar, "Crisis in World Community: A Breach in Partnership," explored the gaps between state governments and international institutions and included information about the U.S. response to Iraq.
Heidi Holliday, a freshman from Andover, has volunteered for two years at the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, Wichita. She reported on local as well as international opportunities for advocacy. Bethel students have joined others from the area for weekly and monthly anti-war protests in Wichita. Holliday has also volunteered with Voices in the Wilderness, Chicago. This organization's Iraq Peace Team, reported Holliday, hopes to get international peace activists into Baghdad and other cities in Iraq.
"When we have the human connection with people in Iraq, it makes it much more difficult to go to war against them," Holliday said.
Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at Bethel College and Students for Social Change, a Bethel College student organization, co-sponsored the event. Funding for the teach-in was provided in part by a grant from the Fourth Freedom Forum in Goshen, Ind.