WCDU presents views on both sides over impending war with Iraq

Last Tuesday night, the Williams College Debate Union (WCDU) orchestrated a debate over the possible war with Iraq. Daniel Burns ’06 and Heather Casteel ’06 offered the pro-war argument while Nate Klein ’06 and Dan Bahls ’04 presented the reasons to avoid a military conflict.

Burns began the event with a 5-minute speech in which one of his main points was to prove that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is indeed an evil man. “[Students often say] ‘We all know Saddam is a terrible man, but –,’ and there’s always a ‘but,” Burns said. “I think a lot of us find it too easy to add that ‘but.’”

Burns added an anecdote about children and elderly people abandoned on the side of the road because of Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds. According to Burns, by continuing to recognize Hussein as anything other than a purely terrible man, we allow for the “status-quo” to remain and endanger Hussein’s future enemies.

“I refuse to continue our country’s history of turning a blind eye to genocide because we see its perpetrator as the lesser of two evils,” Burns said. Allowing Hussein to remain in power is morally unacceptable, argued Burns.

Klein then delivered the first speech against war. In his 5-minute address he said, “invading Iraq is quite possibly the worst idea ever put forth by the Bush administration.” He backed up his statement by lamenting the potential cost of the war on Iraq. He believes that no justification has been presented and that invading Iraq will incur the wrath of other countries upon the U.S..

Klein believes that we cannot compare the Gulf War of 1991 to today’s potential war. He stated that since this war will probably take place in Baghdad and other urban areas, not Kuwait, the Iraqis will fight harder on their own soil and the number of casualties will be much greater.

Casteel was then allotted 10 minutes for her advocacy of war. She began by stating that our feelings on war with Iraq should not be influenced by our “party policies” because the “proper justification of war on Iraq has nothing to do” with any partisan philosophy or other corrupt politics.

She said that Hussein is the “worst violator of international law in the world today.” She then spoke of the casualty tradeoff in the possible war, stating that if we allow Hussein to remain in power we are risking a far greater number of casualties than would result from war today.

“It’s a terrible tradeoff,” Casteel said. “But if we have to make it, it’s a lot better to lose a couple thousand lives now than hundreds of thousands of lives later.”

In direct contrast to her opponents’ position, Casteel believes that the Gulf War does offer a legitimate comparison. “Iraqi troops proved in the Gulf War that they did not have a very high morale,” Casteel said. “Most of them went over to the other side given the first opportunity and surrendered as soon as they were able to. Iraqi troops are not really that committed to the cause to which they are fighting for.”

Casteel then argued that the war’s cost should not really be relevant since invading Iraq is a moral argument. However, she then spoke of the economic benefits for the US once Hussein is out of power. “When the sanctions are lifted from Iraq then the oil outputs will quadruple and this is going to make up a lot of money and this is going to be better for the economy in Iraq and our economy at home,” she said.

Bahls then presented his 10-minute anti-war speech. He first attempted to disprove the similarities between the Gulf War and today’s potential war by emphasizing that the 1991 conflict was a “defensive” war, since the U.S. was defending Kuwait.

“This was not a case of the USA saying, ‘Hey, let’s go invade Iraq, because we could triple or quadruple the oil output of Iraq,’” Bahls said. “This would be an offensive war.” Bahls continued to compare this “offensive” war with the Trojan War and Nazi Germany’s blitzkrieg of Poland.

Bahls also stressed that wars have consequences. He claimed that in contrast to several reports cited by the defense, the number of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is declining.

Bahls then went on to say that the money America would use in the potential conflict could be used for something nobler, such as to “cure AIDS. He concluded by saying that more casualties would result from an immediate war with Iraq than if Hussein was to remain in power for the next 25 years.

At the conclusion of Bahl’s speech, the floor was opened for other students to give short, impromptu speeches. One student who was against war said that the U.S. is becoming a “rogue nation of its own” by ignoring the U.N., while another stressed the potential environmental damage caused by war – a statement that several pro-war students later contested.

Following Burn’s and Klein’s speeches, a floor vote was conducted. Although there are no official results, the vote seemed to be overwhelmingly in favor of war with Iraq.