Students Should Prioritize Anti-War Activism
President Donald Trump authorized an airstrike against a Syrian airfield in rebel-held town Khan Sheikhoun on April 6, resulting in more than 80 deaths. The strike came in response to a chemical attack two days prior by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As images and videos from the attack circulated, Trump explained his choice to retaliate against Assad by saying, “Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
Judging by the positive response to the strike from across the political spectrum, it would seem as if Trump suddenly found his moral compass and is now ready to act presidentially. This apparently means bombing the countries and people that both the right and left agree are acceptable to bomb. But the idea that Trump’s heart started beating and that the airstrikes were motivated by ethics or compassion — as New York Times writer Mark Landler suggests in a piece titled “Anguish Sways the Isolationist” — is inaccurate and mistaken. The belief that Trump’s “anguish” for civilians motivated the strike, that the man who ran for president on a platform of demonizing people of color and preventing Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. could change his tune so drastically, is only upheld by those with an interest in maintaining and demonstrating the United States’ international military power and influence — a very bipartisan wish.
The U.S. has never been a humanitarian state, and to pretend that we are becoming one under Trump, of all people, is absurd.
It seems that we need a new way to approach how we can use the power of democratic citizenship to influence U.S. military involvement abroad. Anti-war protest, particularly during the Vietnam War, holds a significant place in the history of student activism that has shaped this nation. Immediately after Trump’s inauguration, protests around the country and on campuses were loud, dynamic and extremely visible. Antiwar, anti-militaristic protests are always necessary, but perhaps uniquely so at this moment, when state leadership is so dangerously devoted to an increase in militarization, as evidenced by Trump’s proposed $54-billion addition to the defense budget.
We’re in a unique position at Oberlin, especially because the media seems to enjoy making an example of us as a liberal college bubble — coverage which magnifies campus incidents and protests. What would it take for nationwide collaboration to be sustainable for the duration of Trump’s time in office? How can we act in a way that includes anti-oppression work within the U.S. and an antiwar policy stance as well? These strands of protest and resistance are already being spearheaded by people of color, queer activists and other marginalized folks — how can college campus activism amplify and add to this work? Coalition building between universities should be a method we use to amplify student voices across the country.
The airstrikes undertaken by the Trump administration illustrate the lies that the U.S. has used and will continue to use to justify war in the state’s interest. As White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said, Trump’s goal is to “root out ISIS out of Syria.” The tangle of outside state actors seeking to influence the outcome of the Syrian conflict is not motivated by human rights, though these violations are used to justify military interventions that kill and injure more Syrian people. As the U.S. has been instrumental in allowing the atrocities in Syria to continue unalleviated, most notably by refusing refugees, it has a responsibility to work toward ensuring that they end. The atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad should not be ignored by the international community, but anti-war doesn’t mean anti-involvement — it means fighting for an end to using violence to counter violence. Hopefully, student activism can be instrumental again in bringing about this foreign policy change.