The image that the 200 or so students hoped to present to the campus--and, to a lesser extent, the journalists who had gathered--was a human chain forming a peace symbol. But once the students had circled together, it was evident that they were uncertain about what they wanted to accomplish.
Several students tried to lead a chorus of "Give Peace A Chance," but voices drifted away after the first two lines. After a second failed attempt to jumpstart John Lennon's anti-war anthem, one student yelled out, "Why don't we just have a moment of silence?" With heads bowed and wearing white arms bands with "no war" scrawled in black ink, the anti-war event transformed into an impromptu vigil for the thousands of victims.
Students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, who loosely coordinated similar events at about 100 colleges and universities across the country, had inspired the event at Lewis & Clark. In its most simple terms, the aim was to marshal a collective anti-war voice from college students. At the same time that Lewis & Clark students formed a peace symbol, students across the Willamette River at Reed College held anti-war signs on the front lawn of the campus.
But one Lewis & Clark junior near the edge of the peace symbol bemoaned that the demonstration was more an exercise in self-satisfaction than a gesture towards impacting public policy. "The problem with events like this is that they never leave campus," he said. "We just sit and tell each other how we feel."
Perhaps the trouble that Lewis & Clark students had in directing their protest represents the confusion many young, liberal Americans feel in the turbulent wake of September 11. Without a clearly outlined foreign policy in place, and without a war in progress, it is difficult to know exactly what to rebel against.
In spite of comparisons to Pearl Harbor, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had very different intentions and victims. The surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was a strategic strike intended to weaken America's military strength. Despite a publicly pronounced policy of non-intervention, prior to the December 7, 1941 attack, U.S. government and companies were facilitating World War II by supplying weapons to besieged European forces. Moreover, World War II clearly called into play America's ideals of liberty and justice as European nations and Jews were buckling under unmitigated aggression.
In contrast, the recent terrorist attacks have dredged up criticisms against the past three decades of U.S. foreign policy towards Middle Eastern nations and accusations that terrorists like Osama Bin Laden are, in part, America's own Frankensteins. Such complications create a foreign policy debate with no clear rights and wrongs, but one that is more muddled with ambiguities than a graduate seminar on deconstructionism.
"We're anti-war," explained one Lewis & Clark student, "but honestly, at the same time, we have no real solutions."