On the 49th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, college students from Virginia to Oregon staged teach-ins and rallies yesterday to show their opposition to a U.S. attack on Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait.
Student organizers conceded that the nationwide effort fell far short of the original goal of involving 500 campuses, but they said regional protest groups were much closer to stitching together a national network that could provide effective coordination.
"As far as national coordinating, I don't think that actually happened," said Pierre Barolette of the U.S. Student Association. "This is primarily a grass-roots thing. Now there's a lot of activity; certain organizations are coming together to form this campaign."
Barolette said the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing, which led to U.S. entry into World War II, was chosen as a protest date because "students just felt that that was another instance of the war, death and carnage we want to avert."
At Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., maintenance workers lowered the U.S. flag in front of the administration building after the student government voted to secede from the nation for a day. "We wanted to do a shock kind of thing," said Yasmin Forlenza, a freshman who backed the protest.
A group of students at the University of Louisville announced they would buy advertisements in local and campus newspapers "to urge soldiers to just say 'no' to duty in Saudi Arabia," according to Tom Pearce, a recent graduate.
Elsewhere, the anti-war protests took more conventional forms. University of Wisconsin students were among 350 protesters who rallied outside the state capitol in Madison. Teach-ins, the most common type of campus protest, were held at Georgetown University, George Mason University and the University of Oregon in Eugene.
At Georgetown, the six-hour teach-in in the Leavey Commons offered an ideologically balanced roster of speakers that included Sandra Charles, director of Near East and Asian affairs at the National Security Council, and Saul Landau, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. In 1965, the left-of-center research group provided a speaker for the first anti-Vietnam War teach-in at the University of Michigan.
"We want to promote a more intelligent activism, which needs both sides for a good debate," said Todd Heyman, a Georgetown sophomore from Massachusetts. "I think this issue has a lot of mainstream support. It's not the radical activism of the '60s. This is what democracy is all about."
About 100 students listened respectfully without any expression of disapproval as Charles presented a defense of Bush administration policy, including an assertion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein threatens the "energy security" of the world.
The audience included several Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets from George Washington University who sat together in their uniforms. Two declined to be interviewed, citing restrictions on conduct while in uniform.
In California, where the first campus teach-ins on the Persian Gulf occurred in September, rallies were held yesterday at the University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Santa Cruz and City College of San Francisco.
"As far as California goes, we've had so many teach-ins already," said Hilary Diamond, a graduate student at San Francisco State University. "Now what's needed is to mobilize people to be against this war."
The day of protests, an idea of a group of Washington area students called Aegis Justice, was hampered by pressures of final examinations on many campuses. On others, such as Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., students had already begun their holiday recess.
Student leaders plan to try again to organize a national protest Jan. 26-27, including a coordinating meeting here. Leaders of regional student groups based in Boston, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay area, the Washington area and other cities have agreed to form a National Student and Youth Campaign for Peace in the Middle East.