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At Brandeis, Seeing the War as 'Necessary'

By Eric Hoover

(The following ran in the Chronicle of Higher Education on 4/25/03; Page 39)

As the United States inched closer to war in Iraq last month, word spread thatantiwar protesters at Brandeis University were planning to stage a classroom walkout. Students had a choice: Go make noise with the demonstrators, or do nothing.

   Tobias Harris and a handful of other students who support the war decided there should be another option, so they formed United We Stand, an organization that they describe as "pro-America."

   The morning after the first missiles hit Iraq, as some students left their classes to attend an antiwar rally in downtown Boston, Mr. Harris and other members of the group stayed on the campus. They passed out fliers, handed out yellow and red-white-and-blue ribbons, and urged students to sign a petition supporting the war against Iraq (160 did).

   "We wanted to let it be known, especially for students who are intimidated by the orthodoxy, that there was an alternative," Mr. Harris says. "People who support this war aren't 'pro-war' -- nobody is. We just feel this war is necessary."

   Mr. Harris, a sophomore from Lincolnwood, Ill., describes himself as a libertarian-leaning conservative. September 11, 2001, he says, strengthened his belief in the need for a "robust" U.S. foreign policy.

   He has espoused that view in Concord Bridge, a magazine he founded and edits, and which publishes conservative and libertarian writing by students. After their Wednesday-night meetings, staff members, some of whom are foreign-policy wonks, stick around to discuss current events.

   "That's the positive side of being in college at a time like this -- people want to discuss it," says Mr. Harris. "We agree on basic principles, but differ on smaller issues. There's the possibility that your mind might be changed."

   As Mr. Harris watched live footage of Iraqi citizens tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein on television this month, he tried to understand how anyone could "be against Iraqi people being free."

   "While freeing the Iraqi people wasn't the primary reason to go to war, it was an important reason," Mr. Harris says. "It isn't like Vietnam."

   The night that American troops gained control of Baghdad, Mr. Harris, 20, spoke to his father on the telephone. The two discussed the mind-set of antiwar protesters.

   "In his younger and more naive days, in college, my father was a socialist, so he often puts what I see in perspective," Mr. Harris says. Before hanging up, his father left him with a quote from John Maynard Keynes: "When the facts change, I change my mind."

   Mr. Harris has helped change the landscape at Brandeis. Recently, United We
Stand collected more than 250 signatures in support of the organization, in order to become an official student group, and the student government subsequently granted it a charter.

   "Our focus next year will be to transition from a wartime footing to become a lasting organization to figure out our long-term purpose," Mr. Harris says.

   The group plans to host speakers to discuss the war against Iraq and the war on terrorism, a canned-goods drive in support of U.S. troops, and an "American spirit party" that will feature patriotically renamed snacks, such as "Constitution cola" and "democracy doughnuts."

Copyright 2003--United We Stand, Brandeis University