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Bucking a Tide to Give Voice to Pro-Military Sentiments;
Dozens of students at one college join an 'anti-antiwar' group

(The following article ran in the 4/3/03 Edition of the Los Angeles Times; Part 1; Page 28)

By Elizabeth Mehren, Times Staff Writer

(Waltham, MA)   The day the war began, many Brandeis University students staged a walkout from classes. But members of the group United We Stand held a walk-in, remaining in class to show support for U.S. intervention in Iraq.

   "We wanted students here to reflect on the fact that they are able to attend classes that they choose, unlike students in a country such as Iraq," said Joshua Wiznitzer, a founder of a campus organization that began just over a month ago with five students and quickly grew to 10 times that size. Witznitzer said his e-mail list expands daily, as students at Brandeis and elsewhere seek a safe haven for pro-military sentiments.

   Their views in support of U.S. action in Iraq put these students in sync with majority opinion in this country, but out of line with many of their own peers. Antiwar protests have gripped U.S. campuses, including Brandeis -- where speakers recently denounced members of United We Stand as "freaks" and "crackpots."

   Comparable organizations have sprung up at Princeton, Yale and Columbia, said Wiznitzer, adding that some Harvard students also have contacted him about forming a similar group. All these young champions of U.S. military involvement in Iraq are bucking a demographic tide, said Tobias Harris, another founder of United We Stand.

   "Absolutely," he said. "The moment you set foot on a campus with views like ours, you feel like you have a bull's-eye on your forehead."

   But United We Stand member Allison Brown said she was surprised that more students at Brandeis -- a private, nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college founded in 1948 -- did not endorse the U.S. military action. With an undergraduate population that is more than 50% Jewish, "you would think that at this campus, there would be more support for intervention in the Mideast," said Brown, a senior from Sunnyvale, Calif.

   At a campus rally when war erupted in Iraq, about 500 students "drifted in and out," said Brandeis sociology professor Gordon Fellman. Because the United We Stand presence accounted for just "five or six people," Fellman said it would be more accurate to call the group "Divided We Stand."

   "Phrases like 'United We Stand' make it sound like there is consensus on this issue, and there is not," said Fellman, who also directs the university's peace studies program. "I understand it rhetorically, but I do not find it useful."

   In any case, Fellman said, no single group could encompass the views of students "who seem mostly to be sitting this one out." In assessing this war, most students "don't feel the connection with their own lives," he maintained.

   "Voting is not that big with this generation either," Fellman said. "These are not people with a fully developed sense of citizenship."

   When U.S. troops invaded Iraq, Wiznitzer, a 21-year-old neuroscience major, collected signatures for letters to U.S. troops and President Bush. He also handed out ribbons for students to pin to their backpacks to show their backing for U.S. troops in Iraq

   He said he asked his mother, a crafts aficionado in Ohio, to send him all the yellow and red-white-and-blue ribbon she had on hand. He passed out all of his 400 ribbons, enough to make a statement on a campus of 3,000 undergraduates.

   But Hilary Barshay, president of the Brandeis Anti-War Coalition, said her organization passed out yellow ribbons too -- along with black ribbons to symbolize "mourning for anyone who dies in this war."

   Barshay, whose group was founded soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said she welcomed United We Stand as a forum but objected to growing animosity between the opposing organizations.

   "We do resent that the antiwar movement is often thought of as anti-soldiers, " said Barshay, a 22-year-old senior from Connecticut. "Soldiers die in war, and in not supporting war, you do not support the death of soldiers."

   Wiznitzer said a major reason for establishing United We Stand was "because we wanted to be an anti-antiwar group." He cautioned that "nobody likes war, as anyone in our organization can tell you. However, we believe that sometimes it is a necessary evil -- such as the current war against the regime of Saddam Hussein."

   Checking his watch before heading off to a morning class, Harris predicted that United We Stand would encourage broader discussion of the U.S. war effort.

   "You have to have the courage to speak out, especially when someone gets on their high horse in class," said Harris, a sophomore from Illinois who is majoring in history and politics. A seminar last week on French politics fast turned into an exchange in which more students expressed support for the war than opposition, Harris said. "There is an assumption that all students oppose war," he said. "I think you are going to see more people breaking away from that herd."

   Jon Lerner, another United We Stand member, said his position pitted him against some faculty members.

   "Many of our professors are ex-hippies," said Lerner, a 21-year-old psychology major from Connecticut. "They teach that war is bad, no matter what. They are very simplistic."

   To qualify as an official campus club, United We Stand must amass 200 student signatures. The group also must make reservations for table space at rallies and demonstrations.

   But as the war stretches on, so do the pressures of academic life. "I think both sides -- ours and the antiwar movement -- will die down during finals," Lerner said. "They have to study, and so do we."


Copyright 2003--United We Stand, Brandeis University