In "War and Peace," Leo Tolstoy ruminates long and hard on the causes of the French invasion of Russia in 1812. He rejects the notion that Napoleon's order to invade was the cause, citing the many times in his career that Napoleon gave similar orders that weren't carried out. Tolstoy instead sees the invasion as the collection of millions of individual acts by ordinary Frenchmen, who responded to the feverish air of empire by deciding that it was normal to leave their peaceful cobbler's shops and schoolhouses, be trained in martial matters, and plunge to the east to take part in a mass act of murder and theft.
All empires, from Caesar's to Bush's, are alike in one important respect, which is that decisions by their leaders to unleash military power in aggression and invasion are made possible only by millions of acts of individual collaboration. One of those acts is taking place on the AU campus right now, as AU profits from a contract to assist the U.S. occupying forces in Iraq. Under the contract, which follows a chain of command from the Pentagon's occupation director, Paul Bremer, to the U.S. Agency for International Development and its subcontractor, Creative Associates, Inc., AU personnel are advising the Pentagon-appointed ministry of education. The contract comes up for renewal this spring.
Exactly what AU is doing and how much AU is profiting is unclear, since the AU administration - confusing a University and its commitment to academic freedom and debate with a business and its need to hide its work from its competitors - has declared the contract confidential, and refused to allow students, staff or faculty to review it.
No citizen, and no university, can remain neutral during a war. Either you are helping the war effort, or you are not. AU has a schizophrenic history in this regard, eagerly serving as the home of the U.S. chemical weapons program in World War I, but also establishing a School of International Service devoted to building peace and respect for human rights and international rules of conduct. Now AU faces a defining moment. The United States is engaged in a war of aggression in Iraq, having attacked and occupied a sovereign country on fraudulent grounds and in defiance of international law. AU can be the civil servant of empire, one of the millions of collaborators whose individual acts of support, as during the Vietnam War, make the aggression possible, or it can be the conscience of democracy, one of the millions of opponents whose individual acts of protest, also as during the Vietnam War, make the aggression unsustainable.
The actual purpose of the AU contract with the occupying forces in Iraq is unclear, since the contract remains secret. Those of us opposed to AU's support for the war have heard four different members of the contract team give a confusing variety of answers to questions about the contract. Do staff and graduate students have to risk their lives in a war zone to earn their salaries or fellowships, or is it only faculty going to Iraq? Is AU advising Iraqi school principals on a new curriculum, or does international law prohibit an occupying force from adjusting the curriculum? Has Creative Associates made new textbooks (which certainly sounds like an adjustment to the curriculum), or are the old textbooks being used, with pages featuring pictures of Saddam Hussein ripped out? Is AU promoting a "student-centered" approach to learning, or has this been rejected by Bremer's staff in favor of the Bush administration's fixation on preparing students for standardized tests?
The best way to clear up this confusion is for the administration to release the contract and all its reports and work products for review by any member of the AU community. The best way for AU to play a positive role in Iraq is to join the growing national resistance to collaboration by refusing to renew its contract with Creative Associates this spring.