By Emma Keiski ’16, PoliticOle Columnist
For PAC’s first dinner debate of the year, Time Magazine’s 2002 “Person of the Year” and former FBI agent, Coleen Rowley, addressed over two hundred St. Olaf undergrads about her anti-war approach to the conflict in Syria. There was no doubt in anyone’s minds that Rowley was against the US attacking Syria as she took the floor in her sneakers decorated with puff paint peace signs, sporting a shirt asking “What Would Wellstone Do?” and carrying a large sign that said, “War is Not Humanitarian.”
The wars in the Middle East have been going on throughout the majority of the audience’s lifetime. However, leaving the Black and Gold Ballroom one could hear a series of overwhelmed statements such as “I’m still so confused” and “I just never know what to think.” Although constantly surrounded by news of wars in the Middle East, many young adults believe understanding the daunting complexities of these wars as an unmanageable feat.
I know I am one of those overcome by a sense of naivety when asked questions such as tonight’s. Hearing a lecture of a strong willed woman from inside the justice system offered one opinion to tonight’s dinner question. Still, being told one way to think often catalyzes skepticism. Regardless, here is what Rowley insisted:
Simply, for Rowley, war is not the answer, “War is unethical, illegal, and completely counterproductive.” Instead of focusing on the issue in Syria, she continues to rant about the unproductive wars of recent history, citing Iraq and Vietnam as examples. Early on she states, “I am a critic of the war on terror.” Her biggest fight is against those who see war as a tool.
Rowley’s talk only lightly touches on Syria, explaining the irony of providing rebels with aid when Al Qaeda supports their strongest factions. She argues that it will be impossible to insure that US aid is not intercepted and used for alternative means.
Rather than truly understanding her position on the dinner debate, I learned that Rowley is adamant about ethics returning to the political scene. She firmly believes that 9/11 was avoidable. As a whistleblower she affirms, “We have been led to believe that secrecy protects. Well, 9/11 happens because of secrecy.” She believes the people, not agents of national security, thwart terrorism, citing the Time Square bomber as an example. She argues it was street vendors not agents that shut the bombing down.
After being talked at for an hour, Rowley asked how many people still thought the US should attack Syria. Only a few brave souls raised their hands while the majority of the audience, like myself, looked doe-eyed around the room for answers. After being told one way to think these undergrads were still unsure of how to proceed. If only every question could be answered thoughtfully, yet ambiguously, like a liberal arts student in philosophy class.
Emma Keiski ‘16 is a Political Science Major from Minneapolis, MN. She is a regular PolitcOle Columnist. Contact her at email@example.com.