‘Gears of War’ Series Explores Iraq War and U.S. Imperialism


Following half a quarter of planning, the UC Irvine Worker-Student Alliance, Muslim Student Union, Students for Peace and Justice and Amnesty International unveiled a series of events entitled “Gears of War” in response to the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Eight events were held at various locations on the UCI campus, which lasted from March 3 through 6.
Outside of the primary emphasis on the war in Iraq, a number of related topics were also addressed, such as perceived United States imperialism, voting and gender equality. These issues were presented to the community through documentary screenings, various speakers and panel discussions. Each day featured two events, one held at noon and another in the evening.
The first screening of the series was held on Monday with “Sir! No Sir!” a documentary which focuses on soldiers of the 1960s protesting against the Vietnam War. The documentary functioned as a way for students to relate a historical movement to the current youth movement against the United States’ involvement in Iraq.
On Tuesday, UCI anthropology professor Sheila O’Rourke gave a presentation about unequal gender practices that are ingrained into society and how male domination of women has allowed the U.S. government to exploit female labor for profit. This, to some extent, tied into Tuesday’s second event that dealt with exploitation of the Middle East.
Imam Muhammad Al-Asi, the former Imam of the Islamic Center of Washington, and Dick Platkin, a member of the group Los Angeles Jews for Peace, served as the speakers for this event. Both were critical of the U.S. involvement in the Middle East as well as the submission of Arab nations in the face of American forces.
“Any observer of these governments only for a short period of time will begin to realize … they are more or less fulfilling the desires of the United States,” Al-Asi said.
The presentation focused largely on the manipulation of oil as an economic tool on the global market and how each speaker believed that the United States is manipulating the Arab countries in the region to take inestimable amounts of oil. Al-Asi described contemporary times as an “information starvation period” due to the lack of credible sources that show how much oil Arab nations are pumping for the United States.
While oil was the primary topic of the night, the chief question during the Q-and-A session was whether the United States would leave the Middle East if an alternative energy source could be found through the environmental green movement. Platkin replied that the United States is currently too deep in the affairs of the Middle East to simply pull out.
“My feeling is [that], even with a sustained green movement … it will not create a peaceful Middle East,” Platkin said.
While the topic tended to be U.S.-centric, the presentation also touched upon how the Middle East can appeal to larger countries in general due to the economic appeal of oil. Joel Montano, a fourth-year sociology and economics double-major and representative of the Worker-Student Alliance, expressed how the event appealed to him.
“[It] basically talked about … U.S. military strategy in the Middle East and not only in the U.S., but also all these other big economic countries, like … Russia [and] China. … They also [have] this interest in the Middle East because of the oil. When you control the oil, you’re able to pretty much control the economies of all nations around the world,” Montano said.
The next topic brought students together by the flagpoles outside of Aldrich Hall, and allowed a forum for students to talk about the University of California’s involvement in contributing to U.S. imperialism via receiving government funding to develop military technology.
Montano described how the physical design of the event was key in creating an aesthetically pleasing setting in order to gain support for a cause.
“[At] the UC Imperialism [event] … we had the flags out around the flag poles [on the] grass area and then we had the big board revealing information. … It caught a lot of students’ attention and you know it made them want to find out more about this information. … You’ve got to have more visuals for students for them to be more interested,” Montano said.
At the flagpoles, a display featuring the title “Co$t of Imperiali$m” noted that, since 2001, 1.25 million people have lost their lives due to American-Middle East hostilities. According to the display, 3,000 died in the Sept. 11 attacks; 48,000 died in the war in Afghanistan; and 1,200,000 died in the war in Iraq.
On Wednesday, “Soldiers Speak Out” featured Pasadena City College professor and veteran Roger Marheine as well as representatives from the organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War, who discussed the current situation in Iraq and answered student questions.
Among those who answered questions included Eric Estenzo, a veteran who joined the Marine Corps in 1999. Estenzo also served in Iraq before facing a non-combat injury in Kuwait that left him on reserve for over one year after which he was honorably discharged in 2005.
Estenzo introduced himself with his experience in the war to contrast the stateside perception with the realities of the Iraq war.
“From my eyes it was completely different from what the media was saying. … The Iraq war is no longer like a war, but more like an occupation,” Estenzo said.
Estenzo also expressed that, while he no longer has faith in the Iraq war, he still believes in America’s military forces.
“I believe in supporting the military, we do have a constitution to defend … but we don’t have to fight in illegal wars,” Estenzo said.
Dennis Lopez, a graduate student in the department of English and chair of Students for Peace and Justice, remarked that “Soldiers Speak Out” was among his favorite events, as it allowed for a more complete view of America’s fighting men and women.
“It sort of presented a perspective that sometimes is missing from this discussion. I think most students, or just the public in general, imagine that soldiers are all in agreement about the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan and I think it was an opportunity to see that soldiers … have their own opinions about what is going on and many of them are starting to realize that these wars aren’t in their interest,” Lopez said.
The final day of events featured Amir Abdel Malik Ali, the Imam of the Al-Islam mosque in Oakland, California. Malik Ali focused on how the United States was functioning as an empire and called upon UCI students to inform their parents and their community of America’s imperialistic ways.
“The United States is an empire and as we’ve said before, everybody in the world knows it except Americans and … therefore the Americans have to be made aware. They have to wake up and they have to understand the cost of imperialism,” Malik Ali said.
Malik Ali also criticized the leadership of Muslim countries and his belief that they are overly subservient to the whims of the United States. Malik Ali followed this statement by making a comparison between a passage in the Qur’an and the conflict existing between the U.S. government and fundamentalist Muslim groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
“Someone with self-respect and honor [is] not going to bow down to any invader and so Allah tells us that the kings, when they enter that country or that town or that city, the first people who they go after are the people with honor … the people with self-respect. Groups like Hamas … are people with self-respect and honor. They’re not going to allow themselves to be occupied and invaded,” Malik Ali said.
The final event of the week switched gears to focus on U.S. domestic decisions in the form of analyzing the upcoming 2008 presidential election. A panel consisting of representatives from the WSA, Amnesty International, MSU, Young Democrats and the College Republicans participated in the event titled “Voting: Do You Count?” One of the more polarizing aspects of the panel was that, while the Democrats and Republicans favored voting, the other groups chiefly expressed that they felt voting would make little difference, if any, in solving conflicts in the Middle East.
Kristy Ho, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major, agreed with the majority of the groups in expressing that voting has limited potential to create change.
“Voting only counts for a part of it … We have to actually go out and demonstrate [to get results],” Ho said.
Due to the variety of opinions expressed throughout the week, it may be impossible to agree or disagree with everything said, according to Daniel Rojas, a third-year sociology and political science double-major.
“[I support] the whole point of having this kind of dialogue because it illuminates both sides because you get multiple perspectives,” Rojas said.
As the week’s festivities came to a close, Omar Zarka, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major and the president of MSU, made clear the primary goal of the week.
“The biggest thing that we’re trying to touch upon is that most people don’t realize what’s going on. … Our imperialistic foreign policy leads to the death of millions worldwide whether they be fathers, mothers, children, uncles [or] aunts,” Zarka said.
While the event consisted of a combination of facts and debatable opinions, what cannot be contested is that the events generally had many attendees. At events such as “Soldiers Speak Out” and “Voting: Do You Count?” rooms were so full that students sat in aisles and stood in the back of the room to observe presentations.
“It’s always hard to gauge the turnouts. We actually wanted to get bigger rooms, but it was … tough to get them through scheduling,” Lopez said. “I think it still went well, I mean … people who wanted to get in got in. I don’t think anyone was turned away.”