Students oppose war in new ways
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
By Stephanie Czekalinski
Many of Omar Torres' friends at Ohio State University opposed the war in Iraq.
But when he went to fight, they supported him and did not publicly
oppose the war. Then, on Aug. 22, Torres stepped on a homemade bomb
that killed him instantly. His friends were devastated and angry.
Still, they did not protest the war. Better to support the troops,
"It's not made me more patriotic," said Julian Valencia Suesun, a
friend of Torres. "I was against the war before and I still am.… It
boggles my mind that we could lose someone with so much potential."
But Torres' death hasn't inspired Valencia to protest the war or
become more politically active.
"I used to have arguments about the war with Omar," Valencia said.
"I'm confused myself as to whether it's respectful to protest in his
name. I believe they practically brainwashed him, but I don't think
it's fair to put words in his mouth."
As the Iraq war drags on, college students have been actively helping
their friends and strangers who served and were injured overseas.
They hold memorial services for their peers who were killed and help
soldiers adapt to campus life again.
But unlike students in the Vietnam era, they haven't been quick to
hold massive protests against the war.
Reasons vary for the lack of public outcry. The lack of a draft has
dampened protests of a war that uses a volunteer military force.
Young people are more cynical about the government, so the war didn't
shock them, said Benjamin Schiff, professor of politics at Oberlin College.
Students are opposing the war in other ways, such as becoming active
in politics online, calling their representatives and voting, said
Lorrain Bieber, an outreach coordinator for Progressohio.org and the
director of the League of Young Voters Columbus affiliate.
Some students, including Torres' friends, say they are worried that
protesting the war means turning their backs on the troops fighting in Iraq.
"I didn't support the war before," said Alexandra Morales, Torres'
girlfriend and a sophomore at OSU. "But while Omar was overseas, I
couldn't say that because I felt it degraded what the soldiers were
doing. So I'd just say, 'I support the troops.' "
People who speak out against the war might take some heat, said Susan
Terbay of Dayton. When her son first went to Iraq, she didn't say
much about the war.
"People saw speaking out against the war as an attack on the troops,"
she said. "I was so fearful of hurting my son. I didn't want to hurt
During the Vietnam War, spirited protests dominated college campuses,
and the peace message spread from there. But the message was often
interpreted as not only anti-war, but also anti-troops.
Bill Schools, 60, of the Northwest Side, has painful memories of
returning from Vietnam, where he served from 1967 to '69.
"When I came back, I was spit on, called all kinds of names and
everything else," he said. "I was almost ashamed to be a veteran when
I came back."
The mentality of the American people changed during the Gulf War, and
especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, said Schools, president
of Vietnam Veterans of Ohio. That's when people realized they weren't
as safe as they thought and started appreciating the troops more.
Schools said respectful protest is appropriate, especially "if it
saves American lives." He would like the war to end.
Omar Torres studied political science and Chinese and was part of the
ROTC program at the university. He decided to leave the National
Guard and join the active Army in late 2006.
"He and his family are very social service-oriented," Valencia said.
"His dad's a firefighter, his mom works in the public schools. ... He
wanted to be a politician. I said, 'Graduate first -- do it for your
parents.' He said, 'No, they are my brothers over there and they're dying.' "
His mother, Doris Torres, 48, was on the cusp of adolescence during
the Vietnam War. She remembers her father watching it on the news.
"They only had negative media," the Chicago resident said. "It's our
responsibility to treat these soldiers better than the Vietnam vets
That's a realization baby boomers came by the hard way, said Chuck
Underwood, president of the Generational Imperative, a consulting
firm based in Cincinnati that studies the characteristics and
differences of generations.
"Baby boomers learned a lesson -- as an American citizen, it is your
right and responsibility to protest loudly if you disagree with your
government's action in military combat, but you always, always
support the men and women wearing the uniforms," he said.
Changes in technology have also affected some young people's
attitudes toward the war and the soldiers.
"With e-mail and instant messaging there's a lot more communication
with the troops," said Courtney Camillus, a senior staff clinic
therapist at OSU. "We get to know these people better. This war has a
very personal face on it."
Morales, a registered voter in her hometown of McKinney, Texas, used
the Internet to stay connected with Omar Torres while he was in Iraq.
They decided via e-mail to start dating while he was stationed in Kuwait.
"I would e-mail him every day, and he'd write me back. We got to talk
a lot on instant messenger. We did the whole webcam thing, too," Morales said.
She learned of his death when she signed on to her Facebook account
and saw an invitation to a group titled "Omar Torres, Rest in Peace."
Hundreds of people attended Omar Torres' funeral, his mother said.
She hopes that young people will learn another lesson and become more
"I know that Omar himself didn't feel that we should be (in Iraq),
but he was focused on what his ultimate goal was going to be. He
wanted to be a politician."
He would have been a good one, Valencia said.
"I would have voted for Omar for anything," he said.