April 7, 1999
Five college newspaper editors discuss student reaction to the NATO strikes against Yugoslavia.
JIM LEHRER: And that leads us to a different perspective on the war in Kosovo, and to Media Correspondent Terence Smith.
TERENCE SMITH: We get that fresh perspective from five college newspaper editors: Sharif Durhams of the Daily Tarheel at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill; Aesha Rasheed of the Oklahoma Daily at the University of Oklahoma; Dan Alter of the Badger-Herald at the University of Wisconsin; Gregory Thomas of the Hampden-Sydney Tiger in Virginia; and Bridget Blair of the Daily Collegian at Penn State.
|Is it worth it?|
TERENCE SMITH: Dan Alter, let me begin with you and ask, you just heard Secretary Cohen describe the rationale for the American involvement and the NATO involvement in Yugoslavia. Does it make sense to you?
DAN ALTER, University of Wisconsin: Well, I think at this point we've got to look at the fact that we're not just in this war to be in a war. We're in this war for several direct purposes, and that is to end the atrocities and the genocide that is going on there, and also to get homeland back for these people. And it's gleamingly apparent at this point that to achieve those goals, the air strikes are not enough, and probably at some point in the near future a ground war will have to be started if we're serious about achieving these goals.
TERENCE SMITH: Greg Thomas, does that seem justified and worth the involvement to you?
GREG THOMAS, Hampden-Sydney College: Well, certainly the humanitarian efforts is something we need to look closely at, but I think that this is a complex issue. This is a battleground, and it has been a battleground for quite some time, ever since the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in 1389 these people have been fighting. And it's going to be difficult to solve a 600-year-old problem with one decision or one action.
TERENCE SMITH: Would you have not done it?
GREG THOMAS: I think that something needed to be done, but before we did these things, I wish we would have had a clearer plan and a clearer cause because I think that there are still a lot of people who are not sure what we're doing over there and why.
TERENCE SMITH: Bridget Blair, how does it seem to you and to the students at Penn State?
BRIDGET BLAIR, Penn State University: Well, as far as the students that we've been receiving response from on our editorial board and, you know, on our opinions pages, it seems that it's kind of a mixed response, in the fact that a lot of students do feel that it's absolutely necessary for the United States to take a definitive action, but there are some dissenters who do believe that, you know, that the US should not be involved in Kosovo at all. So it's definitely mixed here at Penn State.
TERENCE SMITH: Aesha Rasheed, what's your view?
AESHA RASHEED, University of Oklahoma: Well, I think that it was important for us to get involved. I agree with the earlier speaker who said that eventually a ground war is going to be necessary. We need a mission, we need a focus, a plan is important, but I think that if we're going to end that once and for all, we really are going to have to commit ground troops.
TERENCE SMITH: Sharif Durhams, let me ask you, if that's the case, does this seem worthwhile and justified to you?
SHARIF DURHAMS, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Well, to me personally, yes, it does seem that we have to intervene in this situation. A lot of the arguments that I've heard against that have been say we didn't intervene in Rwanda, why intervene in this situation? Well, I think the international community has shown that it in fact it wishes it intervened in a situation like Rwanda and in fact it should intervene in some way here. A ground war might be our only option to actually succeed in our goals.
|Are they engaged?|
TERENCE SMITH: Dan Alter, I wonder how much this touches you and affects you and people that you know at Wisconsin and people your age. Thirty years ago, you would have been confronted with a prospect of draft and Vietnam after graduation. That's not the case now. Does this affect you personally?
DAN ALTER: It affects us personally. It's interesting, because it seems that the reaction, at least at the University of Wisconsin and at the Badger Herald, has been much more low key compared to any other conflicts that we've had in our young lifetimes. And I think part of the thing is that our generation is not used to this definition of war. They're used to a type of war that is extremely quick and extremely painless and doesn't raise these kinds of hard questions that wars always did before we were born. And that sort of generational unawareness, I think, has made it difficult for people to really be able to grasp the significance and the importance of what is going on in that region.
TERENCE SMITH: Greg, what about the students at Hampden-Sydney, is this something that they are engaged by?
GREG THOMAS: I think they're well aware of the problem. And they're looking for a cause. They're looking for somebody to come out and say this is what we're doing and this is why we're doing it. I think that 30 years ago it definitely would have been talked about by everybody. We are an all-male school, and this is something that would have directly affected everybody at the institution. And now this is something that they definitely look at and are aware of. And I think they'd like to know more about what we're doing and why.
TERENCE SMITH: Bridget Blair, did the capture of the three young American soldiers bring it home to you and your fellow students, perhaps more than it had been before?
BRIDGET BLAIR: You know, it's surprising it really brought it home to me, but I don't really know that it brought to home to so many students, because of the fact that you just mentioned, there being no threat of a draft. The fact that it isn't so close to our home, you know, not on US -- the US front -
TERENCE SMITH: Right.
BRIDGET BLAIR: So it really hasn't -- it hasn't really affected a lot of students.
TERENCE SMITH: But you say it did bring it home to you, why?
BRIDGET BLAIR: Well, I think it definitely gave a face to, you know, what's happening in Kosovo, and to see them and to see the televised -- you know the televised -- them on television I think that, you know, it definitely gave it a face to me and made me see that there are, you know, really people affected by this, not that I didn't realize that before, but to see it makes a difference.
TERENCE SMITH: Aesha Rasheed, what about you when you saw those faces on television and you know they're still in captivity?
AESHA RASHEED: Well, seeing the captured soldiers did put a face to it, but I think what's brought it home to me and I think a lot of the students at University of Oklahoma, is we have a large international population, and students who are from that area, and a recent -- recently a group even had a forum to discuss the issues. And when we started covering the Kosovo crisis from their perspectives, talking to students who came from there, professors who were Albanian and Serbian, then I started noting letters to the editor pouring in about the topic on a much greater level. Up to that point it had been something far away, something that didn't really affect them, what the earlier speaker said about not being affected by a draft, and issues like that, it was on another front, and it didn't affect us. But when another student that you may see in class is someone who is touched by that and someone who their family is affected by that, it really puts a personal angle on it.
|What are the limits?|
TERENCE SMITH: Sharif Durhams, if the US was justified in this action, would it be justified in another? Should it intervene in the face of another humanitarian catastrophe or the threat of one? Should it intervene everywhere? What are the limits?
SHARIF DURHAMS: What are the limits? Well, I think that's something the international community ask really defining right now. But should the US intervene in these situations? I think the international community is starting to say yes. More and more we're starting to actually not be isolated, but to reach out to other countries. Like I said, I think the international community, the United Nations and other groups have said that we made mistakes before by not intervening in places like Rwanda, and I think we're starting to see that, the importance of our goals should be beyond our own borders.
TERENCE SMITH: That, Greg Thomas, raises the old question of the US as the world's policemen.
GREG THOMAS: Well, we certainly, being the only remaining superpower, are looked to, to be the world's policemen, and this just shows the need of a constant direction of our foreign policy which has been absent during the President's administration, and this shows the need for an agreed-upon foreign policy that we can take into the next millennium.
TERENCE SMITH: Dan Alter, you spoke of ground forces at the very beginning there. That suggests a wider war, a longer conflict, something that may go on for some time. Does that prospect give you any pause?
DAN ALTER: Well, of course, it does. I think it gives everyone quite a bit of consternation, and I think, you know, to refer back to an earlier question, as soon as you start talking about American lives, and when you're talking about the three captives that are over there now, that's when people really start to look at that as a very frightening prospect. And I think when you send in and you start talking about a ground war and you send in troops, you're dealing with the harsh reality that American lives are going to be lost. And I think that is going to cause anyone to take a step back and say, you know, reevaluate things. But again, I think it is going to be a necessary measure.
TERENCE SMITH: Bridget Blair, what do you think would be the reaction in the face of American casualties, not just captives, but casualties?
BRIDGET BLAIR: Well, I imagine that there will be a lot of people who want us to pull out right away if there are American casualties, but then again, you're fighting a war for humanitarian reasons, and I mean, to stop genocide, that's a really, really important thing that the United States has to represent, and I think that's what people really need to realize is the bottom line here.
TERENCE SMITH: Aesha Rasheed, if the US is right and NATO is right to stop what's described as genocide or certainly humanitarian catastrophe here, would it have been elsewhere? Of course people make a parallel on Rwanda.
AESHA RASHEED: I think absolutely. We were wrong and we made mistakes in the past. I think the American people and students, everyone understands that when American troops get -- when America gets involved in an international conflict we have some stake in it. And, it makes us look bad when we say oh, this is for humanitarian reasons and we have to stop this tragedy, when everybody can kind of see there's ulterior motives in there holding that together, the fear of Milosevic's - you know -- expansion, and I think that we made a mistake not to intervene in Rwanda, and I think that this sets a scary precedent in some ways, but a right one.
TERENCE SMITH: Sharif Durhams, the argument is made by critics that this is NATO stepping outside of its role, in fact, attacking a sovereign country. Is there any resonance to that argument where you are?
SHARIF DURHAMS: Well, I don't know what the student reaction is to that question, but I would think that certainly the government is going to take flack for that. I mean, it's the first NATO expansion to a country beyond its borders, we weren't invited in, and yet, NATO did take this action. The problem, of course, is that NATO is probably the only group that would have been willing to take action and counter Milosevic. So, since you have that complication there, yes, the government is going to take flack for that and NATO is going to take flack for that, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a right thing to do.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Sharif and all of you, thanks very much. We're out of time. We appreciate it.