Campus discussion of war continues with Wil Smith '00
In a discussion series meant to address issues surrounding the war in Iraq, BSG invited current Director of Multicultural Programs Wil Smith '00 to speak about his time serving in the U.S. Military on Monday evening in Ladd House. A current reservist, Smith served several years of active duty before coming to Bowdoin as a student. He says, "My time of importance is my earlier years in the Navy in 1991 after two years of active duty." Joining a squadron at the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Smith helped patrol the coast on the commonly seen P-3 Orions. The Orion, a large aircraft with four distinct propellers, was first used for high-altitude reconnaissance in the Gulf War.
In 1991, after joining squadron BP-8, Smith served in the last stages of Desert Storm as an in-flight electronics technician, monitoring and performing maintenance on highly advanced surveillance, communication, and radar equipment.
Flying at high altitudes, Smith did not see much first-hand combat, but he still holds the lasting impression that we "were not challenged." He says, "it wasn't a challenge at all, it wasn't much of a war. I remember thinking that if this war was to last a long time, I don't know how long America's military would be able to fight, being afraid that we were to become demoralized." He found the war to be for our opposition like "taking a knife to a gunfight." Iraqi equipment seemed "outdated" as "they never had a chance to come off the ground".
In much the same way, he points to the current lack of opposition in this war of an Iraqi Air Force due to our similar technological advancements, allowing the enemy no room to "even think about getting off the ground." He continued on the war's one-sided nature by saying that it "made [him] wonder what manner of person, whether its good, bad or whatever, would send anyone into such a situation, whether it was right or not. I didn't understand how Saddam Hussein could even ask his soldiers to fight with the equipment that they had."
The second part of Mr. Smith's speech began by asking, "you might be wondering what is the mentality of the sailor, marine, air men or soldier that could kill another person. I know that some of the protests around campus and around Brunswick is that it's just wrong and that you don't need any other reason than its just wrong to kill." He answered by stating that "based on my life experience, that's where the good ol' unequal American education system comes in," highlighting the fact that most soldiers who give their lives overseas were "not the ones who went to a high school that promoted critical thinking and analysis." He then pointed out that some who opposed the war "probably have more patriotism than many of them, but for many of the soldiers its a job; in fact the only decent paying job they can get."
In spite of all this, Mr. Smith finds the incredible discrepancy in socio-economic backgrounds of soldiers producing "quite frankly a big pool to pull from". He found soldiers of this kind less apt to question orders or analyze politics, "quite frankly they don't care they are not trained to think why are we doing this. Many of them never have developed the critical thinking skills, making them the perfect soldier, not to ask questions."
In comparing two distinct thought processes, Smith analyzed the hypothetical situation of moving five boxes from one side of a room to another. He found while soldiers could move the boxes in 10 or 11 seconds, members of a community such as those at Bowdoin would engage the activity by spending "25 minutes trying to figure out the most efficient way."
While valuing both types of thought patterns, he finds a certain mentality necessary for those enlisted. Speaking to the audience, Smith said, "I know that mentality would be very difficult for some of you to understand in a place where we ask you to question everything." He says, "quite frankly the military is just the opposite, questioning nothing," a mentality he finds already imbedded in many of the soldiers before they come to the military. He finds a world of difference between the conversations held at the naval air base and some of the discussions heard here at Bowdoin, valuing both, yet regarding the efficiency behind a certain type of person.
On the question of why we go to war, Smith pointed to intelligence information that even with his "top-secret clearance was not the tip of the iceberg." This "more than anything influences why we go to war; we can speculate about oil, or a whole lot of different things, but ultimately it comes down to economics." Smith felt the greatest reason for going to war was the intelligence gathered and "what they know about Iraq". Similar to pro-war sentiments during Vietnam, Smith felt the intelligence gathered at a federal level was enough to justify this war and the invasion of Iraq.
The war forum will continue over the next two weeks with a much different discussion on Thursday, featuring Joe Bandy, professor of sociology and anthropology. Bandy will speak on "Protest Movements Here and Abroad." A Friday discussion featuring Congressman Tom Allen '67, who represents Maine's First Congressional District, will follow.
The talks have been organized by the BSG in an effort to bring awareness to students through a variety of perspectives and experiences surrounding the war in Iraq. For more information about upcoming events, please visit the Sun website at http://doubletop.bowdoin.edu/sun/.