Historians Against the War: Georgia Conference (April 2008)





Mr. O'Brien and Ms. Power are members of the Steering Committee of Historians Against the War.

Historians Against the War (HAW) held its second national conference, titled “War and Its Discontents: Understanding Iraq and the U.S. Empire,” at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta, April 11-13, 2008. The conference was co-sponsored by the Peace History Society.

Forty-six different colleges and universities and several high schools from all over the country were represented among the panelists, who also included a number of non-academic activists. The panels covered a variety of topics ranging from the history of the Middle East, to resistance in the military, to discussions of teaching.

The conference had four featured speakers, two in a Friday evening keynote plenary and two at the end of the Saturday program. Friday’s speakers were longtime black and labor-union activist Bill Fletcher, Jr. and best-selling author Naomi Klein. Bill Fletcher analyzed the historical relation of race and empire (“the double helix”) and Naomi Klein emphasized the need for historical understanding to resist “shock capitalism.” Between three and four hundred people attended the program and listened attentively and enthusiastically through the question and answer period.

Saturday’s plenary highlighted two historians of the Middle East, whose talks complemented each other. Zachary Lockman of New York University painted a broad picture of “The United States in the Middle East: Continuities and Discontinuities” and Dina Rizk Khoury, of George Washington University spoke on “The Cost of War in Iraq: Sects, Tribes, and Refugees.” Both talks were well received.

(Video and audio files of both the plenary sessions are available on the conference website. The website also has links to a number of the papers delivered at other sessions.)

Participants frequently commented on the atmosphere of sharing and cooperation that marked the conference. One academic historian who attended without being part of a panel wrote afterwards: “The conference was an amazing experience for me, both intellectually and emotionally. It was very nurturing and inspiring to be surrounded by people who came from so many different backgrounds, ‘political’ and ‘apolitical,’ ‘politically correct’ and ‘incorrect,’ ‘radical’ and ‘conservative.’ ”

She added, “It had been a while since I felt that people who used the word ‘imperialism’ actually understood what they were talking about instead of just throwing around these code words in order to be marked as ‘politically correct.’ So, thank you, for reinvigorating my hope in thinkers, researchers, practitioners, and teachers of justice.”

The conference ended with a small but lively Sunday afternoon plenary discussing what historians can and should be doing about the war. Suggestions ranged from YouTube videos and teach-ins to high school lesson plans and, more generally, closer collaboration between college and high school teachers.

 


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