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A campus divided

The Pacer takes a local look back at one of the biggest stories of 2003, the War in Iraq

It has been nearly a year since a nation was mulling over immanent conflict with Iraq, with attempt after failed attempt to gain international backing for the US-led operation. Both supporters and protestors hit the streets of Washington D.C. and cities all over the world to make their case known.

On February 1, 2003, a small group of University Scholars Organization members gathered after President George W. Bush's annual State of the Union address to discuss the coming conflict.

“The thing about Students and Faculty Against W. Acting Rashly is that we weren't so much an anti-war group as we aspired to be a watchdog group,” group founder Samantha Young said, reflecting on the past year.

“Even the choosing of even the name was a huge philosophical discussion, because some were flat out against the war and others, like myself, would support a war as long as we felt the administration was being honest about the reasons for going to war.”

The group met again the following day, in planning for a campus-wide meeting. S.A.F.A.W.A.R. held its public meeting at 5 p.m., February 17.

Dr. Roy Neil Graves, of the UTM English department, was one of the attendees of that meeting.

"Sitting on the stage in the corner of the game room where on other nights an "open mic" event might transpire, letting students express themselves unsupervised on most any topic, the VCSA started her discourse by saying that she hoped she didn't “rain on your parade” but that today she had “read the law,” Graves said in a Pacer column.

Young said, "Dr. High came in with four ROTC students and told us we couldn't have organized, official meetings on campus without being a group" In response, Young immediately appointed Karen Yarbrough as Vice President, Steve Helgeson as Treasurer in order to satisfy the requirements outlined by High.

Despite the effort, the Vice Chancellor said that the organization still must be approved through the proper channels, and offered any help in expediting that process.

Graves said of High, “Her tone was businesslike, polite, and carefully not antagonistic or belligerent."

S.A.F.A.W.A.R. continued about the work of petitioning up until March 17, when the nation turned its sights on a solitary figure in front of a camera, addressing the nation from the Oval Office.

"We will accept no outcome but victory."

With those words, President George W. Bush reopened a chapter in American history closed since the early nineties. The nation and the world gathered around television sets and radios on March 17, 2003 to hear how failed negations at the United Nations would affect the call for a "regime change" in Iraq.

American media was bombarded with new catch phrases such as "Weapons of Mass Destruction," and "shock and awe" over the next few days. The first major offensive, a massive air assault launched March 19 surprised many analysts, expecting a calculated advance towards Baghdad.

Reports immediately followed saying that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may have been killed in one of the so named "decapitation attacks."

"Tonight, we are sitting here drinking beer, watching the war on television, listening to loud music, and grilling out on the roof," alumnus Matthew Crouch said that evening. "I do believe we're doing everything they hate about us."

Joseph Dacus, Pacer Sports Editor and a junior history major from Dukedom, Tenn. joined six students from the University of Tennessee at Martin to board a plane at the end of March, bound for Kuwait.

Dacus, 23, married his longtime fiancée in January, less than three months before his departure. For him, there would be no honeymoon until he returned. Word of the divided campus arrived to him in phone conversations and newspaper columns.

In a letter to The Pacer, he said, "Instead of basically praying for the survival of the enemy, why don't you pray for those who are ensuring your basic right to breathe?"

The war was quickly transformed from the traditional columns of mechanized units moving across the Iraqi sands to soldiers patrolling the streets of the region's hotspots, ever vigilant of the next guerilla attack. The affects of setbacks in controlling the peace in Iraq drew sharp criticism an ocean away.

"I believe that Saddam and his regime did have weapons of mass destruction, probably from the notion of being beaten to death by Bush, but where are they? Where is Saddam? Once again, where is bin Laden?," Pacer columnist Rick Rast said.

Dacus defended his position, saying "As a human being, I could never leave here and allow this place to turn back to what it was: a tyrant's killing field. Even if no weapons of mass destruction are ever found, from the perspective of a man that fought in this war and saw its effects and costs, I will always say this was a war worth fighting."

A year later, Samantha Young's tone has changed, but her heart hasn't.

"I'm glad people are coming home safe, saddened that some have died, and really disappointed that no WMDs have been found. I wanted to be proven wrong. I'm also concerned about how the new Iraqi government will work out," she said. Her concerns for the future of a "liberated" Iraq shy away from the debates of "what if."

"I'm afraid that, without letting the UN in on anything, we face either installing a government ourselves (thus delegitimizing the democracy therein) or watching a theocracy sweep in," Young said.

Joe Dacus and two other UTM students deployed last March returned the morning of December 11 to Ft. Campbell, Ky. His wife Jennifer and members of his fraternity were there to welcome him and other members of the 1174th home. The other three students had returned earlier for medical reasons or other circumstances.

Dacus said that he knows the job is not yet done in Iraq. For him, it will always be a war worth fighting.