Iraq: A Postwar Student Survey

By Alan Shapiro

 

 
To the Teacher:
 
With the main fighting in Iraq over, you may find it useful to have a session with students to determine their reactions to recent events. This may serve to:
 
  • provide you with insights into how the war in Iraq has affected your students
  • help students clarify their thinking about the war
  • provide you with information that will help you guide student inquiry into the consequences of the war
In this initial assessment, you might find it useful to have students answer the following survey in writing so that they are not unduly influenced by other students' views.
 
 

Iraq: A Postwar Student Survey

Directions: Answer each of the following questions in a few sentences.
 
1. Now that the main fighting in Iraq is over, how do you FEEL about the U.S. action in Iraq?
 
2. What do you THINK about the U.S. action in Iraq?
 
3. What do you understand the purpose or purposes of the U.S. action to have been?
 
4. How well do you think those US purposes have been accomplished?
 
5. What effects has the war had on the Iraqi people, to your knowledge?
 
6. What, if anything, do you wish had been done differently? Why?
 
7. Where did you get most of your information about the war from?
 
8. What expectations, if any, do you have about future US action in Iraq?
 
 

To the Teacher:
 
Collect the responses and tell students that you will report the results of the questionnaire to them and use them as a basis for a discussion. Below are some suggestions about that report and the discussion to follow.
 
 
Question #1
 
"Feelings are facts" is a well-known slogan in the human relations field. You may want to make this point after you report student responses and before inviting students to comment about why they feel as they do. Some students may be very clear and emphatic; others may express mixed feelings; still others may prefer to keep their feelings to themselves, a privacy that the teacher should honor. Unanimity of feeling is unlikely. But it's helpful to expose students to a multiplicity of emotions in a class atmosphere where students can feel safe about saying what they really feel. The process helps students to recognize and respect diversity and promotes honest expression in future discussions.
 
Question #2
 
When discussing what students think about the war, it may be useful to follow up with questions of the "why" variety. In their responses students may be articulate, clear, and convincing. They may also reveal inconsistencies and misinformation that should be challenged, most desirably by other students.
 
Question #3
 
At various times President Bush articulated four basic purposes for his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and the subsequent US attack on Iraq. (See the President's speech of 3/17/03 for specific language. Relevant excerpts are available on this website in "Iraq and the United States: The Road to War.)
 
a. elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
b. "regime change," that is, the removal of Saddam Hussein and his government
c. development of a peaceful and democratic government chosen by the Iraqi people
d. the use of such a government as a model for other countries in the Middle East.
 
To what extent are students aware of these presidential purposes?
 
Question #4
 
a. To date, US forces have not discovered any weapons of mass destruction.
b. The Saddam Hussein regime is over, a few top governmental figures are in US custody but not many others, including Saddam Hussein himself.
c. and d. Only the future can answer them.
 
Question #5
 
The question raises issues that students can explore in the weeks and months to come. Some of the effects (to date) include:
 
  • 1,252 Iraqi civilians and an unknown number of Iraqi soldiers were killed, according to the Center for Defense Information (www.cdi.org). The US and British lost 159 soldiers.
  • Some Iraqis reacted with joy to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; others expressed anger at the takeover by foreign powers; many appeared to have a mix of reactions. Many Iraqis (and much of the Arab and Muslim world) urged the US to transfer power back to Iraqis and leave Iraq as soon as possible.
  • In the aftermath of the war, there was a great deal of looting, including of museums containing invaluable historical items.
  • Iraq's public water and electrical systems were damaged during the war, leaving many Iraqis without easy access to these essentials.
  • Shiite Muslims represent at least 60% of the Iraqi population, Sunni Muslims about 37%, and Christians and others the remaining 3% (New York Times, 4/23/03). Shiites had been repressed under the regime of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim. Since the overthrow of Hussein, Shiites have flexed their newfound freedom with demonstrations and a massive religious commemoration.
  • While there are rivalries for leadership of the Shiites and some difference of opinion about whether Iraq should become an Islamic state (there is a secular minority among Shiites), there is little disagreement among Shiites that the US should not influence Iraqi affairs.
  • Iranian agents are in Iraq working to influence developments in Iraq (New York Times, 4/23/03). Iran, like Iraq, is a mostly Shiite nation. Despite the efforts of democratic reformers, Iran continues to be an Islamic state whose leader is appointed for life.
  • Several US firms with strong personal and financial ties to the Bush administration (including Halliburton and Bechtel) have received lucrative contracts to do work in post-Hussein Iraq.
For information on postwar developments in Iraq, you may find the BBC website helpful. BBC is currently maintaining a page of information on the subject: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/middle_east/2002/conflict_with_iraq/.... The BBC site also includes many original documents related to the Iraq War. For alternative perspectives on the war and its aftermath, see www.commondreams.org.
 
Question #6
 
Student responses will probably depend, in particular, upon how well they followed prewar events. An issue for a fair number of people both in the US and abroad is the role of the United Nations. Should the US have followed the French view, for example, that there should have been an intensification of inspections? Should the US have sought common ground with most Security Council members on a UN role? In both cases, why or why not?
 
Question #7
 
If, as is likely, students got most of their information from TV, it can be useful to get their reactions to coverage in that medium. What, exactly, did they notice about it? (See "War and the Media: A Resource Unit" on this website for suggestions.)
 
 
Question #8
 
This question can lead to an examination in coming weeks of progress, or the lack of it, on points "c" and "d" above. Teachers might want to have students monitor what is happening in Iraq and have regular discussions about what, specifically, is being done to move the country toward democracy and what, specifically, are the obstacles to progress.
 
This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org.