While President George W. Bush continues to warn Americans about the dangers Saddam Hussein’s regime pose to the nation, a GW professor recently visited Iraq, a so-called member of the “axis of evil.”
Business professor Tom Nagy returned from a two-week humanitarian mission to protect Iraqi children from what he believes would be unwarranted U.S. attacks on their country last week.
“I will do anything to slow the rush to war which endangers Iraqi children,” Nagy said in an interview from Jordan, shortly before he returned to the United States last week.
Nagy performed a variety of tasks while in Iraq, including providing estimates of the number of civilians needed to act as a human shield to protect infrastructure and buildings for Iraqi citizens.
“My colleagues expressed fear for my life from the Iraqis, but I feared U.S. bombs more,” Nagy said. “Happily, there were not any problems from either source.”
While in Iraq, Nagy worked in conjunction with two international humanitarian groups, Voices in the Wilderness and Generation Peace, in protecting infrastructure such as water and sewage plants by using their bodies as shields. Nagy said the idea behind the project is that the United States will be less likely to bomb targets if humans protect them.
“This has been scary but effective before in protecting hospitals and schools,” Nagy said.
Despite Bush’s address to the nation last week and persistent rhetoric that Saddam Hussein is planning an attack on the United States, Nagy said he feels current U.S. foreign policy advocating possible military action against Iraq is dangerous and violates international protocol.
“Plainly, U.S. foreign policy is in grave violation of the Geneva Convention,” he said. “This is an ongoing strain against the honor of the U.S. and endangers all children, including our own. Most of the world agrees with me and thinks the current foreign policy is dangerous and counterproductive.”
Nagy also challenges people who call his work abroad unpatriotic.
“Patriotism is working and taking risks for the safety of all people, especially kids,” he said. “I view my work as that of one old professor trying to do his part so students can grow up into a sane world.”
Some students questioned whether Nagy’s work is really benefiting students.
“He sounds like a highly partisan crusader who is trying to fill the minds of his students with blatant propaganda,” sophomore Adam Ramey said. “The fact that this person teaches here really sickens me.”
Other students, like senior Perry Wasserman, said Nagy should be free to promote his own opinions, as long as he is generally open-minded.
“I don’t have a problem with a professor traveling to Iraq,” Wasserman said. “I just hope he allows everyone the opportunity to present their viewpoints in class.”
Nagy defends his teaching style and said he tolerates viewpoints that disagree with his own.
“I do choose deliberately provocative examples. After all, I teach grad students, not kindergartners,” Nagy said. “I have a nearly 20-year track record of promoting open discussion about controversies. I don’t see a conflict if I am open and fair and protect dissents, including views opposite to mine.”
Robert Moll, director of communications for the School of Business and Public Management, said Nagy’s work in Iraq was performed in his role as a private citizen and not as a GW employee.
“Professor Nagy is following his personal beliefs and his work in Iraq is unrelated to GW,” Moll said. “This is just him acting as a private citizen, exercising his right of freedom of speech.”
Moll said Nagy had the approval of his department for the trip and other professors covered his courses during his absence.
When he returns to Washington, he hopes to raise public awareness about the plight of the Iraqi people, Nagy said.
“I will try to get members of Congress to put my final report into the Congressional Record and I also plan on having lots of speeches and press conferences,” Nagy said. “I felt an ethical imperative to see the policy from the ground and I really feel grief for the plight of the average Iraqi citizen.”