World War III During Our College Years?

A whisper has been rumbling across our college campus. In the weeks following the effects of radical tension rising between the U.S. and Iran, assumptions are being made by young people. After the assassination of Qasem Soleimani— one of Iran’s most prominent military leaders-nothing has been the same. As headlines of the assassination hit U.S. and World News reports, memes sprung up on every social media platform. These directly addressed the fear of young people being drafted for World War III. News broadcasters spoke with sweat dripping from their foreheads, “This could eventually be a World War III situation folks…” The memes of the draft spoke louder than many reporters could speak the week of January 3rd, 2020. While memes are a valued communicative tool among millennials, this showed the deep and legitimate concern regarding World War III. The response of the young told the world that we really can pay attention when we want to. The opposing argument remains: while we are on the brink of something so large and detrimental to our nation, the young people just share memes. Both arguments hold weight. How could a college student go further than a meme, yet remain as influential as they are when they share the meme? First, it is important to know the truth so that fear is not crippling, nor false reality spreading.

Here’s what’s really happening…

Rising Tensions:

Tensions between the United States and Iran span decades, forming deep and complex roots. One of the recent issues in this strenuous relationship has been the Nuclear Deal. President Trump, along with other world powers, signed this agreement in response to Iran’s attempt to create nuclear weapons. Iran agreed to stop pursuing nuclear arms and to allow inspections from international governments. However, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Nuclear Deal in May of 2018, adding to the strain between the countries.

Assassination January 3rd:

The first violent offense in the Iran-United States escalation did not occur on January 3rdof 2020; rather, President Trump ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani– one of Iran’s most prominent military leaders– that day. Soleimani has a long history of violence, which includes the killing of an American contractor in late December. He is also presumed guilty of taking the lives of hundreds of other American soldiers. In retaliation, the U.S. sent airstrikes to both Iraq and Syria which resulted in the death of 25 members of Iran’s militia, named Kata’ib Hezbollah. Iran fought back by attacking the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. General Soleimani was at the head of this offense, and rumors circulated of plans to attack again. This ultimately provoked his assassination. Without consulting Congress, Trump issued orders for Soleimani’s assassination as a matter of national security. A drone shot Iranian General Soleimani dead at Baghdad International Airport. While American public support of the decision was divided, it caused an  escalation of tensions in Iran. Over 1 million people showed up for his public funeral, some declaring him a “national hero”, while others danced for their freedom in the streets. The Iranian commander-in-chief spoke against the U.S., saying “We will take revenge. We will set ablaze where we like!” His target was Israel, shouting “Death to Israel!” A stampede broke out in the crowd, killing 56 people and injuring more than 200.

Air Base Attacked January 8th:               

In the early hours of January 8th, the United States received warning that an American military base in Iraq would be attacked by Iranian forces. American troops evacuated to bunkers to ensure their safety. Six missiles hit the base within the next two hours. This attack marked one of the largest attacks on a U.S. military base in decades. However, Iran had only hit equipment hangers and unimportant infrastructure. Many speculated about why more damage had not been done to the Iraqi base. One answer shows Iran responding to the United States as one would a bully: when someone bigger and stronger threatens their victim on the playground, the victim cannot punch back without starting a full-on fist fight and being overpowered by the bully. However, a small poke can de-escalate the situation while still preserving some dignity. Iran’s militia does not have the same power as the United States military so a direct affront would start an unfair fight, one that they would almost certainly lose. The attack on sheds and equipment instead of people shows this attempt to preserve dignity, while de-escalating the conflict.  

A Catastrophic “Mistake” January 9th:

Hours after the nonfatal attacks on American Iraqi bases, a missile shot down a Ukranian aircraft. The attack killed 176 passengers with no survivors. After uncertainty about the nature and intent of the attack, Iran admitted to firing the missile. President Hassan Rouhani tweeted about the incident, calling it a “great tragedy & unforgivable mistake.”

The military unit that struck down the plane thought it was a cruise missile. Upon realizing the truth, the unit’s commander reported on Iranian television: “I wished I was dead.” It is clear that this grave mistake was entirely unintentional. Iran experienced more protests, as thousands of citizens were enraged at the Iranian government for the “human error.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent a 45-person investigation team into Iran, declaring “the guilty will be punished.”

President Trump’s Response:

In a public address on January 8, President Trump discussed the recent events. While declaring a firm zero-tolerance policy on Iran’s nuclear endeavors, Trump appeared to be backing down from any pursuit of war. Quotes from his speech include: “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” and “The U.S. is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.” Overall, Trump’s reaction to current events with Iran appeared peace-pursuing. That’s not to say that the president will not take firm measures against Iran, however: “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” President Trump declared. 

Current Conversations in Washington D.C: 

Should the President be allowed to declare military action ranging from assassination or war without congressional approval? Trump did not inform Congress about his intention to assassinate general Qasem Soleimani. This is legal and constitutional, as long as evidence shows that the killing was a response to an “imminent threat.” The following congressional debrief on Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani had very mixed responses. Republican Senator Mike Lee said the briefing was the worst he had heard in nine years in the Senate, at least on a military issue. However, Senator Jim Risch reported that officials had provided “crystal-clear information.” Congress will vote on the War Powers Resolution soon, which will decide if a president can declare war without congressional approval. 

What does this mean for Hope College?: 

You will not be drafted anytime soon. However, tensions are rising in the Middle East and these are uncertain times we are living in. The vulnerable affected by the current political tensions have only just begun enduring this journey. We must think of the hardship in the lives of the ones directly impacted. Political commentary is important, necessary, and a means to clarity, but it does not immediately change the state of ruined families or individuals terrorized by war. A meme is an acknowledgment of the times, but we must be careful not to stop there. College is a safe environment to discover and grow into politically grounded individuals and a time when mistakes are more easily forgiven and learning is cultivated. Taking a stance in the current political climate is necessary for every American adult, especially college students. We have the opportunity to be the forerunners of change in America. If we pay attention now, we will gain a respectable voice to stand on in the days to come. If the days don’t get much brighter, at least we will know what we are dealing with when it’s our turn to step up to bat.


Article by Kate Chupp and Emily Voss

Editor: Emma DesLauriers-Knop


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