Students for a Democratic Society-SMCM (SDS) assembled a plethora of speakers for the first Victims of Warfare teach-in; a three-day, six-hour event highlighting the horrors and misconceptions of war.
The lecture was held Dec. 2, 3, and 4 in Goodpaster Hall and drew crowds of interested students willing to learn from the experiences of these enlightened and powerful speakers.
The goal of the teach-in was to “re-humanize the victims of war and de-sanitize the violence of war,” said junior Jack Mumby, an active member of SDS. Speakers included professors from several academic disciplines, a member of Feminists United for Sexual Equality (FUSE), and both victims and soldiers of warfare who shared personal accounts.
The lecture began with a speech by Associate Professor of Political Science Sahar Shafqat, on the United State’s current involvement in Afghanistan. After a discussion of media portrayals of war, Shafqat showed attendees photographs of a soldier on Afghani soil.
“We have been told that this is a good war. I question the logic that war can be good,” Shafqat said. “America is seen as an occupying force, and the people [in Afghanistan] will support the Taliban over an occupying force that has no knowledge of the peoples wants and needs. The only way to help is to leave.”
The lecture spurred a lot of discussion on American influence in the Middle East, and the reasons for going to war. Former Iraq soldier Josh Stieber, also a speaker for the event, commented on the matter.
“I was told that liberation is going on in the Middle East and that we were going to spread freedom and democracy,” Stieber said. “There are all these motivations that go into war.”
The teach-in continued with a discussion on state terror tactics in countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, given by Political Science Professor Fevzi Bilgin.
Personal experiences of several wars were also a topic of discussion among speakers, who told stories from the perspectives of both soldier and citizen. Professor of Religious Studies Katherina Von Kellenbach shared her memories of the Gulf war, which were affected by Germany’s cultural memory of bombings during World War II.
She showed photographs of indiscriminate bombings of cities and fire storms, and spoke of the traumatic affect of war on citizens in her country.
“The scars of that war are absolutely alive,” Kellenbach said. “I can never think about Iraq or Afghanistan and not image what it would feel like 60 years later . . . 100 years later. There’s no way to even speak about these experiences.”
Another deeply personal account of warfare was given by Dr. Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls, a novel on his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War and the aftermath of being a veteran. Karlin read several poems written by Vietnam veterans, including “Song of Napalm” by Bruce Weigl.
“Most veterans didn’t consider themselves poets before the war, they had to find the words,” Karlin said. “When the pain is confronted – that is when you can do something about it.”
In order to kill Vietnamese soldiers, Karlin mentioned that a person would have to dehumanize their enemy. He said, “The first casualty of war is your own heart.”
Karlin has been involved in the student run “DOVE Fund” created to raise money to sponsor a rural revitalization project for central Vietnam. Following his speech was Professor of Economics Ho Nguyen, also involved in the fund, who spoke on the economic and psychological costs of war, as well as the cost of human life.
He also shared his personal experience as a child in the midst of the French invasion in Vietnam.
“I was lucky to be born at all,” Nguyen said. “The French created a famine. My whole family had to go into hiding. These are the victims of war – these people did nothing and were on the receiving end, like I was.”
Co-president of FUSE junior Johanna Galat discussed how women are victimized in war, termed “feminicide.” According to Galat, Women were often sexually assaulted as citizens in invading countries, as well as while in the army, and rape was often used as a tool of war.
Among the lectures of the horror of warfare was a discussion on hope. English Professor Michael Glaser conveyed a message of hope in the face of warfare in his discussion of the war in the Middle East.
“It is a profoundly important challenge to not become the evil that we deploy,” Glaser said. “It is job is live with as much authenticity and integrity as we possibly can. Even in wartime.”
Similarly, Philosophy Professor Rochelle Greene presented the concept that “change is possible” and engaged the panel of students in an interactive discussion.
“We share this world, I want to discuss what we don’t want to happen in it” Greene said. “Philosophically speaking I want to say hope is the motor that wills us to live . . . and there are steps that we take to negotiate change. This teach-in is doing a great thing. I encourage you to keep asking these questions.”
The SDS hopes to continue this lecture in coming years, possibly making the Victims of Warfare teach-in, an annual event.