47:AnthroNews: Panel on the Iraq War

30 03 2008

On Wednesday, March 12th, professors of anthropology, communications, history, philosophy, and political science met to present answers to the question: “What have we learned from five years of war in Iraq?”  This event was held from 6 pm to 8 pm in the lecture hall in the Student Recreation Center and was sponsored by the anthropology, philosophy, and political science clubs and the Ethics Center at Fresno State.  Approximately 65 students and community members attended the hour long presentation and a second hour of questions and answers moderated by students from the participating organizations.   

Historian Don Stillwell opened the discussion with a heroic attempt to explain, within the allotted 12 minutes, the thousands of years of history during which the divisions in modern Iraq developed.  Dr. Ellen Gruenbaum of the Anthropology department spoke on the challenges of interacting with other cultures without either demonizing or infantilizing them, and on the current attempts by the United States military to do a better job in this respect with the help of anthropologists working on the Human Terrain System.  Professor of Communications, Kevin Ayotte, argued that what can be learned from the current war is constrained by the words that we use to describe it.  Dr. Andrew Fiala, a professor of philosophy, followed up with a discussion of the Iraq war in terms of Just War Theory, concluding that a truly just war is a myth.  Our final speaker, Dr. Yashaiya Abosch of the Political Science department, brought out a theme that arose in a number of earlier panelists’ presentations:  Who is ‘we?’  He argued that there is no realistic ‘we’ to learn lessons from the Iraq war, and expressed doubts that powerful and weak states can ever have a shared concept of justice.         

During the following hour, panelists accepted questions from the audience about their presentations.  Professor Gruenbaum closed the evening with a hopeful observation:  The lecture hall was filled, for two hours, by people who could have left early, or not come at all, but who genuinely cared about learning something from current successes and failures in the war in Iraq.

Many thanks to our panelists for sharing their time and diverse expertise and to the student moderators:  Steve Colagiovanni, Heather Balcom, Anthony Ferrucci, and Taylor Hartline.



2 responses

9 04 2008

Another thing I thought was important about the panel was the discussion of ethics. In the case of anthropology, we have to consider what anthropologists’ participation in the military’s Human Terrain Project will mean for the reputation of our discipline and for our traditional ethical commitment to do no harm to the people whose trust we must earn in order to do cultural anthropology field work. Will giving information about people we study inadvertently lead to harming them? Or helping them? Will people begin to see us as spies, thereby harming future work by anthropologists? Is it ethical to engage in fieldwork in the service of war? Are efforts to prevent worse harm (in the context of war) better than doing nothing? What do you think?

13 04 2008
Making Anthropology Public

I was not there at the Panel at Fresno State, but I am glad that colleges are still talking about this important topic.

I think that the topic of the Iraq war is often filled with raw emotion and not enough person thought and research. People want others to do the work for them in how they understanding the war. Developing thoughts and ways to “help solve and end the war” causing people to find themselves talking about other peoples opinions and other peoples facts and information. They have not really done any real thinking about the Iraq war, war on terrorism, or America helping to rebuild Iraq. People listen to what others say and I have found that there are any that have not talked to the soldiers or heard the people working on the different special projects in Iraq in the efforts to try to help them rebuild there great nation without the chaos of the past repeating itself.

People need to be better informed by there own efforts instead of relying on the mass media, politicians not personal actively involved, protestors or supports that have nothing, but emotion drive feed by favored movie star. Find the real stories from the people living it or do something about it over the past five years. I believe that more of there voices need to be heard and considered valuable to see what people and Americans have really learned form this time war. America are in this war if they like it or not and to many of them listen and learn form the masses sitting safely no the sidelines.

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