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ISSUE 121 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/21/2007

Semester theme sparks debate

By Emily Koester
News Editor

Friday, September 21, 2007

This year's Convocation marked not only the beginning of an academic year, but also the beginning of a new campus theme, "Liberal Arts in Times of War." This theme, a continuation of last year's focus on global issues was pioneered by religion and philosophy professor Edmund Santurri. Santurri articulated the theme in his Sept. 6 Convocation address titled "Liberal Arts, General Petraeus and the Counterinsurgency Manual."

Throughout his academic career, Santurri has conducted extended research on war and its ethical implications, and he is currently teaching a class titled, "The Ethics of War." In his address, Santurri stated that his most interesting item of research was the U.S. Army and Marine Corp Counterinsurgency Field Manual; Petraeus, a collaborator on this manual, currently commands the war effort in Iraq.

Santurri stated that the idea of counterinsurgency war does not only pertain to the current times. "Counterinsurgency war is likely to be a pressing matter for the remainder of our lifetimes," he said.

Santurri emphasized Petraeus' moral focus in the counterinsurgency. Petraeus supports the prospect of combatants risking their safety rather than attacking preemptively; in other words, soldiers should not attack without knowing whether or not a civilian is armed. Petraeus claims that this is not a matter only of strategy but of moral principle. Santurri himself supports such a view, and stated that it is important to consider war within a moral context.

Viewing war within a moral context requires that war be discussed; Santurri hopes that the new theme of Liberal Arts in Times of War will open up such discussion. "The point is to get things percolating through reflection, teaching and learning," Santurri said. He also encouraged students to "keep discourse going even if it seems few are listening."

The theme "Liberal Arts in Times of War" extends far beyond the Convocation address. During Week One, first-year students engaged in faculty-led discussions about the liberal arts, war and global citizenship. Throughout the year, a variety of speakers will come to address the theme. On Sept. 27 David Little, a professor from Harvard Divinity School, will come to discuss the role of the acadmic during times of war. On Oct. 17, Sergeant John Krisel of the Minnesota National Guard will come to discuss his experiences as a soldier in Kosovo and Iraq. Numerous other themed events can be found on the St. Olaf website.

Among the scheduled events are a series of chapel talks, taking place on the four Mondays following fall break. These speakers fall into a number of disciplines including history, classics, religion, and philosophy. When Pastor Bruce Benson picked these speakers, he wanted to find some one "who would want to stand up in chapel and talk about war," he said. Since professors of such subjects already taught about war, Benson chose them to speak, knowing they'd be comfortable with the topic. Benson also noted the place of war in our own history. "Our school, after all, is named for the warrior Olaf Haraldsson," Benson said.

Pastor Bruce Benson admitted that at first, he was apprehensive about people's reactions to a campus-wide theme on war. "The subject tends to rile folks," said Benson. "However, when we are in a country that is involved in war, it is worth thinking about it in a college setting. We shouldn't be merely reacting; we should be thinking."

The architects behind "Liberal Arts in Times of War" hope that discussion also takes place outside of scheduled events. Indeed, professors from a variety of departments are beginning to integrate the theme. Kay Smith from the math department is incorporating connections between math and war in the math department newsletter. Her first article dealt with connections between number theory and the use of cryptography, or codes, in war.

Above all, the program of "Liberal Arts in Times of War" is designed to facilitate discussion. In his convocation speech, Santurri listed things to keep in mind when discussing war.

Chiefly, we should be aware of our own self-interest and emotional responses. We should watch out for intellectual conformity, and but also not disagree for disagreement's sake. Santurri said the theme "is an invitation to the larger community to think about the implictions of of their actions."

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