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ISSUE 121 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/5/2007

Professor lectures on war, academia

By David Benson-Staebler
Staff Writer

Friday, October 5, 2007

David Little, Professor at Harvard Divinity School and recurrent visitor to St. Olaf College, spoke to a group of students, alumni, and professors last Thursday about the ethical responsibilities of professors in the classroom during times of war. Titled "The Academic in Times of War," Little's speech addressed morally ambiguous questions that arise for professors as they strive to maintain academic standards in their classrooms.

Little boasts an illustrious career in both political and ethical issues; he currently teaches both at Harvard's Divinity School and at the Kennedy School of Government. Before teaching at Harvard, he served the on U. S. Institute of Peace and at the State Department Advisory Committee. He has been active in policy issues throughout his entire career.

Little's experience with academia in times of war began during the Vietnam War. He spoke about the "bandwagon approach" that characterized academia during the war; when he supported the war (in contrast to most academics at the time), he stated that he became an "academic outcast."

Those who ousted him, according to Little, did not uphold ethical scholarly norms. During this period, Little debated such scholars as Noam Chomsky on the justification of the Vietnam War.

Little advocates a classroom approach in which professors can and indeed must express their opinions on war. According to Little, if a professor does not express his or her opinion on war then he or she is compliant in said war.

He sees his experience with Vietnam as an example of the importance of ethical scholarly norms: each professor should express his or her opinion in an academic setting, and opinion and scholarship are inextricably intertwined.

The speech addressed the Just War Doctrine, which Little deemed a necessary philosophical framework for analysis. The doctrine, developed by many political theorists and ethicists including Michael Walzer, involves an ethical standard both for going to war and for conduct during war.

In his discussion of the topic, Little emphasized the importance of examining concepts such as general proportionality, cause and effect, noncombatant immunity and military proportionality. According to Little, one must place the burden of proof on the aggressor and question whether or not the proportionality of the aggressor's actions are justified.

During a lunch visit with a few students after the lecture, Little spoke more about his stance on the Iraq war. He does not believe it is justified according to the Just War theory.

Ishanaa Rambachan '08 attended the lunch and spoke about the value of Little's speech to those in the classroom. "His topic was appropriate for St. Olaf, given the issue of intellectual diversity," she said. "The amount of opinion that professors share in the classroom has been of student concern here."

Rambachan also found Little's speech pertinent to global issues today. "I found his lecture extremely worthwhile," she said. "His dual philosophical and historical emphasis provided an illustrative context for us to judge the current Iraq war."

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