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Panel discusses the facets of war

By Emily Lewson
On April 24, 2014

As a part of the Humanities Institute's "A Week in the Humanities: War and its Meaning," a scholarly panel discussed Christopher Hedges's claim that "war is a force that gives us meaning." The panel, made up of intellects from across the humanities, each delivered a short discussion on different facets of war, exploring "armed conflict, hostility and sustained effort" campaigns.
While slightly different than the rest of the Humanities Institute's week's events, the inclusion of this panel demonstrates how understanding war takes a wide-range of information. This means that all types of violence, whether it is the war on slavery or troops entering Iraq, can be better understood when looked at collectively. Moreover, by examining the major theme of war through the lens of different professionals, a more complete understanding is obtained.
  "In a time when the humanities are constantly being pushed aside, this panel demonstrates the utility of social sciences," said moderator Jane Gordon, "It isn't about getting in touch with our feelings through poetry, but rather obtaining a full understanding of life-altering events."
    Christine Sylvester demonstrated the multifaceted approach through her talk "Two Contradictory Currents in War Thinking." With her short time, she compared the approach of an internal relation (IR) intellectual with that of a professional in the humanities. The IR specialist considers war as a "core research subject."
     "IR treats war as an abstraction: There is a beginning, with a cause, and there is an end, usually a treaty," stated Sylvester, "People are never considered."
Noting this approach, Sylvester moved into literature to demonstrate the personal interaction with war. She read a short passage from "The Yellow Birds" by Kevin Powers; the excerpt demonstrated the effect war has on an individual, but also how easy it is to relate with the character. Minding this, Sylvester closed:
            "Wars are not so excruciatingly painful that we want to stop doing them. They provide glory and honor, they rearrange power structures and most of all, they are profitable endeavors, to the victors."
       War's inevitability became clear through Sylvester's talk, but more important is the emotional capacity to understand and move forward. With this in mind, the panelists discussed why swear words are so often incorporated into an understanding of conflict. After Lewis Gordon, a philosophy professor, offered the origins of the word, the group moved into what the use of the language suggested.
 "War is full of barriers," explained Sebastian Wogenstein, a German professor, "The urge to use this word stems from the need to transgress the feeling of barriers."
 In this way, Wogenstein suggests that the usage of words typically barred off from common language demonstrate how war is not within the normal circumstances of the world.
"The word's usage is a loss of language; it shows a lost capacity to articulate experience," furthered Sylvester, "Even the way the word comes out of your mouth; it feels harsh. It becomes a material response."
Through the discussion of curse words, the panelists came to agree that war was only understandable through frustration and grief. However, those emotions are connective factors amongst global citizens. While not encouraging future conflict, it is clear that war is sadly inevitable; the response, however, offers people an opportunity to greater understand themselves and their surrounding world.


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