A group of panelists met Thursday to debate how Americans — students and faculty in particular — should talk about the war in Iraq.
The open forum, held at the Chazen Museum of Art, was organized by Spanish professor Katarzyna Beilin and sponsored by the Center for Humanities.
Beilin decided to organize the event after an encounter with a former student this May.
The student — who Beilin chose not to identify — graduated from the University of Wisconsin and later spoke with Beilin about his desire to join the Army. Beilin said she tried to persuade the student not to join but was unsuccessful.
"I could analyze metaphors and images in literature because I am a professor," Beilin said. "But my knowledge of the war was as vague as his."
Since the student went to war, Beilin has educated herself on the war in Iraq and continues to support educational events on the subject.
The panel presented various viewpoints on how the Iraq war should be discussed at the UW.
Anthropology professor Neil Whitehead said he believes professors should not use the classroom to express a viewpoint of the extreme right or extreme left.
"Our job as faculty is to supply our students with the critical faculties to make their own decisions," he said. "Not to influence them to make the decisions that are most politically advantageous to us."
John Nichols of the Capital Times presented statistics showing how UW is alienating itself from Wisconsinites because the university is not openly anti-war.
Nichols said the university needs to reconnect with the people of Wisconsin.
"We should talk courageously, without apology, be blunt and radical, use the words 'empire' and 'imperialism,'" Nichols said. "And speak as Wisconsinites, because Wisconsinites allow you to be very anti-war."
Michael Bernard-Donals, a professor of English at UW, said he attributes the lack of communication on Iraq to the notion that the language of history often stands in the way of what is really happening. Donals said Americans link the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 attacks all too often and they draw a parallel with the Vietnam War.
Donals said he believes this problem can be avoided.
"We need to have a more creative imagination to describe what is happening in Iraq," Donals said. "To be mindful about what is not being said and what is being avoided, and what people who have been there have an incredibly hard time talking about."
However, the panel was not only limited to UW professors and Madison officials.
Iraq veteran Jason Moon said an example of such a difficult conversation occurred when his Captain instructed the division to continue driving forward, even if a child was in the way, for fear the enemy might attack when stopping for the child.
In response to Moon's anecdote, a Madison resident who wished to remain anonymous said, "I don't know how to say I killed a 3-year-old."
Donals reiterated the importance of finding a way to communicate about the harsh realities of war.
He said a lack of communication is like "a failure of imagination."