Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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LTE: Stop the damn war

In The Daily, two groups of faculty recently opined on the war in Israel and Palestine, one largely focused on the potential massacre in Gaza and the other with a defensive stance of Israel. Both paying lip service to civilian casualties. Both of these missives left me cold, to be honest. Put less politely, I call bullshit.

As someone who teaches war, asymmetrical war and civil war, let me begin by saying that even wars have laws and too often they lack referees to throw red cards. One law is that civilians cannot be targets, and all efforts must be made to keep collateral damage to a minimum. Can we claim that Israel or Hamas is doing that?

As evidenced by the Israeli dead on Oct. 7, the answer is not at all. Israel targeting apartment complexes means literally that the Israel Defense Forces are turning civilian domiciles into rubble. Targeting civilians is on the agenda.

Denying water, food and fuel to Gaza is a further denial of basic human necessities. Israel says it tries not to kill civilians, but my sense is they are well within the fog of war. Truth is usually the first casualty of war.

Hamas is committed to governing Palestinians in Gaza, but much of its money goes toward weapons, not necessities, according to NBC News. Deprivation and bombing turn average citizens into haters of those responsible. Studies from the Vietnam War show the stupidity of U.S. bombing of territories held by the Viet Cong, which turned people into supporters of the rebels. Putting your own people at risk does not endear people to rebel groups either. No one wants to die.

Israel is a nation and has a right to exist and defend itself. Period. Hamas is a non-governmental movement which seeks nationhood. A nationhood I support. Some claim it is an anti-colonial war. That is honestly an empirical stretch. It plays very fast and loose with the histories of colonialism, but I understand the phrase.

Words matter, like Hamas’ promise for a free Palestine from the river to the sea, or Israeli descriptions of the Palestinian people as less than human or their arguments that no Palestinians are truly innocent. Such language is obscene. Neither side is telling the truth. Both sides are holding civilians hostage. Honesty is also a victim of competing nationalisms turned into war. This war needs referees.

A local tragedy of this war is the closing of room for debate on Northwestern’s campus and others around the country. It is as though students have chosen to bury their heads claiming insufficient knowledge  a fixable problem. Students have told me they are afraid of alienating friends or that if they take a public position, they risk losing job opportunities. Or they confidently take sides from a protective box.

The good news is free speech allows for the proffering of views, though it does not require civil discourse or even responsible speech. This has become a severe problem for our community. What is lost versus what is gained is important. We gain nothing but our own smug satisfaction. What we lose is the opportunity to behave like citizens in a democracy. Nothing less. Another institution of democracy is wounded.

On college campuses, Jewish students are being threatened, antisemitism is manifold at present. In Plainfield, Illinois, a Palestinian child was murdered in a hate crime. Pluralism, another pillar of American democracy, is now, more than ever, under existential threat.

Could we have a campus-wide teach-in, sponsored and chaired by President Schill? This might mitigate some lack of knowledge. But, my students tell me that the audience would be disruptive. After much thinking, I agree with my students.

These previous letters seem to have already settled the issue while attacking the “other side.” When asked which side I stand with and for, I have one answer: civilians. Can we just condemn attacks on civilians regardless of which nationality? Can we not starve and destroy Gaza? Can Israeli civilians go to concerts? Can we extend our criticisms for Hamas as well as Israel, or Israel as well as Hamas? There must be an immediate de-escalation. Stop the damn war before it is too late.

If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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