Villanova conference pushes students to think hard about war

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     An American soldier, part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), kneels down at the site of a suicide attack in Wardak Province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. Taliban militants detonated a car bomb outside an Afghan intelligence office near the capital Sunday and then tried to attack it on foot with guns, officials and the insurgent group said. At least four soldiers guarding the compound were killed and six insurgents died in the assault, officials said. (Ahmad Jamshid/AP Photo)

    An American soldier, part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), kneels down at the site of a suicide attack in Wardak Province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. Taliban militants detonated a car bomb outside an Afghan intelligence office near the capital Sunday and then tried to attack it on foot with guns, officials and the insurgent group said. At least four soldiers guarding the compound were killed and six insurgents died in the assault, officials said. (Ahmad Jamshid/AP Photo)

    Can a war be ethical?

    That’s a question Dr. Mark Wilson takes on everyday in his classroom at Villanova University, where he teaches philosophy and specializes in the ethics of war.

    He says many of his students come to the table thinking that the ethics of war is an oxymoron, so Wilson gets them to react instead of analyze. “For instance I will talk to them about the My Lai Massacre or the German invasion of Poland,” Wilson said, “and try to emphasize to them that the outrage they experience is reflective of an ethical sentiment.”

    From there, the class takes on subjects ranging from violence against civilians to technological developments on the battlefield to governmental transparency.

    Wilson says because it’s so easy to become disconnected from wars -— less than 1 percent of Americans actually serve in the military — it’s crucial to talk about war and its effects on service members and veterans. “Too often we have a tendency to think that, as civilians, our jobs is to say ‘thank you for your service’ and perhaps wear a ribbon,” Wilson said, “as opposed to actively and earnestly devot[ing] ourselves to the broader conversation.”

    Villanova will hold the first annual Ethics of War Conference this Friday and Saturday. The conference will feature presentations from students. Cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point will attend. It’s free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

    To hear Mark Wilson’s conversation with WHYY’s Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn, click the yellow speaker button above to reveal the audio player.

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