Three Books authors discuss moral dilemma of war

Sept. 26, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

After a week of orientation activities, Stanford freshmen took on this year’s topic, “ethics of war,” Sunday afternoon at the annual Three Books panel discussion.

This year’s books focused on issues of national security. Scott Sagan, political science professor and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), who also moderated the discussion in Memorial Auditorium, made the selections.

Three Books authors discuss moral dilemma of war
Professor of political science Scott Sagan and this year's Three Books authors at Sunday's discussion. (WENDING LU/The Stanford Daily)

The class of 2015 was mailed copies of the three books over the summer. Sunday’s Q&A with the authors marked the end of New Student Orientation.

The theme of this year’s talk was “war ethics,” a particularly timely topic as the Faculty Senate voted last April to end the 40-year ban of ROTC on campus.

“The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama” by Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter ’76 examines President Barack Obama’s views on the morality of war; “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer” by former United States Marine Corps Captain Nathaniel Fick chronicles Fick’s officer training, as well as his service and adjustment to civilian life; and “March” by Geraldine Brooks, the only piece of fiction among the three, captures the untold story from “Little Women” by imagining the Civil-War experience of Mr. March and his wife, Marmee.

Sagan introduced the three authors while noting Stanford’s goal of creating “cultured and useful graduates” and his hope that the class of 2015 will learn that “reasonable people can disagree.”

Fick reflected on why he chose to become a marine and the moral dilemmas he faced as a leader. He, too, discussed the need for open dialogue.

“It’s not sufficient to say ‘Oh, that’s for someone else, that’s not for our kind of people,” he said.

“We can’t simply watch things happen and comment in the living room,” Carter said, expressing the importance for citizens to question their leaders.

Carter also discussed the deep significance that the Sept. 11 attacks have had for current college students.

Brooks warned against placing too much glory on war and stressed, along with the other speakers, that there are “multiple forms of service.”

The authors “gave an honest perspective on what the military is lacking–a discussion that some of my country-mates are unwilling to have,” said Jack Cook ’15, a member of the incoming ROTC class.

Before the talk, Stanford Says No to War set up a table outside Memorial Auditorium and distributed free copies of other books, including several titles by Noam Chomsky and “War Is a Lie” by David Swanson.

Josh Schott ’14, president of the student group, said he felt the Three Books discussion presented “an overly narrow point of view,” and the group hoped to offer students a “broader perspective.”

“We feel this has to coincide with the bringing back of ROTC,” Schott said. “[The idea of] ‘bridging the civilian-military divide’ actually means trying to militarize our campus.”

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Sebastain Gould ’13 attended the talk and reflected on Fick’s book, saying he wished he could read more about Fick’s adjustment to civilian life.

“It’s not as action oriented but as integral a part of being a Marine officer,” Gould said. Gould enlisted in the Marine Corps after his freshman year at Stanford and served in Iraq. He described the discussion as a valued “supplement to the lack of ROTC on campus.”

“I feared, I must admit, that having a challenging set of books…would cause some students to slack,” Sagan said, remarking that he and the panel were impressed by the “quality and depth” of the student questions and touched by the standing ovation.

Sagan said that Stanford previously held a bias toward certain types of service, but if ROTC accepts Stanford’s invitation to return to campus, “all forms of national service would be on equal footing.”

However, not all freshmen are convinced.

“I’m conflicted about ROTC because they still do not let everyone join, and they still have discriminatory policies,” said Adrienne von Schulthess ’15.

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