Concerned about a war they say could alienate the U.S. government from its citizens as well as the rest of the world, and emphasizing the need to learn from our past through art and literature, five University professors recently signed a letter to President Bush, asking him not to wage war against Iraq.

Along with 110 other current and former National Humanities Center Fellows, English Profs. Martha Vicinus, David Halperin, John Kucich and David Porter and Asian languages and culture Prof. Lydia Liu expressed sentiments about the brutality of war.

The National Humanities Center is an independent institute consisting of scholars who pursue advanced study in humanities.

“We work in a variety of disciplines dedicated to understanding the history of human thought and achievement and its lessons for the present day,” the fellows wrote. “We are united in our belief that your administration’s plans for war against Iraq are misguided, dangerous and morally wrong.”

The fellows noted that a war in Iraq would result in thousands of deaths and the fragmentation of solid alliances that have existed since World War II.

War “will set a dangerous precedent for any state wishing to launch a preemptive strike against its own foes,” the letter stated. “Step back from the brink, Mr. President, for the sake of humanity and those enduring values for which our nation stands.”

Porter, who is currently studying at the NHC, said the letter represents mainly a symbolic gesture to increase awareness about the dangers of war.

“I frankly don’t have any illusions that it’s going to have any effect on the president,” Porter said, although he added that the letter could lead to other forms of protest. “I think it’s very important for scholars and teachers of humanities to register their concerns about the administration’s policies.”

He added that the humanities play an enormous role in war by showing a darker side of battle that politicians do not always discuss.

“The role of the humanities in our society is to keep the past and its lessons alive for us,” Porter said. “Much of the current debate about this coming war is speaking from a position of disregard for the important lessons we can draw from our rich cultural heritage.”

He noted that a tapestry of Pablo Picasso’s well-known Guernica – a painting depicting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War – was covered up for a U.N. press conference.

It was “a powerful indication of the continued relevance of art and literature about thinking about these things,” Porter said. “Confronting the reality of war through art and literature can serve as an antidote to the dumbing effect of euphemistic rhetoric.”

-Daily Staff Reporter Tomislav Ladika

contributed to this report.

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