Over the past two weeks, Students for Social Justice has posted flyers highlighting the human cost of the war in Iraq, employing a variety of photographs from the conflict to achieve this end.

In an effort to address concerns voiced by members of the student body, we would like to clarify the purpose of this campaign. At our university, there is a general lack of dialogue regarding the situation in Iraq. Our flyers were intended to be a catalyst for discourse by posing the question, “How can we continue to ignore the human cost of this war?” Not only do we respect that students find the images offensive, but we also anticipated that response. War is naturally offensive and the pictures were chosen to reflect that fact.

Some students have expressed discomfort with our choice to post these images in a public space. This sentiment has manifested itself in students violating university policy by tearing down posters. When considering the ethics of forcing these images on the university community, one must bear in mind the question of relativity. Ultimately, any discomfort felt by students and faculty in response to these images of war is marginal in comparison to the distress our government has imposed on Iraqi civilians by forcing them to face the dead and mutilated bodies of their fellow citizens.

One troubling aspect of the reactions we have received is the focus on the photographs of dead American soldiers, with no consideration for the images of dead Iraqi civilians. We invite the university community to seriously consider how their own national identities may lead to an ethnocentric mindset. Is the life of an American soldier more valuable than that of an Iraqi, thus making it more disrespectful to show a dead American than a dead Iraqi?

One must also consider the historical precedence of the importance of images in creating an informed citizenry. In the case of the Vietnam War, media images similar to those we have posted incited massive public outrage against the catastrophic effects of war.

Due to media censorship, the war in Iraq is portrayed as a more humane and less violent conflict than Vietnam. Our posters are meant to represent the true face of war, which is more often than not bloody, disturbing and grotesque. Until individual citizens begin to see the human effects of war, our policymakers will continue to waste human life for their own economic and political interests.

Finally, our organization carefully considered this campaign and there were members who felt certain photographs were too grotesque. However, we decided that as our group represents a variety of social and political ideologies, our array of posters should do the same. Just as we did not want to put up posters that went beyond members’ comfort zones, we did not want others to feel as though their voices were being stifled. We welcome further discourse regarding the issues illuminated by our campaign and would like to invite any member of the community to attend our meetings at 9 p.m. every Thursday in the Ruth Merrill Center.

Bell-Masterson can be reached at bellmasterson@campustimes.org.

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