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What Is Our Responsibility for Our Government’s Wars?

What Is Our Responsibility for Our Government’s Wars? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Illustration by Samantha Morales-Johnson. Clockwise from top left: Farnaz Fassihi, Robert E. Schmidle, Noël Lipana, and William Sturkey.

How Should Societies Remember Their Sins?: A Zócalo Event Series, Supported by The Mellon Foundation
Moderated by William Sturkey, University of North Carolina Historian and Hattiesburg Author

It’s easy to pin responsibility for war on political leaders or soldiers who commit the worst atrocities, from rape and torture to bombings of civilians and ethnic cleansing. But experts note that, because of technology and other factors, modern conflicts in particular “[blur] the lines among soldiers and civilians, winners and losers.” And the injuries that accompany war—moral as well as mortal—reverberate for generations and create far-reaching ripple effects. What responsibility do citizens living in a democracy hold for a war enacted in their name? Does the burden change if they were born or immigrated after a war began? Or if they themselves served in the government, supported the government, or protested the government?

Lieutenant General (ret.) Robert E. Schmidle, Jr., Air Force veteran and social worker Noël Lipana, and Farnaz Fassihi, journalist and United Nations Bureau Chief at the New York Times, visit Zócalo to discuss what it means to bear responsibility for war and its atrocities, and why that matters.

“How Should Societies Remember Their Sins?” is a two-year event and editorial series funded by the Mellon Foundation that explores the sins we have tried to remember, those we have tried to forget, and how individuals and institutions in the United States and around the world are finding new ways to honor victims of the past to build a more just society. Register here for updates on events in the series.

Upcoming events in the series:

What Kind of Monuments Do We Deserve?
Fall 2022

Why Isn’t Remembering Enough to Repair?
Spring 2023

Does Confronting Our History Build a Better Future?
Fall 2023

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