EDITORIAL | To President Pollack: We Must Not be Punished for Our Words in A Time of War

For the last two weeks the Cornell community, and the entire world, has witnessed as the Middle East has burst up into war. As President Joe Biden mentioned in his Oval Office address on Oct. 19, the Israel-Hamas conflict can seem distant. But as many Americans and Cornell students, faculty, staff and alumni understand: This conflict is an inflection point on the growing threat to countries, their democracies and to the lives of innocent human beings. As of Oct. 21, at least 5,000 individuals have been killed and more than 17,000 have been injured in the enclave since Oct. 7. 

For the Cornell community and beyond, the war in the Middle East has become one of the most emotionally divisive issues in recent decades. As an institution that nests a premier staff of experts in every field and students with the conviction to change the world, people turn to us to parse through the issues that divide us in the modern century, past and present. They seek for us to aid in finding the answers against hatred; against terror and murder; perhaps, the language that can help us understand the rhyme and reason behind war. 

And we try: At Harvard, students and staff have professed their views, yet not without repercussions. At the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford, students for and against Israel have voiced their grief and their anger. At Cornell we’ve held vigils for both Israeli and Palestinian lives lost — a message we send that is rather mournful, silent. But even in our best attempt, we fail to truly capture the magnitude and complexity that is a war. It follows that the atmosphere of war is deadly not only to human life, but also to the very language that we’re used to: Our speeches and our chants cannot completely capture the lives we’ve lost while attempting to fully historicize the war that took them. Every shooting war is also a war between competing narratives. As a consequence, individuals who have spoken out have been threatened, injured or killed. It is concerning that our language, in the atmosphere of war, in order to preserve the very dignity and humanity of mankind, we fear must actually come to an end. But we cannot let this be the case.

Originally posted 2023-10-25 16:07:17.