Author: Jenny Huong Dao

Shameful hospital airstrike ignores international law

A United States airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan–run by the international medical charity, Doctors Without Borders–sparked condemnation from humanitarian groups and governments alike.

The airstrike, which was reported to have killed 22 people, was based on information that the hospital might have been used as a base for the Taliban. Representatives from the U.S. military confirmed that the airstrike was targeted at hostile individuals and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby hospital facility.”

The reported “extensive, quite precise destruction of the hospital,” however, indicated the opposite. International outrage demanded transparent independent investigation into the bombing, saying that the activity could be classified a war crime and a violation of the Geneva conventions.

Recent findings have concluded that the U.S. government was completely aware that the airstrikes bombing target was a hospital. Moreover, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) followed the procedure to inform the U.S. government that it was under attack and that it was a non-combatant area. In all circumstances, the airstrike did not meet the criteria for U.S. airstrikes, as its target was not directly associated with Taliban, and it failed to minimize the casualties among innocent civilians.

This was an ugly attack in Afghanistan and a crime against humanity. Much collateral damage has occurred because of U.S. action and gone unpunished. The hospital was repeatedly under extensive bombings, despite innocent bodies being burned in their beds and desperate calls being made to the parties in conflict. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is a neutral organization that is protected by international law to practice humanitarian aid across the globe. The bombing at the hospital demands that the international community punish the guilty parties.

Furthermore, this airstrike could be a breach of the laws of war put forth in the Geneva conventions in 1949. The laws were designed to protect non-combatants in war by ruling out any activities that willfully kill a protected person or a protected facility such as a hospital without advance notice. The U.S. was one of the countries that ratified the treaties.

Although a recent report from the United Nations clarified that the U.S. is responsible for one percent of the casualties in Afghanistan, the impact of its mistakes in armed activities is undeniably significant. To the people of Afghanistan, the airstrike was perpetrated by their nation’s biggest ally. This airstrike was also a painful reminder of the U.S.’s earlier mistakes when Afghan women and children were killed at weddings and on roads, and the numerous times innocent villagers have been killed as they go about their lives.

To the world, the bombing of the hospital was yet another disgrace perpetrated by a world superpower and an act that will undermine humanitarian activity.

There is an urgent need to investigate the airstirke thoroughly. Nevertheless, the investigation must be done by a third party to ensure the credibility and impartiality of the process since it is nearly impossible to expect the implicated parties to fairly judge their own actions.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

More journalists appeal to emotion, harm industry

“She shook her head. No go. She knows too well how much the media loves to pit one celebrity against another. To believe the tabloids, she has spent the last decade in a grudge match with Angelina Jolie, whose husband, Brad Pitt, was of course married to Ms. Aniston first.”

This is one of the comments that Frank Bruni, a New York Times journalist, wrote about Jennifer Aniston’s statement at the Toronto International Film Festival. His imagination of how Jennifer was reasoning her reactions and responses is one of the many examples that indicate the unfortunate current media trend of “feelings journalism.”

While outrage has compromised the integrity of journalism and saddened enough critiques from academia, “feelings journalism” has been recently termed as yet another integrity issue.

Feelings journalism can be considered a milder cause of outrage, since it does not necessarily ridicule its subjects, but it still presents interpretations of the subjects’ thoughts and feelings without evidence to back up the claims. This trend is harmful to the news industry since it potentially provides readers with misleading information about what the subjects actually mean and feel.

Economic pressure has pushed journalism into a race to the bottom. Reporters have become much more oblivious to how trustworthy their news is and how their deliveries will affect their readers. Instead, too much focus is given to catchphrases and the shock value of their articles.

Strategically, when the public disagrees with a story, it arouses widespread anger, and therefore, a larger viewership. Even when a story is completely misleading, and reporters have to make public apologies, the profit that the controversy brings to the news firm outweighs the temporary embarrassment of the report and blinds them from the long-term negative effects of the disintegrity.

The current situation of journalism goes against several expectations that the population has for the profession. Reporters tend to write for shock value at the expense of intensive research for their contents. For example, articles that touch upon people’s feelings and thoughts should be acquired through interviews and not simply the interpretation by the reporters.

The damage caused by outrage and feelings journalism is manifold. The fact that reporters put words in their subjects’ mouths based on their assumptions has the potential to destroy the subjects’ reputations in the public eye, potentially cause conflicts among those involved and undermine the truth. Shouldn’t the subjects speak for themselves and express their own feelings? The damage these journalists create goes beyond those involved in the story; it undermines the most basic principle of journalism, which is trustworthiness and objectivity of the news it reports.

Journalists should be more aware of the power their articles possess and consider professional ethics in every article they write.

Under no circumstances should the truth be compromised with the attention-grabbing tactics of news sources. If a journalist can’t write a story without conducting proper interviews or surveys, then that story should not be covered by an outsider with no emotional attachment to the event.

“Feelings journalism” undermines the process of objective writing in the journalism world. Under no circumstances should this type of writing be encouraged in professionals.

Jenny Dao ’17 is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. She majors in political science and economics.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Sustained Dialogue promotes positive discussion

Sustained Dialogue SD is an action plan that consists of a five-stage process founded by Dr. Hal Saunders, and was newly launched at St. Olaf as a site for students, staff and faculty to meet and exchange ideas for a better environment on campus.

This program sprouted from the conflict resolution methodology of senior Middle East diplomat Saunders, a key drafter of the Camp David Peace Accords. His observation of the evolution of relationships and personal growth through negotiation inspired him to launch the Sustained Dialogue in the hope of improving the way people converse with one another other.

On a campus level, SD aims to promote communications between students and faculty in order alleviate sensitive campus issues. Dialogue groups will consist of eight to15 people who are deeply concerned with the welfare of St. Olaf, and hope to improve the environment for the community as a whole. These groups will meet throughout the spring semester to share stories and together acquire an action plan that will create positive change on campus.

Through the exchange of stories and ideas, people will enhance their communication skills and their relationships with one another, and together effectively solve the problems that their peers find most alarming. SD aims to achieve more than just raise awareness; it gives the participants wider perspectives of issues on campus and instills stronger incentives to work toward the solutions.

Five stages are set to ensure that the program acquires its goal. The first stage is the “Who,” in which the moderators and organizers gather people from different backgrounds with different interests to form dialogue groups. The second stage is the “What,” in which dialogues are individually based; participants will share and exchange their stories in order to address issues that need be alleviated. Stage three is when participants come to the roots of the problems, analyze the causes and get ready for stage four. Stage four focuses on answering the question “how.” This is the transition from a “dialogue mode” into a “planning mode.” Stage five is when action takes place and the production of the dialogue becomes visible.

The moderators of the dialogue are students and faculty members who are passionate about improving the campus community by facilitating areas for participants to exchange ideas, and direct the dialogue in a way that is most relevant to the goal of the dialogues. Moderators must have gone through 18 hours of training in order to qualify for the positions.

Nathan Detweiler ’16, one of the moderators, expressed his expectation for the dialogue.

“Sustained Dialogue is a different kind of interaction. One not defined so much by selling a position or making a point but rather about coming to a common understanding rooted in respect and cognizance of common humanity. It’s not a silver bullet, but rather like a spider trailing threads across two trees. It builds a structure that can bear the weight of many trials. No single thread defines the structure, but in their entirety, they create relationships that are hard to destroy.”

So far, SD has been warmly welcomed in the St. Olaf community, students and faculty members alike, who appreciate the chance to come together to be heard and to hear others. Change does not happen overnight, but hopefully with time, students will begin taking action to improve the St. Olaf community.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Anti-vaccinators endanger children

A recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland caused the re-emergence of the anti-vaccination debate, but this time, with more skepticism. Vaccination opponents have not previously come under such an enormous amount of criticism, since measles were thought to have been effectively eradicated in the U.S. since 2000. Beginning in December of last year, 150 cases of measles disease have been reported, with 39 cases thought to be contracted at Disneyland.

The number of parents choosing not to give their children the measles MMR vaccination has risen noticeably in the past years. In the state of Minnesota, the number of parents filing conscientious objections to school-based vaccinations increased from 607 to 1,959 in the 2004-2005 school year. Many parents base their objections on a published study which was later debunked and retracted that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Some doctors have decided not to treat patients who refuse inoculations amid the new outbreak of measles, and oddly enough, a bill was recently introduced in New York that allows parents to refuse vaccinations for their children based purely on philosophical reasons.

Some U.S. parents were moved by reported cases of immediate childhood autism after MMR injections, and remained firmly against vaccination, which were believed to have indirectly harmed children’s well-being. Parents tend to place more confidence in anecdotes from people outside of medical academia, as these stories add a human aspect to the measles, which had rarely been mentioned since 2000.

This fear of potentially altering a child’s development based on these assumptions is hardly a rational decision. Refusing to vaccinate one’s children not only means potentially exposing those children to the measles, but also potentially exposing other children to the measles as well. This kind of social irresponsibility is unjustifiable in an age where the medical technology to easily eradicate these life-threatening illnesses exists and has worked for decades.

Also, parents who have children with health complications that prevent them from taking vaccines live in constant fear that their sons and daughters might be exposed to measles someday. These parents justifiably plead for other parents to vaccinate their healthy children in order to protect the well-being of their own as well as American kids as a whole. This distinguishes parents who don’t vaccinate their children for concrete medical reasons from those who do so for hypothetical, ungrounded reasons.

When public welfare comes into the equation, vaccination for children should be a civic obligation, since every child deserves an equal chance of protection from fatal diseases and some parents should not impose the risk on other parents’ children by failing to provide vaccination for their own kids. Moreover, an enormous volume of media studies and research conducted in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan all shared a consistent result that there is no evident linkage between vaccinations and the development of autism.

After all, it is undeniable that vaccinations have prevented countless cases of measles, but of course, what people will never see is what has been prevented.

Jenny Dao ’17 is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. She majors in political science and economics.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote