October 12, 2010

Carroll Discusses “War, Peace and the American Conscience” at Wyant Lecture

Boston Globe columnist James Carroll brought passion and insight to his discussion on the history of violence and the human condition during the October 6th installment of the Wyant Lecture Series held in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall. The award-winning author and distinguished-scholar-in-residence at Suffolk University chose the topic "War, Peace and the American Conscience." He established the context of his discussion with two years in history, 1919 and 1979, significant to both Emmanuel College and what he defined as key dates in the "current and countercurrent" that has swept the global mindset since World War I.

Borrowing a common image used by early 20th century writers and theorists such as Henry James, Hannah Arendt and Jonathan Schell, Carroll referred to the cascading flow of the Niagara Falls to explain the interconnected nature of the past century's wars. He highlighted the year 1919 not only as the founding date of Emmanuel College by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, but also as the year that stirred the waters, enlightening the audience to its impact and subsequent ramifications.

On the surface, 1919 appeared a year of positive gains towards global peace, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and establishment of the League of Nations among other notable occurrences. However, these events, as Carroll explained, were pivotal missteps that ultimately failed in their goals of preventing international conflict, instead fueling the onset of World War II. The treaty proved controversial and unable to pacify Germany, while the League of Nations, with its primary purpose to prevent another world war, did little to hinder the Axis powers and was later replaced by the United Nations.

"That current began rushing at the end of World War I and it has been running ever since," said Carroll. "It gripped us in a way almost impossible to understand. By the end of the war we were empowered by it; there was something at work in America's soul that was new."

Despite all this, a countercurrent began to take shape that very same year, led by a man defended by his radical rejection of violence in Gandhi and his Rowlett demonstration. And so began the life of these two forces whose influence continues to flow through the global consciousness even today.

"I love thinking of Emmanuel College being established in that year," said Carroll. "I like to think that Emmanuel is part of that counter current and if you look across the history of the college you will see that it is true."

The year 1979 represents the inauguration of Emmanuel College President Sister Janet Eisner, SND, Mother Teresa winning the Nobel Peace Prize and the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. However, the clash between current and countercurrent continued to persist, with issues of nuclear weapons at the forefront of the day - a concern that continues for current U.S. President Barack Obama, who is committed to creating a world without nuclear weapons, according to Carroll.

"We are at the mercy of the [current's] momentum," said Carroll. "And it is this momentum, the one exactly the age of this college, that Obama stepped into as president. He too is at its mercy.

"With war and peace across the centuries, human beings have been conditioned to believe that the solution to violence is violence. It has always been the case as far back in history as we can go," he said. "Of all the power and terror [that exists today], isn't it wonderful that the countercurrent is there too. The outcome is not decided yet. The next generation inherits the challenge to define the meaning of life on earth."

Carroll is the author of 10 novels and six works of nonfiction, including the National Book Award-winning An American Requiem, The New York Times bestselling Constantine's Sword, now an award-winning documentary, and House of War, which won the first PEN-Galbraith Award. His recent book is the critically acclaimed Practicing Catholic. In early 2011, drawing on his long work toward Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation, he will publish Jerusalem, Jerusalem: The Ancient City that Ignited the Modern World.

The Wyant Lecture Series features speakers in the Humanities, History and the Arts. The Louise Doherty Wyant professorship was established by the late Louise Doherty Wyant '63 and her husband, Dr. James Wyant, in honor of Sister Anne Cyril Delaney, SND. Professor of Political Science Dr. Lenore Martin is the current Wyant Professor.