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Mar 26, 2014

Navigating from War to Peace

Enduring Challenges for Presidents and Citizens

By Martha Graham

JMU President Jon Alger speaks at War to Peace conference

In opening the conference, Intelligence and the Transition from War to Peace, James Madison University President Jonathan R. Alger lauded the event as: "the sort of convening that ... should take place as often as possible on this campus named for the fourth U.S. President....Exposing our students to such accomplished practitioners-scholars is a hallmark here at Madison."

'With the benefit of hindsight, I firmly believe that understanding the debates and decisions of the past can give us deeper and richer perspectives on the present and the future.'

In his remarks, "Navigating from War to Peace: Enduring challenges for Presidents and Citizens," Alger set the tone for the conference that will explore the decision making process with the luxury of hindsight. But, he said: "We are not here to issue proclamations from the academy's ivory tower. Instead, we are here to investigate and understand recent global events by analyzing the actual documents used by decision-makers to steer those events. This is real. Such engaged learning—especially at the undergraduate level—is the direction in which I believe we must head in higher education."

 

JMU President Jon Alger speaks at War to Peace conference

 

'Such engaged learning--especially at the undergraduate level--is the direction in which I believe we must head in higher education.'

The parallels

Alger traced the parallel challenges and decisions that both Presidents Madison and Clinton faced, respectively, during the War of 1812 and the Bosnian Crisis of the 1990s. He noted how both men's attitude about war evolved when confronted by the realities of conflict and by the accumulation of knowledge and understanding. He cited President Madison's development of the notion of a "just war" as one product of considered reasoning.

Madison's brand of developed thinking is what Alger hopes the conference will inspire, he said, in particular the kind of ethical reasoning that ponders diverse points of view both nationally and internationally. He challenged the conference attendees "to understand how ethical reasoning might have led decision-makers to act in the Bosnian conflict as you listen to presentations."