Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the president of George Washington University, is dedicated to interpreting history to extract enduring lessons.
Trachtenberg is the recipient this year of the Hannibal Club USA Award for Service. He was honored for generating programs that bring students on campus together -- leading them beyond their disparate cultural perspectives and boundaries.
Tunisian Ambassador Hatem Atallah, speaking about Trachtenberg at the award ceremony last Wednesday, said the university president had sought to teach students "that we are all part of the same line of history." The Hannibal Club here, one of several around the world, was founded six years ago to honor prominent Americans in the public domain for their contributions to fostering tolerance and interfaith dialogue.
In response to the growing U.S. need for fluent Arabic speakers as it addresses security challenges and powerful cultural and religious influences, the George Washington University Classics Department and its honors program launched an innovative Arabic-language studies program. It provides a full-tuition summer grant for a special 12-week, eight-credit course for 31 students to study the fundamentals of the language. "Educating our students to facilitate communication with the Arab world is one way that GW can be part of the solution to the global challenges of our times," Trachtenberg said when the program was launched.
Speaking engagingly at the event honoring him, Trachtenberg sought to draw modern lessons from the case of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who conquered and lost, then killed himself.
Modern warfare has come a long way since Hannibal used elephants to cross the Alps to charge against Roman lines in the third century BC, but the wisdom of hero worship can still be questioned, according to Trachtenberg. Do individuals like Hannibal really change history, he asked, "or are they names we apply to historical currents, to things that would have happened anyway, if slightly differently?"
Thankful in Armenia
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, a graduate of Harvard and Tufts universities, met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other senior U.S. officials last week.
Oskanian said his government was thankful for being among 16 "good partners" that can apply for U.S. financial assistance through the Millennium Challenge program. Armenia cleared the first hurdle of eligibility and can now apply for funding intended to support good government, Oskanian said in a telephone interview last week. He said Armenian officials are working on specific plans and funding proposals.
Oskanian said he discussed regional stability issues with U.S. officials, including the conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and the prospect of establishing diplomatic ties with Turkey. He said the United States had expressed interest in a normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations. Oskanian also praised U.S. officials for their efforts to meet with representatives of small countries, even though they are preoccupied with developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Keeping Track of Liberia
Nickie Smith, the International Rescue Committee desk officer for Liberia, says her mission at the nongovernmental relief organization is to maintain awareness about the issues of displacement and violence following 20 years of war in the African nation.
She said in an interview on Friday that gender-based violence is a prime concern. The exploitation of women continues in Liberia, she said, and demobilized female combatants continue to struggle to secure food for their families. Camps have been set up in Liberia to rehabilitate such women, and to provide psychological counseling and case management in a partnership between the IRC and the United Nations.
"Cantonment sites," where boys and men are separated from young women after being disarmed, have high security walls and are run like prisoner of war camps, she said.
In addition, the country faces major medical and educational challenges, Smith said. Medical screening has shown that 73 percent of the women have sexually transmitted diseases, while 65 percent have been sexually abused. "The medical challenges are huge," she said.
While there are pockets of stability in Liberia now and relief workers have been able to reach wider areas of the country, safety concerns still exist, she said. Her group of 10 international relief workers and 160 local staff members has been working at more than 30 sites to help support internally displaced people.
Smith said the processes of disarmament and integration must develop in tandem to prevent former combatants from fighting again. "If reintegration and relocation programs don't go on line, it is likely these people will pick up their guns again," she said.