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Seniors Learn About Rules of War

By Kari Johnson
UW-RF News Bureau
[Photos]

NOV. 5, 2004--Many silver heads listen attentively to Ogden Rogers, an associate professor and chair of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Social Work program, while he discusses the relevancy of the Geneva Convention during the era of "nontraditional" warfare—the war on terror—as he guest lectures during a fall offering of the Senior Outreach Studies.

Through the UW-River Falls Outreach and Graduate Studies program, the Senior Outreach Studies program covers such topics as the war on terror, foreign relations, land conservation, globalization, Peace Corps, the Internet generation, fourth-way psychology and more.

Offering classes for those 50 or older, the program, now in its 18th year, provides an opportunity to learn and share for the residents of the St. Croix Valley. Seminars this year include a geological tour of the Rock Elm meteorite by plant and earth science Professor Bill Cordua as well as a day trip to the Mill City museum in Minneapolis.

In this environment Rogers as well as other faculty throughout the year share the world with those Rogers considers to be "the greatest generation." While Rogers is a professor at UW-RF, he is also a senior volunteer adviser to the American Red Cross's International Services Division.

This past summer, the International Committee of the Red Cross, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, selected Rogers to attend the 22nd Advanced School in International Humanitarian Law outside of Warsaw, Poland.

"I was honored to be selected and to be involved in this advanced course," said Rogers. "I had the wonderful opportunity of being a student with 45 other students from 41 nations in Western and Eastern Europe and North America. I came away from the experience with a renewed appreciation for the Geneva Conventions."

Rogers has a lifelong involvement with the International Red Cross, which led to his involvement with the Geneva Conventions.

"Throughout my life, I have always had some relationship with the Red Cross," he says. As a child he was a blood services volunteer and eventually became a first-aid instructor, a lifeguard and a blood donor. His early experiences helped establish his worldview to help individuals and larger concerns, serving the Pierce County Chapter of the American Red Cross at the local level in international services.

His involvement at the international level and his interest in the Geneva Conventions was initially influenced by his students. "Some years ago I took some of my college students to the Twin Cities to take a weekend course on the Geneva Conventions…and then held a focus group afterward," recalls Rogers. "I was amazed at how angry they were.

"At first, I thought I’d made a terrible blunder and wasted a precious weekend for them. Exploring the anger, I was surprised to find its source in, well, as one student put it: ‘I can’t believe I got all the way to my sophomore year in college and I’m just hearing about this very important law.’ This is about justice, fairness, simple humanity, the students said. They were angry they had not covered this material in high school. They were not alone, many Americans are largely ignorant of the basic rules of the Geneva Conventions."

The feedback from Rogers' students acted as a springboard, driving him to become involved with understanding the Geneva Conventions and the issues of humanitarian law.

It is important to understand the Geneva Conventions, Rogers says. "In a world where armed conflict doesn't appear to be going away, we need to find ways of trying to protect the most vulnerable in any way we can… and people need to have an understanding and appreciation for the Geneva Conventions."

Rogers notes that today's younger generations may not understand the conventions because they have lived in a period of relative peace. "I think that previous generations of Americans, specifically the generation that lived through World War II and Korea, actually had a greater understanding of the Geneva Conventions, because they have lived through major armed conflict and have seen some of the results of the conventions."

The SOS class has wisdom to share, says Rogers, and are different from the traditional classroom of younger students. "The students in that program are some of the brightest and most challenging minds one ever meets."

In today's conditions, most notably the war in Iraq, the reality of armed conflict becomes highly apparent and the need to understand the Geneva Conventions is very important. It is in these situations that the Geneva Conventions can be applied and show that "even in the face of war, even in the chaos of war, humans are capable of acting with basic humanity."

A 22-hour Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL) curriculum introduces students of all ages to the rationales and reasoning for providing basic human rights to combatants, civilians and prisoners of war. Under development for the last 10 years in Geneva, EHL has been a worldwide effort to disseminate information about the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian law.

Rogers has assisted with the adoption and coordination of the curriculum to meet the educational standards in American school systems. EHL's application in the United States is currently in its second trial year and has been a success. Between 10,000-15,000 students in the United States are participating in the program.

The curriculum is being taught in area schools in western Wisconsin. Ellswortdh, Wis., high school teacher Mark Stoesz says, "The issues involved in the international humanitarian law are often overlooked by American educational institutions. I was excited about the opportunity to contribute to finding ways by which the Geneva Conventions can be introduced to American teachers and students."

Through the introduction of the Exploring Humanitarian Law curriculum in the United States and his work as senior volunteer advisor, Rogers hopes "to reach out in those places where individuals and society have needs of each other."

Rogers reaches out by sharing his experience an expertise with others, from area high schools and area seniors to across the globe. As the class adjourns for the day, Rogers asks his audience to "leave those chestnuts to rattle around in your brains." When that happens, then he has accomplished his goal.

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Last updated: Tuesday, 22-Jun-2010 16:21:17 Central Daylight Time

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