Galloway speaks on importance of civilian voice in times of war

Ali Ruth

Just a day after the Washington University community gathered to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, author Steven Galloway addressed the importance of the civilian narrative in times of war during his lecture in College Hall.

Galloway’s novel, “The Cellist of Sarajevo,” was the selection for this year’s First Year Reading Program. In addition to freshmen who were required to read the book, upperclassmen, faculty members from a wide range of departments, members of the St. Louis community and alumni gathered to hear the author speak.

Pictures of the Bosnian War lined the entrance to College Hall, depicting scenes directly described in the novel. The images, donated by photographer Roger Richards, depicted the harsh contrast between everyday life and the ravages of war.

After the audience filed in, Galloway opened his speech by describing the photo of cellist Vedran Smailovic that inspired him to write the book.

The author centered his discussion on the significance of art, both visual and aural, as evidence of humanity in times of violent upheaval. Even though an entire nation’s infrastructure can collapse in a few fleeting moments, he noted that “art is indestructible.”

Although Galloway resided in Canada on 9/11/2001, he said the attacks still hit close to home. He criticized contemporary pro-war/antiwar debates for generally overlooking the fact that those who die in war are ordinary, common people.

“In contemporary warfare, the vast majority – 90-95% of the casualties – are civilians,” he said.

Galloway stressed that he used his novel to move beyond the “Hollywood-style war thriller” cliché, instead choosing to illustrate the small, even mundane details of daily life.

His reverential reading of particular sections of his novel—including the very last chapter—transported the audience into the minds of his work’s characters.

Building on his novel’s message, Galloway made it clear that regardless of where a war is fought, the individual stories behind every casualty deserve just as much painstaking attention as the most masterfully played cello concerto.

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