Mailbag: Letters to the editor for the week of Feb. 12

Here are the letters to the editor we received for the week of Feb. 12, 2018. Letters can be submitted to westernfrontonline@gmail.com.


The Western Front should change its name

Your article “Cultural appropriation at Western and how it can be avoided” (Feb 7, 2018) has finally moved me to speaking out about an issue that has bothered me ever since I joined Western almost 13 years ago. It’s the name of our newspaper, “The Western Front”. As most people are aware, it’s a crude play on the title of the anti-war novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” (“Im Westen nichts Neues” in the original German) by Erich Maria Remarque.

Growing in West Germany in the 1980s and 90s, this novel had a very special significance for me and my generation because its vivid, gut-wrenching description of the brutality and de-humanizing senselessness of trench combat in the first World War made it an iconic warning of the consequences of war, a flash point for of our collective resolve to never become a willing pawn in a war borne of blind nationalism the way our grandfathers and great-grandfathers had.

In fact, when I decided to become a conscientious objector when conscripted into military service in 1993, I specifically singled out the impact of the novel in my required written justification, especially one scene in which the protagonist is stuck inside a manhole with a dying enemy soldier he has just mortally wounded, having to face the essential humanity of the other.

I’m tired of having to see the title of this book used for a cheap, thoughtless pun – not just once, but over and over again every time I see a copy of the “Western Front” on campus. It feels like a demeaning, disrespectful misappropriation of a literary work that holds a very special solemn significance to me and many others in Germany and around the world. I ask the editors and the University administration: Please do what’s right and change the name of the official WWU newspaper. It’s time.

Sincerely,

Tilmann Glimm, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Mathematics

Western Washington University


Note from the editor:

For context, The Western Front existed under different names through the 1900s: The Weekly Messenger, The Northwest Viking, WWCollegian, Western Washington Collegian, The Collegian and, for a brief period, The Straight News.

In 1967, the editors of the paper decided that “The Collegian” was too popular a name for a college newspaper, and instead used “The Straight News” for a few issues while putting the name up to student vote.

In their call to students, the editors said, “Remember that this name will remain permanent. It should be a name that makes the newspaper readily distinguishable among other names and one that does not typify only a passing fad.”

The following week, the paper ran a ballot with a list of names including: The Straight News, The Western Front, The Cauldron, The Viking News, The Paper, The Heralder, The Dispatch and The Scoop.

The Western Front won with 336 out of 626 student votes and it has been the official name of the student newspaper ever since.

Do you have thoughts about the current name of The Western Front? Leave a comment or email us at westernfrontonline@gmail.com.

Asia Fields

Editor-in-Chief of The Western Front


Mailbox illustration by Hunter Smith.

 

Letters to the editor are not necessarily the opinion of The Western Front. The Western Front is committed to publishing letters to the editor from the community, as long as they meet the paper’s editorial standards. For more information on letters to the editor, or to submit a letter, contact westernfrontonline@gmail.com

One comment

  • Full disclosure: I am a Western journalism major and I have worked on the Front and may do so in the future. I’m not presently on the staff or involved with the newspaper.

    As pointed out here, “the Western Front” is not an original creation of the author, Erich Maria Remarque. It is a phrase describing the major theater of war during WW1 and it had that meaning at the time Remarque titled his novel. He selected that phrase, presumably, for what the Western Front represented in the context of his day.

    Certainly, Remarque, (and the two subsequent films based on his work) played a large role in keeping the term prominent in the public sphere and in the minds of people everywhere. It was prominent in the minds of Western students when they selected it as the title of the student publication.

    But is it demeaning or disrespectful?

    Let’s examine:

    Anything can be a western front provided it loosely meets the broad requirements of being both somewhere in a region that can be described as west (relative to anywhere else, I guess) and that it is or has a front. This is not a concept exclusive to Remarque’s novel, nor to WW1. The student newspaper is Western’s ‘front,’ so to speak: its front page for student affairs, literally, its forefront commitment to the mission of serving the community as a public forum and a vehicle for the free exercise of First Amendment rights.

    I think if you spoke with students about this issue, they’d consider that to be the primary meaning. I’d not call it a “thoughtless” pun in the slightest. On the contrary. It is thoughtful.

    You wrote your letter to the editor in response to a piece shedding light on cultural appropriation: A contingent of students made their voices heard about behavior that was trivializing their heritage for a promotional sports event. Yet you argue that the title “The Western Front” is “a demeaning, disrespectful misappropriation of a literary work.”

    Okay. Let me ask:

    How can a reference to a literary work be inherently demeaning or disrespectful? A literary work is neither a group nor an individual with a heritage. Especially when the only words in common with that work are themselves a reference to a vast expanse of land in Europe.
    The point your argument fails to address is whose heritage is being diminished or marginalized by the title of the student newspaper?

    You wrote:

    “I ask the editors and the University administration: Please do what’s right and change the name of the official WWU newspaper.”
    I’m rather alarmed at the implication of this argument: that there is only one right and moral action to be taken. This is undemocratic at best and patronizing at worst. Especially as you’ve failed to state the case of your grievances against the newspaper’s title beyond your own personal feelings associated with a particular novel and what it represents.

    These are perfectly valid components of an argument, of course, but rather less than one might hope for, considering you’ve asked for an administrative command that a change be made.

    Finally, the administration cannot make such a command of a newspaper that is entirely student-run and operates as a public forum within the community. The Western Front is well-protected by established First Amendment case law (see the opinions on Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and Hosty v. Carter). The administration of WWU is not in charge of decisions made by The Western Front. Such a command would be in opposition to the very freedoms the Fourth Estate has long fought to uphold.

    Were I you, I’d make my appeal to the students, the general population of Western: just as was done with the original decision to make the name change to begin with. The Front respects and listens to student voices.

    If you can convince enough folks, I’m certain your argument will gain momentum, and the Front will not ignore that.

    As for me, I respectfully disagree with your argument until and if I become convinced that the term “Western Front” is demeaning to any individual or group.

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