COLUMBIA — In 2004, nearly three months after graduating from Hickman High School, Stephen Webber found himself on the front lines in Iraq, juggling weapons instead of homework at age 20.
At Hickman's Speak Your Mind forum on Tuesday evening, Webber gave audience members a handout of a blog post he wrote back then. "I pray to God that if I have a son, he never has to go to war. That would tear my heart out," he wrote.
Webber, now a Democratic state representative from Columbia, was part of a panel to discuss U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Other panelists were Hank Landry, professor of history at Westminster College; Robert S. Boone III, chairman of the Department of Military Science and Leadership at MU; Mariana Morales of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks; and Cooper Drury, chairman of the Department of Political Science at MU.
The recent conflict in Syria has involved chemical warfare. A sarin gas attack occurred on Aug. 21, killing hundreds.
According to a Reuters poll conducted in October, most Westerners — meaning the U.S. and most countries in Europe — are opposed to military intervention in Syria.
Each panelist had about five minutes for remarks in which they used historical examples of U.S. military intervention to prompt discussion about Syria. The panelists then took questions from the 30 or so audience members.
"I think there are very few things that are worse than war," Morales said.
She estimated that in countries where the U.S. is deployed in war, about 10 civilians are killed for every American soldier killed there.
At one point, Morales looked at the mostly student audience and said, "You and your children will pay for the wars that we wanted to get involved in."
As part of his remarks, Boone outlined the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine for military intervention, the criteria of which include clear intentions of winning, clearly defined objectives, public support and congressional support.
The students asked questions about homicide in Rwanda, human rights and international culture. Boone at one point said it is difficult to establish a democracy in a country such as Syria that has never seen democracy..
"If you go into someone else's country, you have to assimilate to the culture and understand it," Boone said after he told a story about a dining experience with an Iraqi. He said it is often difficult for soldiers to assimilate into a different culture in which basic events, such as eating, are fundamentally different. .
Politically, military intervention is the difference between diplomatic resolution and aggression in a country, Webber said, but it is never simple.
"The people that are doing whatever genocide or human rights violation you're discussing aren't doing it just for something to do," he said. "They're doing it out of their own survival as a human being."
The forum is a Hickman tradition hosted by students on the Speak Your Mind Steering Committee. Anne Carter, a senior at Hickman, said her involvement on the Steering Committee encouraged her to pay attention to local and global events and find out how they interact.
"No one lives an isolated life," Carter said. "This is a global community, and we need to take care of each other."
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