We must face up to new struggles

Monday, June 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:08 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

If we can believe what we see on television, a lot of people have become as polarized on the issue of the war in Iraq as they are about abortion and gay marriage. If this is true, there’s not much use for a national debate on the subject. It would seem that the moment folks line up on one side or the other of the political parties, any chance of agreement on almost any subject is lost, with the possible exception of the high cost of gasoline. No matter what our political preference is, we all seem to love to drive our cars.

I don’t find it at all surprising that many young people I know have chosen not to have children. I have heard several of them say that they fear the next several generations will still be fighting the war started by this generation. Unfortunately, a lot of us feel that they are right. But we’re a country of majority rule, and the majority has chosen to fight this war, so there’s no point in trying to “lock the barn,” so to speak.

This leaves a big job ahead for educators, who will obviously be charged with the responsibility of teaching future warriors. I suppose many will see this as an opportunity for ROTC programs to become a part of school systems again. I hope that in the need for military readiness, civics also will play a greater role in education. Parents also may have to begin thinking in a new way in order to prepare their children for a different kind of world. Many believe that the voluntary army will be able to keep the enemies at bay and there will not be a need in the near future for a draft. However, I think we should all be ready to face that possibility.

Although the government thinks that public viewing of flag-draped coffins is unhealthy, at some point we have to accept the fact that young men and women are dying and their families are suffering a tremendous loss. The death of loved ones causes pain, and there is no way to avoid the reality of this. Many other young folks have lost limbs and endured all kinds of painful injuries, and we need to make sure that veterans’ services will be available to treat these injuries. So often, when conflicts are over we tend to forget about the combatants who must live with these injuries for the rest of their lives. And as depressing as all this is to think about, it’s even more depressing for the soldiers and their families who are living through this every day. I really think the least we can do is to take a few moments out of each day and remember these people.

Frankly, I would like to see a surge in peace studies and conflict resolution. We may not think that the day will come when people decide to negotiate their differences and invest heavily in training diplomatic corps with the same vigor that they train armies. It’s possible that a majority of the people might ultimately see that vengeance simply does not work. The more people you kill, the more enemies you create. One would think with so many attempts at civilization having been made by so many people over the centuries, this message would have become apparent. When you kill someone who has killed another individual, you have just doubled the murder rate, so what is the positive effect here?

Perhaps a generation of newborns could be taught from the crib how to function in a diverse world, where people have different ideas and values. Maybe they could grow up learning how to defend their point of view and way of life by setting an example and using their powers of persuasion. Those are the kinds of suggestions, of course, that make a lot of people scowl and smirk. But if you can envision maintaining your position in an arena without guns, clubs and knives and without getting beat up everyday, you might take the opportunity to learn to find ways to build consensus. People generally only talk tough when they feel they have a chance to seize the advantage.

I really don’t think most Americans want to live in a war-torn area where they face the possibility of annihilation by terrorists every morning. I certainly don’t think they want their children to live like that. I seriously believe that we should start making some plans beyond the Patriot Act and Homeland Security to prevent being made helpless victims of some misguided efforts to become empire-builders. It hasn’t been that long ago that the English made the wise decision to withdraw from Mesopotamia. Can we please get some help from the history department so that we don’t keep doing the same dumb things over and over? Or better still, will you help our leaders?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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