This Vietnam vet says: let's hear from the Taliban
Arlington County's decision to cancel a debate in which some eighth graders would have had to defend the Taliban proves once again how vulnerable good teachers are to well-meaning but short-sighted parents. Maybe 13 year olds are a bit young for this vital examination of the enemy in Afghanistan, but if I hear of any high schools imposing similar limits on student debate, I will be very upset.
I have seen my country go through many phases of fear and resentment since I watched my first political convention on television in 1952. Like all human cultures, we tend to demonize whomever is killing our troops, and I understand that. But as Americans we have also had the intellectual stamina to try to understand what the bad guys are thinking, and the Arlington decision goes against that.
Our involvement in the Vietnam war was just getting started when I was in high school. The anti-war movement got very hot my senior year of college, when I saw hundreds of students prevent the U.S. Secretary of Defense from leaving a building where he had been speaking ((I was watching as a reporter for the campus paper).
Within six months of my college graduation I was in basic training in Ft. Lewis, Wash., having asked my draft board to take me. A year later I was in Vietnam. A year after that I was in graduate school in Asian studies, where that war was a leading topic.
I don't recall any effort to present the views of the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong in high school, but I am certain my teachers and classmates could have handled it. There was LOTS of that kind of debate in college and grad school, and in the army too. It is part of being an American to try to see other points of view.
From my ill-informed perspective, the Taliban seem to me to have fewer arguments in their favor (how do they defend their abuse of women?) than the Viet Cong did, but that is just one more reason why I would like to hear from some U.S. high school tenth-grader who has looked into this and come up with the best he or she can find in their favor.
I understand why this upsets some people, but consider this: The Vietnamese Communists killed many more Americans than the Taliban ever will, yet we spent a lot of time talking about their viewpoint, and I don't think were harmed by that debate. Arlington has some of the best schools, and smartest eighth graders, in the nation. I wonder if the school district cannot be persuaded to let a few of them make the Taliban case, and our case, on public TV. I would watch that even if it conflicted with "American Idol."
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| December 15, 2009; 12:18 PM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Arlington County, Vietnam debate, banning Taliban debate, good teachers, well-meaning but short-sighted parents
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