Saturday, May 21, 2005

Middle School Mind

A student in a middle school Exploratory class asked a provocative question last week. It was newspaper day, a day to catch up on current events. The teacher limits them to the "A" section, which is mostly national and international news. There was, of course, a headline about the war in Iraq, something about how the carnage was getting worse.

Nobody knew the word carnage, so it became the word of the day. On the blackboard in big letters, carnage. One of the students grabbed a dictionary and read to the class, "Carnage, the slaughter of many people." Ew, slaughter.

"So, exactly why is our army in Iraq?" That was the question. And the teacher, who had always prided himself in being open and honest with this inquisitive group of middle school anarchists, was on the spot.

He took them back to the year many of them were born. In 1991, the United States, under the leadership of George Bush the elder, sent some 140,000 American trooops to Kuwait to push back an Iraqi force that had invaded that oil-rich country. This was the war called Desert Storm, and it placed Iraqi's dictator, Saddam Hussein, firmly on stage as America's enemy, a really bad guy.

The cause for war was a story the kids seemed to like:
Saddam was convinced that the Kuwaitis were drilling lateral lines under the Iraqi border and sucking up some of his black gold that the Americans and others coveted so dearly. Oil had made Saddam Hussein, along with several other Arab dictators, a very wealthy man. Since he already had a huge active military from a recent war with Iran (in which the Americans sided with Saddam and provided military intelligence), it was relatively easy to march his army through Kuwait, a country that really had no viable military.

The short version has the American army, which had the complete backing of the United Nations, defeating the Iraqi forces in short order, sending them scurrying back to Baghdad in disarray. What's disarray? They were all messed up and confused.

At this time, George Bush the elder had an important decision to make. Does he follow the advice of some of his generals and advisors and push the American military into Baghdad and bring down Saddam? Or does he follow the advice of other generals and advisors who say pull out and let the United Nations impose laws and restrictions on this bad guy, Saddam Hussein.

The generals who opposed invading Baghdad warned of a long, bloody fight that could go on for years - a fight that would alienate the world of Islam and cause instability in an already volatile part of the world, not to mention possibly leave thousands of American soldiers dead. George Bush, the elder, decided to play it safe and bring the troops home.

From that point the United Nations, with a lot of help from the U. S., imposed all kinds of restrictions on Saddam Hussein. He was in a big "time out" - couldn't fly military jets around, couldn't trade oil freely, and inspectors were sent in to make sure he wasn't up to more mischief with "weapons of mass destruction" and the like.

Things went along like this for ten years or so with a few little flair ups. Saddam would bluster against the U. S., and of course, he tried to cheat on all the rules - something middle schoolers understand well.

At this point, the teacher asked the class what big event occurred in 2001 that changed everything. A couple of hands went up immediately. 9/11. Yup.

"So, Saddam Hussein got his revenge on us with 9/11," a student commented. The teacher asked for a show of hands. How many believe this to be the case? Twenty hands shot up - about 2/3 of the class. A couple of kids were sleeping.

From this point the discussion took a sudden turn, and the teacher had to be more careful about how the story was presented. Don't want these little young Republicans thinking there is indoctrination goin' on in the classroom. Or worse yet, having junior spouting off at home.

"Mr. Smith says the invasion of Iraq was planned before 9/11 and that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, and that George Bush and his buddies knew how angry the American people were after 9/11 and took advantage of the timing to get support for invading Iraq."

No, the teacher didn't want that kind of talk around suburban dinner tables.

The discussion continued, a few facts disseminated, and the class came to the conclusion that Osama bin Laden, operating out of bases in Afghanistan, was responsible for 9/11. Didn't we catch him? No, he's still free. This seemed to bother a few of them. One student insisted he had been caught.

It occurred to the teacher that this is exactly how the war in Iraq has gone down with the American people - or at least enough of them to get Bush re-elected. News blurbs here and there, confusion over who's who and what's where. Our lives aren't really touched by this war, and most Bush supporters are disturbed when the media tries to tell us about it in any detail. No bodies please. It makes us uncomfortable.

So, based on the newspaper day discussion in Exploratory class, one could conclude that we are at war in Iraq more out of ignorance than duty and that our busy lives won't allow us the time nor the inclination to find the truth behind the spin. This is how history is made more often than not. Lessons learned, lessons unlearned.


General Tonic said...

Wow. Good stuff, that.

Anonymous said...

Obviously most North American adults suffer from this "Middle school Mindset".

Anonymous said...

And once we establish a troop presence, any rationale for being there becomes moot. We simply are there and mustn't lose face. No wonder the rest of the world worries about our intentions. Invade first, make up the justifications later.

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