Here’s a project that everyone can undertake across America to bring the debate about the Iraq war to those to whom it most matters – high school students. If all of us, everywhere, initiated this style of debate with military recruiters, it would be a phenomenal eye-opener for our most vulnerable youth.
Chicago High School Debates Enlistment
By Jackson Potter
On Wednesday, March 28 at Englewood High School in the Chicago Public Schools, an unusual thing happened. Instructors in the schools ROTC (Army Reserve Officer Training Corps) agreed to debate Vietnam and Iraq war veterans about the benefits and disadvantages of military enlistment. As part of a service project for the Constitutional Rights Foundation on the pros and cons of the draft, Englewood students constructed a debate format for the panelists to argue a myriad of issues pertaining to the War in Iraq. The panelists included; Barry Romo, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Sergeant Maurice Flowers, ROTC instructor, Aaron Hughes, member of Iraq War Vets against the War, Major Harry McEwen, ROTC instructor and a soldier on active duty in Iraq who is against the war who will remain anonymous. Five Englewood students sat by the panelists and fielded a series of questions for the guests to answer. Some of the questions asked included; “Do you think enlisting in the military is a good idea, why or why not?” and “What do you think about the 3,000 plus soldiers who have died in the war so far?”
The most important exchange occurred after Major McEwen commented that every decision in life involves a calculated risk. He asserted that driving a car was one of the most dangerous things a person can do, and many more die doing that than serving in Iraq. In a passionate and angry response, VVAW’s Barry Romo disputed that logic, challenged the Major, “to compare dying in an auto accident to intentionally killing someone for no good reason is a terrible comparison.”
Students fixated on this moment and began to ask pointed questions directed at the ROTC instructors in the little time that remained. Senior Andrea Hendricks, heavily recruited by the Navy, asked the Major, “Did you serve in combat like these other men.” In a very prosaic manner, the Major answered “No, I didn’t.”Questions were then beginning to accumulate as another young woman in the audience followed up with “well don’t you think these other men might be right, being that they’ve seen what actual combat is really like?” By that point, the Major had no choice but to concede the obvious. As a teacher of predominantly low income, African American youth, I can confidently say that on this day we dealt a powerful blow to the military recruitment machine. More discussions and forums like this one in our public schools would go a long way to counter the war propaganda parceled out daily by ROTC programs across America.
Jackson Potter is a Chicago Public Schools high-school teacher and long-time supporter of VVAW.