Thursday, January 12, 2012

Would you defy your government even if it meant going to prison?

You never know when a fantastic conversation is going to begin, and one such opportunity happened on Wednesday during The Washington Center's politics and the media seminar.

One of the speakers was Marvin Kalb, whom I remember as an NBC News correspondent, and who now has moved into higher education. He spent his time with the students and faculty exploring whether there are parallels to be drawn between the war in Vietnam and the war in Afghanistan.

I'm deliberately truncating the points he made, but certainly not because they were unimportant. He suggested that there are indeed legitimate comparisons to the two wars and legitimate comparisons as well as to how the president responded to them.

For me, the highlight of his presentation came when he asked students how they would respond to the following scenario -- the draft is reinstituted and they are then called to join the fight in Afghanistan (or somewhere else for that matter). Would they go? Or would they seek to somehow avoid the draft and therefore their military service?

As you might expect, there were a range of answers -- one young woman said she would absolutely say yes. The reason she gave might surprise you: She was born in another country and is the final stages of completing her citizenship status. Therefore, she felt that the tremendous opportunity the U.S. gave her required her to repay a debt.

Another student was almost defiant, suggesting that he would rather go to prison than serve. He added that in prison he would be able to workout, eat three square meals each day and expand his education. I know that many students in the room were turned off by his attitude (I'll confess I was, too), but I later used what he said to remind the students I am supervising of one of my favorite talking points -- freedom of speech also comes with a responsibility to use it wisely.

There was no agreement among the entire group of students at this seminar as to whether defying the government was right, proper or necessary. But the range of opinions was definitely worth hearing.

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