Friday, July 16, 2010

Bringing hope to the hopeless...

I've been sitting back recently pondering the situation in the Middle East, the fact we have troops in Afghanistan and Iraq (which I originally supported believing we had no choice and Iraq was an imminent threat) and wondering what it's all about. We have troops there now fighting and dying for what I believe now to be a lost cause. How can we possibly believe we can bring democracy to a part of the world that doesn't want it? We can't. No matter how long we stay there and try to convince them, if they don't want it, they won't accept it. And you can't possibly force freedom and liberty on to a people who refuse it.

This doesn't mean I don't support our troops, I do, especially as a veteran and especially knowing so many military folks and their families. I come from a family of veterans going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Many men and women have given their lives so we could be free. I just wonder these days if the battles our soldiers are fighting in the Middle East are more about politics than about freedom. I mean, look at the rules of engagement. Our soldiers are forced to be politically correct with the enemy. If this had happened during WWII, we would be speaking German right now and most of my family would have perished in Concentration Camps.

I guess I believe that we have to pick and choose our battles wisely, this wasn't one of them. Our soldiers have freed many in Afghanistan and Iraq but the battle rages on and considering the enemy, not to mention the clash in cultures, the battle could likely never end. The Middle East has been at war for over a thousand years and it will not end. It'll go on forever. How long can we last there?

Speaking of the Middle east, this brings me to a book one of my grad students gave me, it's called Stones into Schools and it's about Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber-turned-humanitarian who founded the Central Asia Institute which has built over 130 schools in the most remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The main purpose is to bring education to the millions of girls who have been denied an education. There are boys in the schools but one of the provisions of building the schools is that girls be allowed to attend and their enrollment increased until their numbers are equal to the boys. It is believed in these countries, that while the education of the boy is an education of the individual, the education of a girl is the education of an entire community. What is amazing is that even former members of the Taliban have handed over their guns and become teachers and supporters of the schools. I guess it depends upon each individual but sometimes a person gets tired of all the killing and destruction. Unfortunately the numbers of reformed Taliban are small.

I'm halfway through the book but I am really inspired by his work. I think this book should be required reading in our high schools. It brings a point of view we don't often see, which is that of the actual people of these countries. I like to believe that overall, people are generally good, it's the government that sucks. The politicians in many Middle Eastern nations may be corrupt and evil but the people generally are not. The people are the ones who usually suffer at the hands of such a government. Greg Mortenson has gotten to know the natives of the remote villages where the schools have been built, he's learned their customs and their ways. And he relates to us what life is like for these people. He has encountered so much graciousness and kindness in his travels and work with the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. What he and his staff and CAI have accomlished is truly remarkable. This is the kind of thing that adds to one's pride as an American.

Greg Mortenson's previous book, "Three Cups of Tea" is actually required reading for military officers now. In that book he describes how he built his relationship with the people in the villages he served. He describes how he won their hearts and minds.

It just makes me think about how wonderful it is to do something to help others. It feels so good to do something for someone who needs help. I can only imagine the great things that will come from all the schools built in these remote areas. The people will have a chance to learn how to sustain themselves and how to prosper. And by prosper I don't necessarily mean just money, I'm referring to the ability to live life to the fullest. Imagine the world's poorest and most destitute people having a chance like the rest of us? Who knows.

I think this should be required reading in high school. I think teenagers would really benefit from this book. At an age where there's a lot of confusion about what life is all about and what to do with one's life, this book at least gives young people a new perspective on life and envision the great things they could do with it. It's not about politics it's about empowerment. Teach these teens they can do anything they want and show them that even the most seemingly impossible task is actually possible and challenge them to take a shot at it.

I mean we have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

And back to the situation with our troops in the Middle East. I don't have the answer, I guess if I did, I'd be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or I'd be President. I don't know if anyone has the answer. It is what it is and we have to deal with the reality of the situation and try to make the best of it.

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