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As always though, the state of the world compels me to overcome both my apathy and the student’s. We are in a war and a couple of times a week on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer I sit through those terrible minutes of silence as pictures of the war dead are shown with only a name, age and rank to describe the humans that have perished. Most are the age of my students. If my students have trouble making sense of, or caring to make sense of, the global state of affairs, could these young men and women in the armed forces have been any different? Didn’t they just enroll, grumble, go where they were told, grumble, do what they had to do, and grumble some more, just like many of my students? Yet, those young faces would never come home to Mom’s house laden with laundry and many of those young faces would never appear in family photo albums holding their first born.

End of semester and the obligatory final speeches. I have asked that students pick a topic that they care about. Throughout the semester I have insisted that they do care about issues as a result of life experiences and that, in sharing, they can influence us all. Of course, I realize that this sentiment acknowledges the experiences of those who have been “born again,” come to believe that abortion is the murder of the innocent, and other such issues that can not be the effective topic of a five to seven minute persuasive speech. One boy has chosen the topic “Why we should support the troops.” Yet, despite the empty rhetoric in his title, he successfully defines who the troops are and what he means by “support.”

During the next class another student hides her main agenda behind a speech entitled “A history of the Marines,” but she succeeds in influencing the way we all view the current war. She allows the students to ask questions of, and see the hallow sadness of a young Marine sniper who has seen action in Iraq and truthfully tells the class that “no one knows what we are doing there any more.”

The young Marine tells us a moving story about the crowds of Iraqi people who gather around the vehicles as the servicemen enter the town: “They try to give us food. We take it, but of course we wouldn’t eat it. There are a hundred of them. It’s just that sometimes someone in the back of the crowd takes out an AK- 47 and starts shooting at us. What can we do? Shoot everyone in every crowd?” He asks this question as a school child would, as if there is a simple answer, and if someone could just give it, then he could sleep at night.

The young man states that he has no regrets. He states that his main frustration is that “his guys” are still there. And that he would go back again.

Our next speech is against capital punishment. The final argument is that the Bible says “thou shall not kill.” The class is silent. I am silent. I have just heard a report on the radio regarding President Bush’s own experience of being born again. How it is the moving force behind his leadership; how a phrase something like “for one greater than us all” is the motto of his leadership. How he has pictures hanging in the oval office to represent this inspiration. Yet he, and other leaders before him who professed great belief in the laws of the Bible, have killed, whether by bomb or sanction or inattention.

I know there is an answer here. I know there are just and unjust wars. But I cannot answer. Someone says “then what are we doing in Iraq?” And the class ends. As a teacher of public speaking in a community college I face the same challenges every semester: helping students to overcome the feeling that they are being forced to do something terrifying in front of a group of strangers, facilitating the sense of community that makes the act of public speaking less intimidating, and exposing them to the everyday acts of public speaking that shape their lives while they are busy watching sports or reality TV. Yet, this spring of 2004 offered a new set of challenges. Perhaps that is because during this semester I have had to cope with the culmination of a year and a half of divorce and custody proceedings, a search for a new home for my family, and a subsequent move. I was tired. I had to push myself not to give into the “who really cares?” and “how can this translate into a job for me?” mentality.