Thursday, October 05, 2006

Stupid College Students

"The reality of life is in conflict. There are stronger purposes and deeper meanings but they exist only in the mind of man. The reality of life is war."
-From "The Way and the Power."

I've come to a conclusion: most college students are really, really, REALLY dumb. No, not in regard to their classes (although, after my physics exam tonight, I would probably qualify in that category), but with regard to life. Specifically with regard to historical context and those pesky things known as facts. There's a thing happening this week on ISU's campus called "Political Action Week." There are a variety of speakers on campus every day discussing a different topic. There's also time for an open mic where people get to go up and speak their minds, debate fellow students, etc. Sounds like a nominally good idea, except for the fact that college students are DUMB.

An example: Monday's topic was "Privacy and Security," so we were treated to the double whammy of bitching about the Patriot Act and "the War" (presumably meaning Iraq, Afghanistan having been forgotten about.) A student was giving what I suppose he would have called a speech, although I thought it was a rather incoherent recitation of various stale, used talking points. Anyway, while trying to make a point, he brought up the casualties we've suffered in Iraq. According to him, 3 KIA a day were too many, because, if we did the math, that added up to "a lot of people over the next 10 years we're going to be in Iraq." I turned to my friend and remarked that our esteemed speaker had obviously never heard of Tarawa. I received only a blank stare in return, since apparently my friend had never heard of Tarawa either. For those of you who don't know, Tarawa was the site of the opening amphibious landing in the Central Pacific during WWII where 1,003 U.S. Marines lost their lives in just over three days worth of fighting. 1,003 Marines, 3 days. I think that averages out to be a bit more than "3 per day."

This is just one example; there were countless more there (including several by the Democratic candidate for Congress, who, while not being able to claim youthful ignornace, is most definitely able to claim Congressional stupidity.) But they all point back to two things: a lack of historical perspective, and a lack of general knowledge. One way I thought of putting it is that college students know just enough to be dangerous; we know enough to think we know everything, but we obviously do not.

Of course, I don't know why I think things should be any different. This is the generation whose total military experience prior to 9/11 consists of an entire war won with 345 casualties and push button skirmishes and police actions fought from the skies high above and bases far away from the actual battlefields. My generation has no collective knowledge or understanding of sacrifice or costs that are borne in blood. You would think that a wake-up call of losing 2,996 of your fellow citizens to a terrorist attack one morning in September would do something, but to my generation, it was just another "event." Something to remember where they were at when they got the news, like the Oklahoma City bombings or the Challenger accident, and to remember once a year.

My generation doesn't seem to possess the moral fiber necessary to defend one's values, one's way of life, one's very home against the forces of evil. But again, we have no concept of this. My generation has grown up in a world where the U.S. is the sole undisputed power. Hitler is a man we make jokes at, while Stalin is either ignored or faintly applauded. The Soviet Union exists only in the abstract. Fortunately, there are some who still answer the call, but they are few and far in between. Most of my generation are content to sit back and pursue a normal life of debauchery at college while ignorantly sniping at those who exist to protect that same way of being.

To use an old analogy, there is nothing wrong with being a sheep. Most people are, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. And of course, one of the many luxuries of being a sheep is that you are able to curse your sheepdogs. But apparently it is too much to ask to remember a little atoll named Tarawa, to understand that some things are worth fighting for, and that those things have been, and always will be, paid in blood.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. The person, who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing that is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
-John Stuart Mill