Re: further thoughts on students/young/activism (fwd)

Steve Hohensee (
Sun, 21 Jul 1996 15:13:05 -0400

Hi Paula,

I have a young friend here in Leavenworth who is going into college this
fall as a freshman. My primary relationship is with his father, a retired
Army colonel, but young Bill and I often go out by ourselves a couple of
times a month to see a movie. We usually go out for coffee afterwards and
discuss the movie. Bill prefers films like The Rock, Mission Impossible,
Eraser, and anything with Segal or other martial arts starts.

I often bring up with Bill some of the issues of morality and ethics that
are frequently raised (usually unintentionally) in these films, and have
pointed out to him that it is ironic that a common theme of these movies
featuring "All-American" heroes is government misconduct, not to mention the
abuse of individual rights. His reaction, I am sad to say, seems very
similar to the reaction of Ben's students: cynism and a general feeling that
ethics really boils down to an ad-hoc determination of what feels good in
the current situation. It never ceases to amaze me that Bill apparently
experiences no cognitive dissonance at all - for example, in cheering the
dropping of "smart" bombs on Bagdad on the one hand, while on the other hand
acknowledging (when confronted with newspaper articles and other evidence)
that they aren't so smart after all, and frequently kill women and children
noncombatants. He seems to accept as normal and completely justifiable the
fact the government exaggerated their effectiveness and prevented the press
from reporting the truth about the damage to civilians in Iraq.

I don't know how to explain it. Bill is a nice kid, has always achieved good
grades in school, doesn't do drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, has never been in
any trouble with the law or authority, was raised in a family with very
"traditional values", and identifies with clean-cut military officers and
policemen. The only time I seem him get emotional is to rage against the
"criminal scum" who use every dodge in the book to beat the court system;
yet he merely shrugs off evidence of similar behavior by our home town
police (e.g., newspaper articles showing examples of local police officers
who do lie, cheat and steal, then use legal technicalities to escape

Bill has convinced himself the world is a giant comic book with heroes and
villains, and that he (Bill) is one of the heroes. He'll consciously admit,
grudgingly, that the comic book scenario isn't real, that the world is not
black and white. Yet immediately after such a discussion he reverts to
thinking which seems to come out of the Hollywood movies he so enjoys.

Sorry to be long-winded, but this issue vexes me no end. If I can't convince
a decent 18-year-old to be skeptical about the justifications for wars, what
hope is there for our society? Is young Bill going to have to wait until
someone sets off a nuke in his back yard before he becomes concerned? I
wonder to myself what young Bill would do at My Lai?


Steve Hohensee