Friday, February 10, 2006

Trial of the Generations
We've talked a lot here about the Sterling Hall bombing at the University of Wisconsin in 1970 (most recently here)--and it's back in the news again today. Students across Wisconsin will participate in Mock Trial 2006 at 14 courhouses statewide tomorrow, and the subject of this year's trial is whether lead conspirator Karl Armstrong should be pardoned for the bombing.

As you might have guessed, the subject is a bit controversial. Armstrong hasn't asked for a pardon, and some people outside of Madison believe the topic is another way of pushing Madison liberalism on the rest of the state. (Despite our state's progressive reputation, Madison liberals are often greeted in the hinterlands with the same warm welcome normally reserved for crack whores.) But according to Wisconsin State Journal columnist Susan Lampert Smith, the mock trial students--many of whom would be considered among their schools' academic elite--don't relate to the Vietnam Era at all. So it seems unlikely to me that they'd be able, or interested, in applying any of its lessons to the world in which they live.

(That's what conservatives are afraid of--that liberalism will make people learn and apply the lessons of history instead of letting them continue along in the blissful ignorance that comes with belief that 9/11 changed everything, and that the past is past.)

Vietnam to today's kids is like ancient history. World War II was closer to the kids of 1970 than the high protest days of the 60s are to the kids of today. And unlike their parents, many of whom see ambiguity in Armstrong's actions, kids consider the fact that Armstrong's bomb killed a researcher evidence that his case is an open-and-shut case of wrongdoing, period. And after trying to educate the students on the passions of the time, one teacher says he's pretty sure they still don't get it.

Smith includes one quote in her story that's especially important to note. One of the adult participants in the mock trial program remarked that the students found the idea of a military draft utterly foreign and quite unbelievable, "They were shocked, shocked at the draft. You should have seen the look on their faces: 'You mean they could make you go to war?'"

After the mock trial is over, kids, before you strap your iPod back on and start IMing your friends, you might want to find Iran on a map.

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