War College

A few of us on our first day at the War College, at the front door of the Commandant's house.

In 2009, I spent a week at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA.

Isn’t that where you’d expect to find most California liberals?

The War College is where high-ranking officers spend a year getting their Masters in Strategic Studies.  To say my time there was an eye-opener would be a supreme understatement.  I arrived with my preconceived opinions and prejudices, my anger at George W. Bush, the Media, and the Conservative Company Line; I left a week later with a more open mind and 30 new friends.

You can read my essay about the experience here, on-line in War, Literature, and the Arts, out this week.

Here’s an excerpt:

____________

By the time the War College did, in fact, pick me to spend the first week of June at Carlisle Barracks, President Obama had been in office four months and I had backed off from discussing anything political with anyone.  “Wish me luck,” I said to my husband as he dropped me at the airport. “Maybe I should just wear a big Miss America banner that reads Liberal Female from California Goes to off to War College and get it over with. God, I hope they don’t hate me. What if I’m the only woman in a roomful of right-wing Army brass, alpha males?”

He said, “It’s the military. Who do you think is going to be there?”

________

I wasn’t used to the lightening-round way these people said exactly – exactly – what they thought without any politically-correct filtering, but also without coming across as defensive or self-righteous. It took me awhile to settle in. As the afternoon wore on we agreed and disagreed, agreed to disagree, raised our voices, threw our arms in the air, banged our hands on the table, and shoved our chairs back in protest. But unlike the personal attacks I’d grown so weary of recently, we did it all without the rolling eyes or the dismissive, off-handed smirk. We even laughed.

It was that first afternoon, in a roomful of strangers, when I remembered that arguing controversial topics could be civil. We listened. We made our points. We considered opposing ideals. It reminded me of being on a high school debate team where you’ve practiced how to clearly state your views and how to listen to your opposition without fuming over. This felt like that. And this was fun.

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14 thoughts on “War College

  1. amyg

    wow.

    what an experience. (the essay was great.)

    i didn’t even know such things existed.

    (any chance you caught ms. noonan on morning joe today? i only ask b/c i thought her hair looked exceptionally good in a diane sawyer kind of way.)

    1. Teri

      AmyG, this was one of my best life experiences. Before I went there, I had no idea such a place existed.

      I came home with a “U.S. Army War College” t-shirt and wearing it brought angry glances, appreciative nods, and the openings to very interesting conversations.

      I missed Peggy today. She’s so smart, so tough, so classy, so beautiful. I disagree with almost all of her core beliefs, but I appreciate her.

  2. macdougalstreetbaby

    Really really interesting article, Teri. It sounds like it opened you up in so many unexpected ways. The other day my kids asked me why anyone would choose to go into the army. It was a difficult discussion but luckily we have a very good friend who became a submarine lieutenant and I used him as an example of following your dream, wherever it takes you.

    I love this line: “…screamed—screamed and cursed—at my sixty-five year old diabetic,
    half-blind, cancer surviving, favorite aunt until she hung up on me.”

    You did a great job, missy. So proud of you.

    1. Teri

      I was surprised by how educated, charming, and fair they were. Which is kind of sad, don’t you think? They were so much better at being even-tempered politically than any civilians I know —- including myself.

      I think about them often. I worry about them and the many tours they’ve been on. And when I start to feel like my head will explode in a political argument, I remember their class and fair-mindedness, their willingness to see the other side, even if they disagree.

  3. Downith

    Teri – I really enjoyed reading your essay – a perfect blending of the political and the personal. It must have been a fascinating week. And why am I not surprised that despite the no need to read edict, you felt obligated to cram!

  4. Averil Dean

    This was brilliant. Beautifully written, funny, smart. I particularly liked the end bit about your liberal friend, and found myself wincing a little in recognition. We’ve become a nation of polarized tribes, unwilling to entertain even the idea of exploring the opposing point of view–and I know I’ve felt exactly as your friend did. That debate is pointless, that we are too far apart to even begin the walk back to the center. Thank you for giving me a reason to take a first step.

  5. Laura Maylene

    Congratulations! I’m going to print this out and read it on my bus ride home from work today. I was in the rare position of not having a book with me today (the HORROR) and now I can look forward to this. 🙂

    1. Laura

      Teri, I completely loved it! I read it on the bus last night, and was totally engrossed (and it made me realize how I focus better when I read something in print vs. on a screen — when I try to read things at work on my computer during lunchtime, I always feel slightly distracted). But somehow I must have left your last two pages in the printer at work so I was missing them — ahh! Once I got home I read the rest right away. You are such a fantastic writer and I can’t wait to see your name in the New Yorker some day. 🙂

  6. Tracy K

    Teri,
    I was at the War College that year. I am a wife of one of the soldiers you wrote of. He is smart, compassionate, and, yes, extremely opinionated. He has no lack of confidence in his opinion. I appreciate your honest overview of these men and women. They work hard, they give themselves to better our country, and they miss out on special times at home. They do so to protect who we are as a society. Which also includes the liberals among us 🙂 I am happy to read you felt your time was well spent and invigorated you. Your nominee missed out…

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