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.