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How Afghan Amnesia and WikiLeaks Affect Our Kids

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Fallout from the now infamous WikiLeaks about the U.S. war in Afghanistan has dominated the headlines and blogosphere this week. A piece of truth has escaped from the usual suspects and come in from the cold. Someone had to do it, that is if there is any capacity for memory, not only of the facts of the Afghanistan War, but of the American notion that once upon a time democracy and freedom were irreparably linked to our being granted truth as much as we could find it, see it or know the facts of any one thing.

Written in the format of an "Afghan Diary," the 91,000 documents that exposed crucial and controversial information were supplied to the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. It was facilitated by that great democratizer, the Internet, that violent and gorgeous and fabulous resource to the masses that provides us the capacity to speak to one another and listen and learn -- if we so choose.

It seems an odd, almost guilty pleasure to rejoice in some truth telling about the situations in Afghanistan that are at once so disappointing and brutal and heartbreaking for those whose heart is still in any of it. This is not the first big leak, and people like psychologist Stephen Soldz have insisted on bringing us news of torture as it has played out in Afghanistan for example. Yet, stuff like this is not deemed "news" unless a big media personality or mainstream paper declared it so. Perhaps during this long hot summer with the depressing news of the oil spill we were aching for some degree of truth, no matter how hard.

Even as the shouts of treason are trumpeting, it also seems that the act of revealing truth is once again confused with acts of treason, and the public's right to careful judgment is once again discounted. Yet, perhaps we might all thank those who dared to publish the WikiLeaks for their gift, their daring and their hard work. Those of a certain age find this episode eerily reminiscent of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

This latest chapter in our decade of non-stop war in Afghanistan raises many questions. Is it possible that what might actually unite America is not to idealize presidents and then demonize them or our neighbors with whom we might disagree? Is it possible for us to search together for truth and ways to fix the things that need fixing? Notice to parents: As we teach tolerance and honesty to our kids, and tell them that it is okay to tattletale when they witness abuse, how can we then stand behind punishing truth tellers in our broader culture?

Children are paying attention to these discrepancies. We are giving our children the message that they should sneak around or become followers. When we punish truth seekers and truth tellers, we send the message to our kids that being a follower is the only safe place position; to follow the orders of the stronger, not necessarily the most fit to run a government or to find solutions.

If, however, we wish to pledge allegiance to an America we can honor, then perhaps being united depends on being brave enough to face the difficult truths that challenge our perceptions, our prejudices, and our need to be right at all costs. If we do this, then we can invite our children to learn about how democracy is supposed to work, and they can see us being civil and caring rather than focused on winning. We can then model resolution, honesty and compassion.

By the way, does anyone even remember the when or why about Afghanistan? Why are we there? Is it because of Osama Bin Laden or Pakistan or Iran or because we have gone to stabilize a nation and a region against terrorists?

If you just follow the headlines since we invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001, the American interest there has been tenuous, fleeting. America is a country that loves action but hates the aftermath; loves victory but hates the cleanup. This plays out at every level of our society. We claim to want "America First" but we don't provide the resources for kids to achieve excellence in schools. We get up in arms about environmental disasters, but we don't fix the problems of climate change.

How do we really deal with the important issues when we find them dull compared with the movies that glamorize the end the world and leave us--guess what--passively accepting the fate of doom and gloom?

For example, when our children talk about bullying, we need to pay as much attention to the information they are giving us as we do to the information we are imparting to them. This is the essence of communication, and it can saves lives. Or we can continue to hush them because their truth will mean our discomfort, our coming out before neighbors, before school policy, coming out of our own silence to be moved to change.

A propos of "sensitive information," it seems that we are often bullied into believing some info is too sensitive to be news and other truly sensitive info is not at all newsworthy. Do we realize just how sensitive an issue it is that we are bombarded by "news" of economic hardship, especially as we fund this and other wars? Psychologically speaking that induces us to become immune to the closing of schools, the termination of programs that fuel our children's physical and mental well being, their creativity and curiosity, and yes their joy in learning.

While the bombardment of information is good when truth is able to come to light, we are also becoming numb, too fatigued to question, too ready to accept defeat or falsehoods, and too scared to question out loud. We are showing our kids what we want them to hate and refuse. We are adapting to being bullied. If we need to reverse anything, it's this: accepting the limp version of democracy where we are distracted from knowing that our kids are deprived of freedom of speech, and we will stop telling anyone the truth.

I feel and hope there is still a modicum of common anger at being played the fool -- and enough attention and chutzpah to feel we can do something about it. President Obama wants kids to do their homework. Well, if we adults do our homework, we will see that we are cutting inspiration and creativity and curiosity from their curriculum and our own. Real homework and real study is not rote memory, but active curiosity. Just as real inquiry for Americans would be, not short cut accusations of treason over WikiLeaks but active curiosity sparked by them to awaken us to find out what on earth we are doing in Afghanistan and why so much harm to lives, to dignity, to reputation in a huge part of our world.

It would be great if the news would tell us something new, or let Americans say something new. Knowledge can breed. Collaboration and wisdom and compassion and courage is not too difficult for the American people. We are brave enough to put our hate down and try together to fix things.

Taking America to heart -- and not by heart -- we need to invent new ways, not sing old songs while our idea of freedom is burning.

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