Next generation of voters react to Afghan planPublished 10:38am Thursday, December 3, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
For President Barack Obama, his first term has been a tough one. His latest appearance, to announce his plan to send 30,000 additional United States soldiers to Afghanistan while also setting a time table for a pullout of military force from the Middle Eastern country, has sent criticisms and questions flying from news networks and front page headlines to kitchen tables across America.
“I do not make this decision lightly,” the president said before an audience of West Point cadets. “I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force and always consider the long term consequences of our actions.”
The consequences of yet another high profile decision from the current administration will be what many will question in the days to come.
Inside Kathy Elsner’s Advanced Placement U.S. History class at Niles High school, seniors studying the history of the country have also been keeping an eye on current issues facing the nation.
Reaction among the next generation of voters seemed to be collectively supportive of Obama, despite any lingering questions.
“The cost of it” was one of senior Mark Calhoun’s questions following Obama’s speech. “Since we’re already in tough economic times.”
Calhoun said he’s curious of the financial impact, though he supported the president.
“I don’t think he’s going to just make such a rash decision without knowing what’s going on,” added Catie Butler, also a senior.
“It’s like finally we have a clear cut, set plan,” Hayley Ochoa said.
Critics might argue the exact opposite. Obama plans the addition of U.S. soldiers to begin in six months but also plans a pullout of force beginning in 18 months. Details surrounding just how the president expects to do both successfully remain unknown.
And there is the matter of opposition in Washington, with Democrats who may be less than fully supportive of the move to send more troops to the region while Republicans find flaws in a plan that includes a relatively quick withdrawal.
“At least he’s trying,” Shelby Antisde said.
For the most part the students agreed in the belief that Obama was working off a wealth of information, that he was well abreast of the situation overseas and his decisions were coming from careful consideration.
“We can’t depend on our own opinion of what he knows,” Antisdel continued, explaining that “we don’t know” how much information or just what kind of information Obama has on the situation in Middle East. But the students seem to trust it.
“And I think it’s being cautiously optimistic and cautiously supportive,” Butler said.
Several students agreed that since the Obama administration took office they feel “more aware” and more informed in general, citing good communication from the administration to the American people.
The support coming from these future voters could be seen as a strong contrast to the generation of another of America’s wars, what has suddenly become this war’s shadow: Vietnam.
Elsner grew up a child of wartime, much like her students – but it was a different war and a different time and for those who lived it, those who’ve seen the protests in old reels. It was an altogether different type of collectivity, with many of America’s young people wanting the country out of Vietnam as quickly as possible.
“This generation seems to be a lot more supportive of our presidential administrations,” Elsner said. “They seem to be really willing to give this administration a chance.”
Still, as this generation moves through another year of war, many of them having seen friends and family go off to fight overseas, the question is begged of whether or not they fully understand the costs of the war.
“I think they do to a point,” Elsner said. “As much as their age and maturity allows them to.” She added that the students she sees are “patriotically supportive of the troops.”
Elsner said she wouldn’t compare the current war to Vietnam at all and thinks there is a strong fear of many that the country will find itself in an endless war. Still, she said she doesn’t believe the situations are necessarily the same.
Whether or not Obama will pull troops out as promised – how the war will essentially end – remain aspects of an uncertain future, but a future that will one day be looked upon in the pages of a history book.
How would Elsner teach it to a generation that would be growing up in a postwar era?
“Just like when you teach anything, you look at cause and effect,” she said. The decisions that have led up to America’s presence in Afghanistan, decisions that go back to Sept. 11, 2001, events that took place even before then, would have to be evaluated and analyzed.
And as an educator, she said, she would “give the kids the means to make their own decision” when discussing the issues.
Decisions they are likely to not make lightly.