School and war

SCHOOL AND WAR….Back in 2003, one of the students in the class I was TAing came to my office to tell me that I wasn’t going to see him in class for the rest of the semester. When I asked him why, he explained that was being deployed to Iraq. My attitude did a split-second shift from “kid dropping out of school” to “brave young man risking his life in war” and we sat there and talked for about half an hour.

It didn’t occur to me to get his email address then, so over the next few years I’d occasionally Google him to see if any news came up. I had little success, because his name isn’t especially unusual and all I could find were thousands of irrelevant hits. I reminded myself that this was a good thing — most likely, if his name was in the news, it would be because something bad had happened to him.

If you’re bracing yourself a little, don’t worry — this isn’t that kind of Memorial Day story. I was overjoyed to run into him in a campus restaurant last year and hear that his time in Iraq was over. He’s back in Texas, safe and sound.

I tell you this because it brings to mind one of the lesser costs of the Iraq War — the disruption it imposes on the lives of able and intelligent people who have to put their educational plans and careers on hold for years. While everyone else is advancing, they’re away fighting a war.

This is what I think of in relation to Jim Webb’s bill to expand educational benefits for veterans. (That’s the bill that at the center of the Obama-McCain spat right now — Obama voted for it while McCain opposed it but didn’t show up for the vote.) If we can reduce the bad consequences of risking your life for your country, we should, and that’s what Webb’s bill tries to do.