hearts and minds

On my way across Massachussets with Bike and Build, I had the chance to meet a most fascinating man: Neal Anderson.  An upstandanding Cornell Alum (noted by his humming the Alma Mater when I mentioned the name of that illustrious institution); expert climber; noted biologist and sports scientist; and professor at Fitchburg State, he was helping out with our stay in Fitchburg’s Unitarian Universalist church.  After dinner, we got to talking and he mentioned the book Three Cups of Tea.  I haven’t read it, but the synopsis is:  Greg Mortenson was making an ascent on K2, which was aborted due to weather and illness.  Staggering downhill, he was taken in by some locals and nursed back to health.  He promised them a school, and made good on his promise… and kept building schools in locations we see on TV as ‘hotbeds of anti-american sentiment’.  And now the state department, and Nicholas Kristof have noticed that hearts and minds are what we’re really after.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/13/opinion/13kristof.html?ex=1373601600&en=b894f30f19a85acc&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
Walter Lafeber wrote a book a few years ago about how American culture has spread across the world, but it’s not a universally thick layer, and certainly not everyone likes the Buy n Large vision of the future.  Some people really don’t like western culture, and, well, blow things up to protest its spread.  Here and now isn’t the place to pontificate about the West, so it will suffice to quote Churchill: "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. " -speech to the House of Commons, 11/11/1947
So, this Greg Mortenson has done more to further Western values, defeat the Taliban, and win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world than all the bombs and rockets of the United States Military.  Why?  he went directly for the children, and their parents.  Building a school is crafty, insidious, and effective.  If women are empowered, their sons will listen to their mommas and not go off to the Jihad.  If people have real skills (like reading, writing, and arithmetic) they can do productive things, rather than sit around smoking in caves and blowing stuff up.
I salute you mr. Mortenson, and I shall now go read your book.  And to George Bush or whoever wins the election in November: put tax dollars to work: invest in the peace corps, not the war corps.

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