ON SUNDAY, I took my three sons to the annual A-Day celebration at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown. Think farm animals, kids' activities, decent food. The milkshakes are legendary.
A-Day is staged a baseball's throw from where the Manion family resides. I know, because my mom sold them their house.
We had no way of knowing it, but as my boys and I slurped our shakes and soaked in the sun, a Marine contingent would soon arrive to tell the Manions that their 26-year-old son Travis had just died in Iraq. It's a disturbing thought - me, enjoying my boys, while a nearby family from the town where I was raised got the tragic news.
Especially disturbing when I recall the conversation in our car as we drove home. My oldest son is 11, starting to think big thoughts. When we got home, I quickly recreated our discussion. You can quarrel with my answers, but I'm proud of his questions.
"Dad, we looked at a Web site in school this week that shows how world population keeps going up. I'm worried we are going to run out of things like places to live and food."
"We have plenty of food and space in this country. Next time we fly to California, you can have a window seat and see how much land here is still undeveloped."
"But that's desert and tornado areas, and other places you don't want to live."
"Some of it is. Still, if you're worried about your future, I think illegal immigration and energy are more serious problems than where to live and what to eat. If you ask me, energy independence is the greatest challenge we face."
"France uses nuclear power. Maybe we should do that."
"To some extent, we do. But cars are our big problem, and they can't run on nukes. We don't use public transportation in this country, we all drive. That makes us dependent on people in the Mideast for oil because that's where most of it is. It's also why there's always conflict in the Mideast. Everyone wants the oil."
"Dad, I'm confused about something. Who were the Sept. 11 hijackers?"
"Nineteen guys, most of them from Saudi Arabia."
"If they were from Saudi Arabia, why are we at war with Iraq?"
"Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11. But after Sept. 11, there was a consensus that we wouldn't let ourselves be victims of terrorism again if we could first take action against people who were about to harm us."
"Was Iraq about to harm us?"
"No, it turns out they weren't. Our government mistakenly thought Iraq had an evil plan which you hear referred to as weapons of mass destruction."
"If they didn't have those weapons, why did we go to war?"
"Because our president believed they did have them, based on what he was told by our intelligence people."
"Did the president tell the truth?"
"He and his advisers were wrong. Some people like to say he lied. They think he wanted to settle a score with Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, because his father had gone to war with Saddam and Saddam wanted his father killed.
"That isn't what I believe. I don't think our president is the sort of man who would lie to take us to war. I think he really believed that Saddam had these terrible weapons and might use them, and he didn't want a repeat of Sept. 11."
"Does this one guy make a decision to go to war?"
"No, he relies on his advisers, and the Congress also voted in support of his using force in Iraq."
"Why don't they ask us before they go to war?"
"We have a democratic form of government. It means we elect leaders who make the difficult decisions for us. We can't decide important questions like whether to go to war by polling 300 million people."
"Why aren't we learning about this in school instead of Robin Hood and the Roman Empire?"
"That stuff is important, too, and I wish you learned about everything. Sometimes it's hard to teach subjects like this because so many parents have strong and differing views, and it would put your teacher in a difficult spot to try to present the facts in a way that everyone would find acceptable. That's why I'm glad you asked me." *