As students and Americans, it is hard to assess what knowledge and information we are responsible for in order to be a virtuous American citizen. Now that we have the right to take part in elections, a new responsibility is put on our shoulders. We are asked to vote for the individuals we want to be leading our country, making our decisions, and looking out for what is best for America as a whole. But our duties as Americans don’t end at the polls. In order to effectively and adeptly vote for what we believe in, we need to be informed about the issues our leaders are going to be making decisions about, whether we are directly affected as individuals by these matters or not.
Though it’s clearly evident we need to be educated about the affairs and decisions going on within our country, it is imperative we understand our foreign ventures and wars as well in order to make informed decisions about how to vote on them. But, we also need to be realistic. The question then becomes: how much are we, as students and citizens, expected to know?
It is not a question I put much consideration into until recently when I had the opportunity to watch an episode of “This American Life” titled Talk to an Iraqi in an English class. In this segment, a young Iraqi flees to America and then goes on a road trip to ask Americans questions about the war in Iraq in order to understand why many of them support it. The episode illuminates the sad reality that a significant portion of Americans have no real understanding of what is going on across the world and what the American troops are actually fighting for. When Haider Hamza, the young Iraqi, asks the Americans why they support the war, they often respond something along the lines of, “because our soldiers are protecting our rights as Americans.”
Haider doesn’t understand this answer and rightly so. There is a lot more to the war than protecting Americans, and it’s hard to comprehend how the persecution of thousands of innocent Iraqis is protecting our rights as citizens.
So the question remains: how much knowledge are we responsible for? Should we understand everything that is happening in Iraq and other war zones around the world, or can we just trust our leaders are going to be making all the right decisions? When my English professor raised this question in class, I was surprised to see such disagreement among the students. I’ve always believed that citizens need to be adequately educated about domestic and foreign affairs in order to make an informed decision about whom to vote for. However, other students disagreed and found this unrealistic. They felt comfortable electing public officials based on the issues they did have an understanding of, and then believed that these people would also make other judgments they’d agree with.
There may not be a right or easy answer to the questions of how much we need to know and what is reasonable. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, but the least we can do is consider it.
By: Emily Coyle
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)