Dear Winston: Advice to the politically lovelorn

Dear Winston,

Why do you think abstinence only sex education has been such a miserable failure?  I’ve never been a supporter of the idea: our kids need a well balanced approach to sex ed — one that teaches the benefits of abstaining from sex, at least until they’re older, but that also provides information on effective birth control.

Still, I’m a little surprised by the studies showing that abstinence programs have had absolutely no effect on adolescent sexual behavior: I didn’t expect them to work well, but I did think they’d have some small impact.  But it’s now obvious, based upon the study results, that the fact a kid signs an abstinence pledge makes it no less likely that he or she will be sexually active.

So tell me Winston: What gives here?


Surprised in San Diego

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Dear Surprised,

When it comes to teenage sex, we have a choice as a society: we can choose to live in the real world, with all its warts and blemishes, or we can create a make-believe world that’s more to our liking.

When we choose the first, we come one step closer to actually solving our problems.  When we choose the second, we sleep more happily at night as our problems fester. 

Abstinence only education is part of a make-believe world — one created by adults, of course — in which stern lectures about the sins and dangers of premarital sex have more influence on adolescents than hormones and peer pressure.

But that isn’t the world we live in.

As much as we old fogies may hate it, the truth is that early sexual experimentation is the natural order of things.  It’s how we’re put together.  For better or worse, nature wants us to copulate — and it especially wants us to copulate when we’re young and healthy.  There’s no mystery about why, of course: nature wants us to make more of us (which, when you think of it, presents a fairly compelling argument against the “theory” of Intelligent Design: what intelligence would deliberately encourage the production of more human beings, given the shameful ways we’ve been treating this beautiful planet?).

There’s little doubt that early teenage sex is socially undesirable; it creates unwanted pregnancies, spreads diseases and creates emotional turmoil at least arguably before young people are well equipped to deal with it.  It certainly makes sense to me to do what reasonably can be done to encourage kids to put off becoming sexually active.

But just because we want something doesn’t make it happen.

Consider, for instance, the accepted abstinence mantra of no sex until marriage.  In just exactly what America is that now the norm?

Come on folks, how dumb do we think adolescents are?  Do we really think they haven’t noticed that for most people staying a virgin until marriage has long since gone the way of the dodo?  Do we think they’re blind to what is going on in the culture around them, not to mention what they often see in their own homes where frequently they watch their parents and older siblings go through divorces, dating and new marriages?

Of course, this sort of “just say no” make-believe is hardly new.

If you have a few gray hairs, you no doubt remember Nancy Reagan’s “just say no to drugs” crusade.  Billions and billions of dollars were flushed down the toilet in anti-drug advertising campaigns that seemed designed principally to make non-drug using adults feel good.  The rate of drug use didn’t go down a bit.

I remember a doughnut shop near my place of work: the average age of the clientele must have been close to 70.  And for years, every bag of doughnuts they sold had the catchy little phrase printed on it: Just say no to drugs!

So, do you think that sweet toothed geriatric crowd, with their anti-drug donut bags, convinced a lot of kids to avoid drug use?  Me neither.  But that’s what always seems to happen with these campaigns: they become all about what adults (and in particular adults in right wing interest groups) want to preach to kids, instead of what kids might be inclined to listen to. 

You’re right in what you say, my friend; the youth of this country need a balanced approach to sex education that above all else is meticulously honest.  Young people need reliable information on sex and contraception, not propaganda.  They need to know the risks of irresponsible promiscuous conduct.  But they also need to know about safe and effective contraception.

In today’s world this knowledge may quite literally make the difference between life and death.  And for my money, any group that insists on putting their ideology, sexual hang-ups or even economic interests (these folks make a fortune off of selling this snake oil) ahead of the health of our young people can go straight to hell.



*  *  *
*  *  *

Dear Winston,

I keep hearing rumors that they’re going to restart the draft.  Winston, I won’t fight in an immoral war in Iraq; I’ll tell you that right now.  So is it time to go to Canada?


Northbound from Nebraska

*  *  *

Dear Northbound,

Yes, you should go to Canada.  It’s a beautiful place to visit.  As far as going there to avoid the draft, however, that would be a big no.  There is no draft and there will be no draft, at least not to fill the void in our forces created by Iraq.  Instituting a draft for that reason would be political suicide for anyone involved.

It ain’t gonna happen, period.  (Canada also isn’t the same safe refuge it was during Vietnam.)

To be honest, fretting over a draft under these conditions is sort of insulting to all of those fine young Americans who have volunteered to serve.  They’re the ones who are being used as cannon fodder in pursuit of the neocons’ perverted dreams of glory.  Fighting to bring them home is reason enough to oppose this obscene war; we shouldn’t need some mythical conspiracy to bring back the draft to give us added incentive.



*  *  *
*  *  *

Dear Winston,

God willing, some day this awful war will end.  If it were up to you, what lesson would you want Americans to take from the war in Iraq?


So Sad in St. Clair                                                  

*  *  *  

Dear So Sad,                                                                                    

As simple as it sounds, what I’d like is for Americans, all Americans, to learn from Iraq is that war hurts.  And I’d like them to never forget it.

We did forget for awhile, you know. Years of near zero-casualty warfare made us forget:

Panama Invasion: 23 American deaths.

Gulf War (1991): 148 American deaths

Bosnia and Kosovo: 0 American deaths

Of course, these wars weren’t actually bloodless; it was just mostly the other guy’s blood that was spilled.

Take the first Gulf War — the one started by W’s father — the good Iraq war, or so the story goes.  You know, the one we fought to reinstate the legitimate government of Kuwait.  Although I’ve always wondered just where it was that we made the U-turn from the America of Thomas Jefferson to one that regards a monarchy as a legitimate government.  But there we were, spilling American blood and treasure all in pursuit of returning a hereditary ruler to his throne (and keeping the oil coming, of course).

And then there was this.

They called it the Highway of Death.  With the end of hostilities at hand, Iraqi troops trying to retreat from Kuwait were slaughtered from the air.  One American soldier described it as a turkey shoot.  When it was over, thousands of twisted and scorched vehicles littered the roadways (it is a matter of some controversy whether thousands, or merely hundreds, of Iraqis died along the Highway of Death).  This wasn’t a battle by any meaningful definition of the term; it was an extermination.  And similar, if less dramatic, acts of extermination continued elsewhere in Iraq until Colin Powell, concerned that television coverage made it appear “as if we were engaged in slaughter for slaughter’s sake,” prevailed upon Bush to end the attacks.   

But then war is often about extermination.  From Alexander the Great’s slaughter of the populations of Massaga and Ora around 323 BC, to the militarily irrelevant firebombing of Dresden in February of 1945 to the ethnic cleansing we’re seeing today in Iraq, wholesale slaughter is often the reality when war erupts.

So that’s the lesson I want to see us take from Iraq — the only lesson that could provide some meaning to the senseless bloodshed: There are no painless wars, only unspeakably horrible ones. 

And to start one when it isn’t absolutely unavoidable is the most unforgivable sin any person can commit.



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Check out the last edition of Dear Winston here.

Check out the episodes archive here.

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