Even after four years of war, the lives of most Americans have gone on unchanged. Most people have never met an Iraq veteran, and far too few have had the chance to ask one of them what it was like to serve in a war zone.
At Wilton High School in Connecticut, students decided to try and bridge this gap between the troops and the public. Using first-hand accounts from troops in Iraq, they created a series of monologues to perform as the school's spring play. But the school principal Timothy H. Canty feared the script's political implications and chose to shut the play down before it was ever performed. This decision was an insult to the students at Wilton High and to all veterans of the war in Iraq.
Principal Canty should allow the show to go on. He should also apologize to Iraq veterans nationwide. He has chosen to squash his students' freedom of speech--one of the very rights vets like me joined the military to defend.
As Tim O'Brien said in his classic novel about Vietnam, The Things They Carried, ''If you don't care for obscenity, you don't care for the truth; if you don't care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty.''
The truth is sometimes vulgar--especially the truth about war. And any real discussion of the situation in Iraq is going to be controversial. The stories of troops coming home from war will not be pretty or pure, and will rarely be black-and-white enough to align with extremists of any political persuasion. But however ugly and uncomfortable, it is our duty as Americans to understand the truth about the war in Iraq.
Among the 'objectionable' sources of the high school students' script were excerpts from my book, Chasing Ghosts, and the words of my good friend, Sean Huze, an IAVA member who served in Iraq as a Marine Corporal during the initial invasion. Sean is now a successful playwright and the founder of VetStage, a foundation that gives veterans a place to process their war experiences and educate the public about the war. This weekend, Sean's powerful new play, The Wolf, opened to a star-studded packed house and rave reviews.
As Sean has said, Americans must "pay more attention to what's being asked of young men and women in uniform. We, as citizens of this country, have a responsibility to be aware of what is going down in our name." No matter how you feel about the war, veterans like Sean deserve to be heard. That is a lesson Principal Canty could learn from his students.
I urge him and the administration at Wilton High School to correct this situation and let the students perform the play. Sean and I would be honored to attend the performance. And I would also suggest Principal Canty give Sean a call and invite him and the veterans from VetStage to perform his first play, The Sand Storm, at Wilton High as soon as possible. He might learn a thing or two about the war--and about the power of free speech.