Being drafted hasn’t been much of a concern for anyone born on this side of the Age of Aquarius. But rumors of the return of the draft abound. Those rumors are especially scary when they seem to originate from U.S. military commanders. This lesson examines an anti-war advertisement sponsored by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq asserting that military officials plan to continue the war in Iraq for an additional 10 years and that that plan will require reinstating the draft. Students will examine whether quotations from Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute really do support AAEI’s claims.
In this lesson, students will:
- Review an anti-war TV ad from Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.
- Examine two quotations from the ad, one from Gen. David Petraeus and the other from Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute.
- Determine whether the generals’ quotations actually support the claims being made by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.
With the war in Iraq growing increasingly unpopular, a number of anti-war groups launched ads aimed at withdrawing American troops from that country. An ad from the group Americans Against Escalation in Iraq makes its case by highlighting the concern that the current troop deployments are unsustainable over the long run. Citing a quotation from Gen. David Petraeus, the current commander in Iraq, the ad, which ran in late August 2007, makes the assertion that the war would need to last at least 10 more years before Iraq was stabilized. Noting that the U.S. lacks sufficient soldiers to sustain such a deployment, the ad goes on to claim that the military is considering implementing a draft to keep the ranks of the military sufficiently full for the war to continue. The ad uses a comment from Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute to support its contention. The two quotations are in fact accurate, but both are taken out of context. In fact, Gen. Petraeus has not ever said that the war ought to continue for 10 more years, and Lt. Gen. Lute pointedly says that a resumption of the draft is not necessary and that it would represent a major policy change. Students will examine the quotations offered, checking the isolated sentences against the full context.
- Make enough copies of Student Handouts #1 through #5 for each student.
- Make packets of Student Handouts #2, #3 and #4. Distribute Student Handout #1 at the beginning of the lesson.
- Save the packets for distribution at the beginning of Exercise #2.
- Distribute Student Handout #5 at the end of Exercise #2.
- AAEI Ad, “Upton and the Draft.”
- Student Handout #1: AAEI “Upton and the Draft” Storyboard.
- Student Handout #2: BBC, “U.S. Iraq Chief Warns of Long War.”
- NPR, “Interview With Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute.”
- Student Handout #3: NPR, “’War Czar’ Concerned Over Stress of War on Troops.”
- Student Handout #4: DoD, “All-Volunteer Force Meets Nation’s Needs, Official Says.”
- Student Handout #5: FactCheck.org, “Liberal Lobby Lacks Context.”
Exercise #1 – Asking the Right Questions / Consider the Source
To the teacher: Point out to students that to be good critical thinkers, they need to ask questions. It is important to know who is making the statements and the sources of their information. It is also good to ask how the information presented can be proved or disproved. What reasons are being offered for the claims you are being asked to believe? Do those reasons logically support the conclusions? How precise is the language used? Is it based on fact or opinion?
Did you know that the Bible says that there is no God? It’s true. Psalm 14:1b says,
There is no God. (Psalm 14:1b)
Not only that, but Charles Darwin also disavowed the theory of evolution:
To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. (Origin of Species)
Of course, the Bible doesn’t really deny the existence of God. Nor does Darwin repudiate evolution. But that doesn’t stop people from pulling quotations completely out of context and then using those quotations to prove a very different point. Consider the entirety of Psalm 14:1:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
And here’s the full context of the Darwin quotation:
To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.
Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
Quoting out of context (sometimes called “contextomy”) can be seriously misleading. It’s also extremely common.
If you have not done so already, pass out Student Handout #1. If your classroom has internet access, you can also show the students the AAEI ad. Ask students to listen to and/or read the text of the ad. Divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students each and have them discuss the following questions:
- Who stands behind the information?
- Does the source have an ax to grind?
- What method did the source use to obtain the information?
- Are you convinced that the Department of Defense really does have plans to implement a draft in order to continue the war in Iraq for 10 more years?
Then hold a general class discussion around the questions. Record the essence of the answers on the board.
Exercise #2 – Cross-checking
To the teacher: It’s important that students review several sources when verifying information. When political ads make statements as fact, these should be verified through different, preferably neutral, sources. Two or three reliable sources independently reporting the same fact is a good indication the information is accurate. If two sources report different information, then more investigation will likely be needed.
Distribute the packet containing Student Handouts #2, #3 and #4 and have the students begin their cross-checking by putting the quoted bits into context. Have the students set up a “T-Chart” with the quotations from the AAEI ad on the left side and the full context on the right side.
Have the students discuss what they’ve found in the research in their small groups. Each group should come to some conclusion about whether the interviews with the two generals really do support the claims that AAEI is making. Then bring the class back together as a whole and have someone from each group describe that group’s results. At this point, give each student a copy of the FactCheck.org article (Student Handout #5) on the AAEI ad, and ask:
- Based on the evidence you’ve gathered, what are your conclusions about the quotations that AAEI employs?
- Read the FactCheck.org article on the ad and compare your answers with those in the piece. How close did you come in your analysis? Were there any issues found in the FactCheck article that you didn’t have in your conclusions? What about things you found that weren’t mentioned in the FactCheck article? Does this change any of your conclusions about the AAEI ad?
About the Author
Joe Miller received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He is a former staff writer at FactCheck.org, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. Before joining FactCheck, he served as an assistant professor of philosophy at West Point and at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he taught logic, critical thinking, ethics and political theory. The winner of an Outstanding Teacher award at UNC-Pembroke and an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award at the University of Virginia, Joe has more than 10 years of experience developing curricula. He is a member of the American Philosophical Association and the Association for Political Theory.
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