ELDERSBURG — Borrowing a phrase from a recent news magazine article, Bruce Damasio asks the students in his world history class whether the now-ending Persian Gulf war was "a just conflict or just a conflict."
The sudden silence contrasts with the sometimes lively debate that ensued among the 30 or so juniors and seniors when Damasio earlier posed questions like "What benefits did the U.S. gain from fighting the war? Now what -- what concerns exist for the U.S.?"
The Liberty High School students had plenty of answers for those questions.
Damasio, though, had prepared them for that debate.
As students arrived for their third-period class, Damasio, chair of the social studies department, assigned them to locate Iraq and other Middle East nations on individual maps.
"If we're going to be talking about this intelligently, they have to have some idea about wherewe're talking about," Damasio says.
But it's clear as the students color in Iraq on their maps that they have some idea about what there talking about. They have read accounts of the war in newspapers and watched events on television. And they discussed the war in classesranging from biology to English.
When the map exercise is completed, Damasio divides the classroom into five groups to debate the questions he posed earlier.
Amy Dontell, 16, picks up a green marker and begins printing the question, "Now what -- what concerns exist forthe U.S.?" on a large piece of white paper, while the other four members of her group begin talking.
Troy Gourley informs the group ofsome of the concerns his pen pal, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alfred L. Powers, has related in letters from the Persian Gulf.
"The concerns my friend has is how will the soldiers be treated when they come home.Will it be like Vietnam when no one cared?" says Troy, a 17-year-oldjunior, who has been exchanging letters with Powers, a California resident, since Thanksgiving.
Amy and the others agree his concerns are valid. Some of the other concerns they decide to list include questions about when the troops will return home and what effects the war will have on America and the Middle East.
When the groups finishwriting their responses, Damasio hangs their papers on the chalkboard, where recent front-page editions of national newspapers -- announcing the cease-fire and other war developments -- had previously hung.
Bob Clary, a 17-year-old senior from Gamber, walks to the board and reads some of the benefits his group decided came from the six-week conflict. His group's list of benefits includes freeing Kuwait, better relations with the Middle East, and increased patriotism.
Damasio interrupts to ask: "How has patriotism increased?"
Students rattle off a long list of visible signs, including yellow ribbons, U.S.flags, T-shirts, and packages and letters being mailed to soldiers.
When Damasio asks how many students feel the mood of the country supports the war, almost all the hands in the classroom are raised.
"Was (the war) worth it?" Damasio asks.
Sixteen-year-old Erik Hill nods his head and says the effort liberated Kuwait.
"What do you, Erik, get living here in Sykesville, Maryland, out of liberating Kuwait?" Damasio asks.
"Lower gas prices," the Eldersburg junior responds.
Michele Keefer, a 17-year-old senior, adds, "Iraq just can't go in and take over Kuwait. It's not right."
Others in the classroom nod in agreement.
The students leave without answering the question of "a just conflict or just a conflict." But perhaps that is because the answer is not at hand.
"We could nod our heads but we don't have a definite answer," Damasio says. "We won't have an answer until you're a couple of years out of high school."