The war may be winding down, but in a recent forum, the debate about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction raged on.
The participants were not diplomats, but two 11-year-olds from Ellicott City whose mock United Nations-style debate won first place in the Maryland History Day competition.
In their winning entry, Kenny Sheain and Asif Majid, both sixth-graders from Dunloggin Middle School in Ellicott City, chose to examine the responsibility of the United States to police the world versus the right of the Iraqis to defend themselves.
"We picked it because we wanted to look at something interesting, and it is a hot topic," Kenny said.
Maryland History Day is a statewide competition for students in grades six through 12 that was held at Montgomery College in Rockville on April 26. The theme for this year's competition was "Rights and Responsibilities In History."
The multitiered competition sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council involves more than 7,000 students and nearly 200 teachers in Maryland.
The state-level competition involved about 300 students who were the two top winners in each of 14 categories from the regional competition that was held in March. Winners from Maryland History Day will go on to compete at National History Day next month.
Students work individually or in groups to produce a research paper, a documentary, a museum exhibit or a performance on the annual theme.
The boys started their research in November as part of a project for a social studies class.
Participants conduct all of the research for the project themselves, using primary and secondary sources. In Kenny and Asif's case, this involved book and online research, watching the news every day and reading newspapers and magazines. They also taped some of the U.N. Security Council meetings and watched CBS news anchor Dan Rather's interview with Saddam Hussein.
"You can count on Time and Newsweek to have three main articles on the war with Iraq," Asif said.
Kenny said reading the news magazines helped them get quotes from President Bush and Saddam Hussein. "You can find out what they actually think about what is going on," he said.
Because they picked such a timely issue, the boys had to continually update their script. They drafted five versions of the script and made numerous revisions.
Their teacher, Barbara Rentz, provided class time for them to work on the project but the bulk of the work took place after school and on weekends. The boys also spent a lot of time on the phone. Snow days added more pressure because the boys lost class time and had to keep up with their regular work in addition to making time to for the project.
"It is a lot to ask of them as sixth-graders, especially with all of their outside commitments and especially since there is not a direct grade with it," Rentz said.
The result of all of the hard work was an eight-minute debate in which each side presented a carefully written argument and rebuttal about the reasons the United States threatened to go to war with Iraq.
After the performance came a more difficult task - proving to a three-judge panel that they knew what they were talking about. Toni Richardson, an eighth-grade history teacher at Ellicott Mills Middle School in Ellicott City and a judge, said the panel asked questions such as: What types of primary sources did you use? What is the most important thing you learned? And how did you divide up the work?
Rentz knows that competitions are won and lost at this critical juncture. No Dunloggin team had made it to the nationals before Kenny and Asif. She thinks one of her groups last year fell short because the pupils could not answer a basic question about their presentation on Gandhi.
"The judges asked when Gandhi was born, and they could not answer that," she said.
This year, she had no reason to worry. Not only were Asif and Kenny able to sail through the questioning, but another group of Rentz's pupils also made it to nationals. Megan Orth and Julia Valdivia, sixth-graders at Dunloggin, created an exhibit comparing detention under the Patriot Act with Japanese internment during World War II.
For now, the boys are content with their medals. But they are preparing for the nationals and looking ahead to next year.
"Oh yeah, I want to win again," Asif said. "We will make Dunloggin history!"