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Parable of the English Paper

In 2006, I took an English class and I had to write a paper for my final project.  We got to choose the topic of the paper.  I chose the Iraq War.  When I started writing the paper, I was convinced that George W. Bush was justified in entering the Iraq War.  I sought to prove this in my paper.

I started doing research.  I looked up words like "jus in bello" and "jus ad bellum" that I had never heard before.  I found propaganda sites with extremely disturbing images.  I listened to Have You Forgotten by Darryl Worley and American Soldier by Toby Keith.  I saw the exploitation of human emotion on both sides of the issue.  I saw people using the principle of patriotism and freedom in order to promote the war.  I saw people using horrific, graphic images to tell of how evil the violence is.

But one thing became quite clear as I did all of my research.  I was wrong.  The thing I had set out to prove in my paper was in fact false.  We didn't go into Iraq because they flew planes into our buildings.  The terrorist group that is supposed to have done that was based in Afghanistan, not Iraq.  Iraq in no way had anything to do with the attack on 9/11.  That was a revelation to me.  I wonder how many people knew that at the time we started the Iraq War.  There were no weapons of mass destruction that Bush kept claiming he knew were there.  There was no justifiable reason for us to invade.  And yet we did.  All of this came crashing down on me as I was doing my research.  In fact, it signaled a paradigm shift in my political views.  It was the moment when I stopped being the loyal republican that my father had raised me to be and became more or less a libertarian.

The point is that I think this example shows that I do indeed have an open mind.  If I find sufficient evidence to prove that I am wrong, I admit it and accept it.  I don't like it.  I hate being wrong.  But my desire to be right outweighs my desire to never be wrong.  I want to know the truth and I want to believe the truth.  If something is true, I want to know it and believe it.  If it is false, I do not want to believe it.  And I think this particular example is a good one to illustrate that I do this in practice.  If I did not have an open mind, I might still believe that Bush was justified, that we were fighting in Iraq to protect the freedom of Americans, that our wars of aggression are justified by God.  I believed that in the past, and I very well might still believe that if I relied on propaganda rather than reason to determine my views.

As a mathematician, I am not allowed to have my beliefs dictated by emotion.  No matter how badly I want the equation x2+1=0 to have a real solution, it simply doesn't.  If I insisted that it did because I was raised that way or because my pastor said so or for any other illogical reason, I would never have a career as a mathematician.  Such silliness would never be tolerated in my field.  And it's actually quite comforting to know that.  I can always trust my colleagues to be logical in all that they do (work-related, anyway).  And it truly would be refreshing to see all people act similarly.

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