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It Takes a School, Not Missiles (nytimes.com)
57 points by robg on July 15, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

Doesn't anybody here remember what the Taliban in Afghanistan were like before the U.S. drove them out? Well, here's a reminder: "Women seeking an education were forced to attend underground schools such as the Golden Needle Sewing School, where they and their teachers risked execution if caught."


I applaud what Mr. Mortenson has accomplished, but what he did (in Afghanistan at least) only became possible after the U.S. army invaded Afghanistan and fired all those expensive missiles.

I'm sick of this re-writing of history. There are other countries that helped to remove the Taliban, among them are Canada and the U.K. Please give credit where credit is due. A U.S. pilot even killed some Canadian soldiers! So to say "the U.S. drove them out" and "the U.S. army invaded Afghanistan" is insulting.

A good review; the better parts are where the columnist, Mr. Kristof, describes the book and Mr. Mortenson rather than talking about his own opinion.

Most interesting: "To get a school, villagers must provide the land and the labor to assure a local “buy-in,” and so far the Taliban have not bothered his schools. One anti-American mob rampaged through Baharak, Afghanistan, attacking aid groups — but stopped at the school that local people had just built with Mr. Mortenson. “This is our school,” the mob leaders decided, and they left it intact."

"Mr. Mortenson has had setbacks, including being kidnapped for eight days in Pakistan’s wild Waziristan region."

Strangely, the columnist adds in "It would be naïve to think that a few dozen schools will turn the tide in Afghanistan or Pakistan," right after that, undermining his own point... ?

Why does it undermine anybody's point? In an area where millions of people live, a few dozen schools is a small number, yet thousands of them may make a positive difference.

It's an op-ed. The point is to get the author's opinion.

This reminds me of the film "Charlie Wilson's War" and the story of what happened back in Afghanistan in the late 80s; after spending over a billion dollars secretly providing rebels with weapons in order to defeat the Soviets, we walk out without spending even a few million on rebuilding, and almost none of the population learns that we were the ones who saved them--and instead blame us for not helping, not being educated enough to know the truth.

And thus we created the enemy which we fight today.

Actually, what happened was that the Saudis stepped in and DID build the schools, houses, and infrastructure.

And then we're shocked, SHOCKED! that the radical elements would win out over the more moderate ones.

I don't know, considering how awful some of the schools here are, do we really want to export them to other countries? It'd be nice if some countries took some chances and innovated in regards to how schools, corporations, and other social structures work instead of plainly copying the Western world.

edit: I agree that education is important and better than lobbing missiles and bullets at someone but at the same time...

So many of the problems with education in the US are cultural that it's depressing. When people don't want to learn, there is very little you can do to improve the situation. Especially in a compulsory system where students are not free to leave and end up simply disrupting those students who truly want to learn.

The thirst for knowledge in the third world and true desire to learn combats the worst features of the Western education model.

To an extent it is a cultural problem, but on the other hand, why would you want to learn about something that's taught in a dry and boring way?

Because you're in the developing world, and you're desperate to become an engineer / civil servant / whatever, so your kids don't have to drive taxis?

I'm all for studying what you're interested in, and in general, I don't do things that I'm not at least marginally interested in, but let's not kid ourselves. This is a luxury that many don't have.


So now we have to build millions of schools around the world so people will love us.

Is this reddit, the "social" socialist propaganda site? What does this have to do with hacker news?

No, we need to win the war against violent, Islamic extremism, and violent religious fundamentalism, in general.

In that regard, schools and education are just another weapon in a combined military / social arsenal. As it turns out, the schools are cheaper than the missiles.

The point is, if we don't do this, we will lose.

The reason that, for example, Palestinian textbooks contain maps omitting Israel is that they don't want to teach their children a fair and peaceful message.

Schools are great when people are reasonably open to living peacefully but can't work when people do not want peace and sabotage attempts at real education. So, unfortunately, we're going to need a bunch of missiles.

I know it's hard to grasp, but there are people who do things like destroy greenhouses of their own out of spite or hate. If you give them a a voluntary choice, some people don't want peace; their agenda for how the world should be comes first.

You know, it's funny, one of the memes strong enough to change some dangerous people enough to be safe is Christianity, but the idea of converting Muslims to Christianity is met with extremely loud screeching about how we shouldn't do that and they should be allowed to believe the (uncivilized) things they believe now. If we can't convert them to peaceful Western values then it's going to be missiles.

If we can't convert them to peaceful Western values then it's going to be missiles.

Doesn't this seem self-contradictory to you? What, exactly, is "peaceful" about a value system that advocates aggressive, ideologically motivated war?

I was referring to missiles used in self-defense.

"some people don't want peace; their agenda for how the world should be comes first."

The point is that those people are relatively few. Most people would rather live in peace unless taught otherwise.

Still, the cost of one missile pays for a bunch of schools. I think it's money far better spent.

You can't just walk into Palestine, build a school, and teach the children there to be peaceful. It's not just that no parents will send their kids to your school; it's also that people there will kill you for trying to do this.

Straw-man generalization.

Read the specific claims in the article about the mothers who persuaded their sons to leave the Taliban.

We need to imprison or kill the violent people who can't be reasoned with, but we need to offer an alternative to those who are capable of choosing one. Over time, their numbers will grow.

Educating, and eventually, empowering women helps on all fronts.

Educating, and eventually, empowering women helps on all fronts.

Interesting claim.

Not that I say that we should blatantly discriminate against women, but would you argue that the discrimination against women in our culture and history in any way seems to have inhibited the development of our civilization?

Women's liberation is a rather recent thing and I say we have still done quite well.

I wasn't so much talking about us, but about developing countries. More educated, empowered women tend to have fewer children, and take a greater role in managing their families' finances. All this supposedly leads to fewer angry young men in the world.

If you look at the history of philosophy or science you don't find a lot of women. But there could have been. It's a shame. The more scientists and philosophers (and many other things) the faster we make progress.

My position is that we need missiles and schools both. The fact that there are places where we can't set up schools makes clear that we sometimes need the missiles.

As far as I can tell from your comment, you agree with me. You, too, think there are people we need to kill.

Or it could just be more cost effective way to get piece and quiet, Mr. pragmatic.

it reminds me of the movie idiocracy. explosions and violence make more impression on short-term than litterature or culture

Children should be required to watch "Idiocracy" in the classroom...

"Three Cups of Tea" is a terrific book. I highly recommend it.

"So I have this fantasy: Suppose that the United States focused less on blowing things up in Pakistan’s tribal areas and more on working through local aid groups to build schools, simultaneously cutting tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan manufactured exports."

What a fantasy. I wish. But what's easier: bombing and shooting or educating? (Same goes for most other non-violent measures that could have been taken. They're harder.)

If they cost less money why are they harder? Do you think it’s a question of funding or a question of scale?

It's slightly depressing to imagine that if our defense contractors could make more money building schools than weapons, we would not be having this discussion.

This is the kind of article I need to read in the morning. It gives a sense of purpose. We are seeing a shift in our collective consciousness. The system we are part of is not the best. In fact it is arguably the worst system since the caveman era. We are the first generation that truly believes we can, need and will improve our world without hurting anyone.

Then I might suggest subscribing to the New York Times. Can the rest of us keep our Hacker News feed?

>Can the rest of us keep our Hacker News feed?

The Hacker News RSS feed is in the same place it has always been.

Uhm, the point was that this isn't hacker news.

I understood your point. I disagree with you because this isn't Hacker News for you. The main Hacker News page is never going to be 30 perfect stories for every single hacker in the world because it isn't a customized page so it can't be perfectly individualized. Hackers like different stories. More than 50 people liked this. Hacking doesn't have to be in python. The hacking Mr. Mortenson is doing is incredibly noble.

Why do you find this story to be so objectionable?

From the guidelines:

>Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic.

> I understood your point. I disagree with you because this isn't Hacker News for you

If it gets bad enough, then eventually people will start moving on to something better, that is actually about hacker news, and not the political article du jour. This article and discussion were both extremely off topic. And it's not just any off topic, it's politics, which brings out the lowest common denominator in most forums it's introduced in. I mean, how can people vote up stuff like "The system we are part of is not the best. In fact it is arguably the worst system since the caveman era." ? Apologies to rokhayakebe, but that's not serious, interesting discussion, it's hyperbole typical of thousands of other internet forums. I would prefer to try and keep HN from becoming just like all those other forums, although perhaps it's a vain hope.

Well... we've had this discussion before, but my attitude is that politics and economics will show up here because they don't violate the guidelines and I think it's great. You think that having articles about economics and politics (which do indeed generate conversation of lower quality than the rest of the site) will inevitably pollute the rest of the site and drive away users. Right now economics and politics stories are a small percentage of stories here and I find the negative response rather annoying. If they get to be too much, PG can change the guidelines or the voting mechanism.

I'll agree that the discussion in this thread is rather mediocre and is evidence of the phenomenon you are concerned about. But I've seen great discussions about politics and economics here and I like hearing it from the perspective of the users here. I've learned things and I just don't understand why you think we'll be better off not learning about these issues from each other. It reminds me too much of a generic rule for pleasant banal conversation, "don't talk about religion or politics."

We disagree about whether such discussion about things we are less knowledgeable is inevitably bad for the site. Ultimately the answer is unknown and I would like to see the limit pushed as far as possible to make the test of not degenerating into the lowest common denominator harder. I think it can be done, though downvoting stories may have to be enabled eventually.

My feeling is that over the past few weeks, there has been a small but significant rise in 'bad' stories. Stuff like this is getting voted up:


Yeah, that's pretty bad...

I agree with you, davidw.

Except we're beginning to have a new problem here at hn.

The only thing worse than threads about politics, religion, drugs, or popular culture are the comments about how they're not "hacker news".

We're starting to sound like a committee that gets together and spends most of our time writing the agenda.

Saying "these discussions are even worse than the ones they seek to avoid" is an easy out though, unless there's some other way to express our dissatisfaction with said politics articles (down arrow, or whatever else). Furthermore, they serve to pass on information to new members of the community.

Fair enough.

It's much more fun to square off right vs. left and have at it.

But it's not hn.

Davidw is right, in my opinion.

Perhaps the reason we keep having this discussion is that the board continues to serve up material that we find innappropriate? That people vote based on emotion, not on whether it is good material for hackers, and political stuff has the most emotion-laden content of all?

This is a nice seque into our other favorite topic: how rating systems are broken. I'm afraid these two are highly connected.

people vote based on emotion

Yes! Even more so with their purchasing dollars. A nonintuitive but incredibly important lesson for any budding entrepreneur.

Wheels, HN readers are primarily problem solvers. The only thing that separate us from other problems solvers is that we do not mostly using software.

If you cannot see the relation between this problem and how software can help solve it, then I suggest you look again. Even a self-centered hacker could see opportunity here.

In all fairness you have submitted 4 articles in the last 70 days i do not know how much that says about the "HN for the rest of us".

If you want to see less articles as this one make it to the top, then be my guest and SUBMIT.

Here's another one: http://www.reason.com/news/show/117328.html

It isn't news anymore, but I find it very heartening all the same.

This puts my faith back into humanity. I've heard people say "we should have nuked Afghanistan, to show that we are not to be messed with... you punch a bully in the face, you don't talk to him trying to work out your differences."

I've always felt that taking people out of ignorance will always make them less inclined to kill. The more logical justification people have for doing good and not doing bad vs purely faith-based, the harder it is for some religious nut-job to come in and say "kill the infidels in the name of god".

"I've always felt that taking people out of ignorance will always make them less inclined to kill."

Actually, taking people out of ignorance always results in warding off some error. The thing to be doing with the great bounty of western prosperity is reducing ignorance in ourselves and in others, not entertaining ourselves to imbecility.

People figured out at least 2,500 years ago that knowledge is the antidote for ignorance and even laid out the specific conditions for its acquisition. Unfortunately, designating that the economy is full of "knowledge workers" doesn't cut it.

"you punch a bully in the face"

The fun part is that it goes both ways.

In the end, both bullies will need reconstructive surgery.

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind" - Gandhi

Except in reality, it doesn't. In reality, an eye for an eye is a very good strategy, with examples ranging from biology to military history to the results of iterated prisoner's dilemma tournaments played by computer programs.

Is there a way to see this article without registering?

They don't require registration for users referred from Google:


What if you have a school and missiles?

Cripe. I have this vision of my property taxes going up 100-fold as I pay to educate every single child in the world. The NEA will be thrilled. Really, it's not the USA's responsibility to buy schools for non-Americans. Shit, it's not the USA's responsibility to buy schools anywhere.

Any genuinely effective techniques can be covered under this heading:


This is a strawman argument. Your tax dollars are paying for the military anyway. The article claims they can build 20 schools for the cost of one cruise missile.

In the long-run, we can't win the GWOT through military force alone. Even relatively hawkish people like Richard Clarke recognize this.

Oh, man, schools and cruise missiles aren't fungible. Heck, no government program has ever replaced any other government program. We'll see those cruise missiles targeting the schools before that happens.

The U.S. takes on plenty of "responsibilities" that it shouldn't. I would be thrilled if the world saw the U.S. as ambitious educators, not aggressive policemen.

But don't worry; first world nations don't want our education anyway.

Nor do many of the US's own citizens, sadly. Maybe that's why education is in this miserable state. Then again, when you compare it to third world countries...

...it's worse!

actually, it takes both

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