By Sarah Peterson, 16, Flintridge Preparatory School
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When issues are heated, Sarah says that everyone needs to be willing to compromise to further understanding.

The debate over Iraq started at my school in early January. Members of our liberal club, The Collective, taped up some photocopies of a picture of dead soldiers. Beneath someone had boldly written "Blood for Oil?" Other posters listed more reasons why this was an unjust war. Many accused the Bush administration of using war to distract the nation from domestic issues, to gain oil and influence.

Members of the Young Republicans club responded with their own posters, saying that peace would make the U.S. vulnerable to attack, that lives had been lost on September 11, 2001 because of the same people who now posed a threat to the country. New posters from The Collective disputed this, to be challenged by still more posters. It was a debate, embodied by duct tape and a lot of paper.

Wall space disappeared. In one class a large poster listing reasons to oppose the war fell down on unsuspecting students.

One day I happened upon my classmate shamelessly taping his poster ("Don’t Forget 9/11") over mine ("No War in Iraq"). I asked him not to.

"I have every right to," was his retort.

"Isn’t that censorship?" I asked. He had no response.

Posters were soon trampled on the ground and crumpled in trash cans. After a long weekend, we returned to find that all the posters had been taken down. The administration, sickened by the sight of torn, muddy posters all over school, had removed them all. From then on, we had to have posters approved before we put them up.

I decided one Thursday to visit the Young Republicans club. I thought that I would find a handful of bigoted older guys who talked about hunting and exalted our President. I assumed that their political ideas were based on those of their parents.

When I entered, I was shocked on several counts. The majority of those at the meeting were girls and women. They were talking about something that had been worrying me: how was our school going to resolve this debate without tearing the student body apart? Where I had expected dogmatism and personal ideology, I found tolerance.

"What I would like," a girl commented, "is for students to have their own views."

"I don’t want a war between the students," a teacher said.

The truth is that Republicans are a minority at our school. What they do is brave, because the anti-war Collective is an ever-growing student force armed with anti-Bush invective. How do the young Republicans deal with it? "Arm yourself with knowledge," they advised each other at the end of the meeting. For the first time, I saw something good coming of this debate, something that seemed to be taking the issue of war in a positive direction. Here were students preparing to reaffirm and defend their personal values by researching history and politics.

We had to resolve a major conflict

As the issue of Iraq came to the forefront, liberal and conservative students clashed over plans for a school assembly. Some students wanted to invite Dennis Prager, a well-known conservative writer and radio personality, to speak. The Collective demanded that some kind of change be made, suggesting that another speaker be invited to represent liberal views. The issue went to Student Senate, where a bill was passed requiring that such an alternate speaker be found, or Prager would not be invited to speak.

To me, this was the first true resolution of a conflict, the first compromise. Since then, the students have decided to hold a debate with three students representing each side of the issue. This, we hope, will put an end to any personal arguments or vindictive posters. Most students are looking forward to the event. "You can’t deny an opposition’s validity if you don’t know what it’s about. It’s pointless," said Collective member Tim Halleran, 16.

Students have begun to educate themselves, reading up on the issues in Iraq so that they can keep up with the buzz in school that this rift has caused. Ben Naecker, 15, a member of the Collective, said, "It’s really good that something like this has happened… people at least know how to educate themselves on both sides of an issue and how to debate and how to talk civilly with people who don’t believe what they believe."

Katie Thompson, 16, a member of the student government, said, "Well, I’m optimistic that this will hopefully, regardless of what happens with the war, keep the interest in our country going. People won’t just forget about it. I hope people will be motivated to go out and vote when they turn 18… I hope people will turn those feelings into actions and continue to do so for the rest of their lives."

I can’t say that anyone has changed their views on Iraq, but we are learning how to accept our differences. I guess we’ve learned to agree to disagree. Whether or not we go to war, my school has gained a lot of character in the past few weeks, and has produced members of what will be a morally and politically conscious generation.