Aaron Mayes/Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002 | 2 a.m.
While discussing the United States’ vast influence, young Southern Nevadans had to confront whether America’s ideals are best for the world and if Americans are too arrogant for other nations to trust our sincerity and goodwill.
“Some of the students here are really open-minded, but others believe America is the best country — and maybe it is — and that its values are the best for all people,” said Jalmar Pfeifer, a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands who attends Chaparral High.
“America tries to impress the rest of the world. But when it makes other people feel that their country is not as good, that upsets people and they hate Americans for it.”
Pfeifer was one of about 1,000 students from 30 Southern Nevada high schools who participated Tuesday in the 47th annual Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
During a debate over world issues, he upset some of the members of his group by using the word “arrogant” to describe some Americans.
Pfeifer said Americans should be cognizant that other people — even those from nations that support the United States — do not believe the United States should impose its values on other countries or cultures.
He also said America should be cautious about starting a war with Iraq because it will not get the same support from Europe that it got in 1990 to help kick Saddam Hussein’s invading army out of Kuwait.
“If the United States attacks Iraq, Saddam Hussein will be made to look like a hero in the Arab world,” Pfeifer said during the lunch break between the two two-hour sessions of debate.
“You are fighting a war on terrorism against an enemy that is not there. You cannot see the enemy because the enemy can be anywhere. It can be me. It can be you. It can be anyone.
“The only way to defeat terrorism is not to show that you are the most powerful country on earth, but to make your country the most beloved country on earth,” Pfeifer said.
But Pfeifer and others wonder how the United States can do that.
“There are untold axes to grind and we have to stop it,” said Nicholas Grainger, a junior at Chaparral High. “We have to look at it with human eyes toward human rights, not imposing American ideals.”
Several students said one major hurdle toward acceptance of U.S goodwill is that parents in some Middle East nations teach their children early on to hate the United States and Israel, and that being a suicide bomber is heroic.
A number of students supported English as the national language despite so much ethnic diversity.
“If we go to Italy or France they will not cater to our needs — we have to learn their language,” said Jordan Young of Silverado High. “English is the implied national language” of the United States.
But Joseph Walker, a Foothill High senior, said many Americans do feel the world should cater to us.
“That’s why a lot of Europeans think Americans are stuck up,” he said. “A lot of Americans go to other countries and expect the people there to speak our language.”
Education was another motivating issue among the teens.
“The law allows parents to sign their children out of school at age 16, often because of the kids’ inability to pass the efficiency exam,” said Kirsten Garlock of Green Valley High School.
“We should do more to keep them in school until they pass that test because many of the skills on the exam are skills you will need for life. We need to do more to have an educated society.”
Z Anderson, a senior at Trinity, says we need to find a way to get more colleges in Nevada so students have more choices.
“There are only two schools here — We’re not selling the schools short but selling our choices short,” he said.
Tessa Jones, a Community College High School senior, said: “If they can spend billions of dollars on homeland security and those types of things, they can build more schools.”
The students were divided into 21 groups and their debates focused on seven general topics: America, Nevada, world issues, law and crime, school days, teen issues and potpourri. But the subjects covered a wide range of subjects including alcohol use, sex education and school dress codes.
Late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun co-founded the Sun Youth Forum with Ruthe Deskin, assistant to the publisher. Among this year’s moderators were Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Sun Editor and President Brian Greenspun, U.S. District Judge Philip Pro and former Sen. Richard Bryan.
Prior to the forum, Sun Vice President and columnist Sandy Thompson, the longtime director of the Sun Youth Forum who was killed in an Aug. 9 auto accident, was remembered in a brief ceremony.
The students selected representatives from each group who either will write a column for the Sun or for CLASS!, a nonprofit monthly periodical for, by and about students, or appear on a roundtable discussion on UNLV cable television Channel 70.