As most regular readers know, I do a great deal of traveling to work as a consultant with history teachers nationwide. I spent this weekend in Washington DC, playing tour guide. I'll admit that sometimes that these are long days, especially when I'm hearing somebody spout their patter for the fourth or fifth time.
But this weekend was different.
I had never been to the International Spy Museum before, and--frankly--it was the single most impressive facility I have visited since the Holocaust Museum opened. The exhibits are not only first-rate, but the museum is a for-profit facility that is not sitting there sucking up my tax money.
We got the special tour, from the museum's historian, Dr. Thomas Boghert, and an hour-long session with former senior CIA operative Melissa Mahle.
Aside from her engaging presention, what was refreshing about Ms. Mahle was her lack of equivocation. She was honest about how badly the CIA blew any number of issues around 9/11, and on torture she said, "It's simply wrong. Unethical and wrong."
That evening we had a talk from as far to the other side of the political spectrum as you could get, with Dr. Allida Black of George Washington University's Eleanor Roosevelt Project.
In political terms I am pretty far distant from Dr. Black, but she is (a) the foremost Eleanor Roosevelt scholar on the planet; (b) an incredibly good speaker; and (c) one of the most intellectually impressive human beings I have run across. When you encounter somebody like Dr. Black, there are two things you can do: ignore her and cocoon yourself in your own beliefs, refusing to accept the challenge she represents, or take the opportunity to examine the central core of what you think in response to her presentation.
I'll be doing the second. Dr. Black pointed out the primary rule that Eleanor Roosevelt learned about debate: do not go into an argument until you can make all of your opponents best arguments as strongly as he or she can, and have figured out how to refute them. So look for me to be trying to challenge a few personal core beliefs over the next month or two.