There is no barbed wire around this column. It's not private property, so rigid that your opinions — especially when they differ from mine — can't make their way in.
After one particular column last week, I heard from enough of you to know it was time to lower the drawbridge to this column a little.
"It's not always black and white," one reader said. Wisely.
So let's put some gray into last Wednesday's column that condemned a state bill that would require every Tennessee public school student to take a military recruiting test their sophomore year.
"How dare you," one reader emailed.
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is part of the enlisting process: Recruits take the 10-section test that lets the military then gauge their strengths and weaknesses.
Education, I argued, is not the place for required military recruiting. Schools exist to enlighten our kids, not turn them into fodder for the American military industrial complex.
"This could be more helpful than you might think," emailed one veteran.
It was the same point echoed by others who wrote, called or spoke to me in person: The ASVAB was the first step they or a loved one took into a military career that was rewarding and honorable.
From their side of the street, the test could be an elevator going up, helping confused teenagers find clearer noncollege options for the future.
"With the job market the way it is, [the ASVAB] could really help them out," the vet continued.
Money for college. Real-world experience. A way out of desperate America. Be all you can be.
"Students often have a tough time figuring out what they can do well," another reader said. "I am all for a simple test that can help them."
Not long ago, I visited the JROTC program at Soddy-Daisy High, so influential that nearly 200 students have joined.
Uniforms to school. Push-ups to start class. Average GPA of 3.5. Yes, sir. No, ma'am.
An empowering and secure place for kids adrift in an ever-fragmented culture.
So I am not blind to the transforming power the military can provide. Heroism. Purpose and meaning in our lives. A devotion to something larger. Semper fi.
But here's the trick: Peace-making can do the same, without the traumatic calculus of violence, revenge and death.
Ask anyone who lived through the sit-ins. The bodily risk. The spiritual commitment. A soldier-esque courage and devotion to the greater good.
Requiring the ASVAB only furthers the pattern and national bias that the military is the only legitimate response to conflict.
If we are courageous enough to enlist as soldiers, then let us be equally courageous to talk, think and consider peace-making in new ways.
And hopefully, you and I can listen to each other on how best to do this.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...