Courage and cooperation in Forest Lake?


by Joe Nathan, 3/29/08 • Can cooperation join with courage in Forest Lake? Based on conversations with Steve Massey, Principal at Forest Lake High School and Pete Hegseth, Executive Director of Vets for Freedom, I think the answer could be “yes.” If so, Forest Lake High School, and other students around the state will get a huge gift.

Forest Lake found itself in the local, state and national news, last week. That’s after high school principal Steve Massey decided to cancel an appearance by Pete Hegseth, Executive Director of Vets for Freedom. As Massey told me, “we thought there would be a discussion with several classes about careers in military service.” But as things evolved, it appeared that there was going to be a “one side presentation about Iraq policy, which we did not think would be fair to our students.”

Massey strongly believes in honoring veterans, and notes “several of our high school staff are decorated veterans.” So some of the rhetoric that followed his decision is way, way off.

Massey thinks part of the school’s responsibility is to “help students make decisions about tough, critical controversies.” I agree. Asked if he would be open to a debate about Iraq policy at the high school, with Captain Hegseth and someone of the other side, Massey responded: “A balanced debate would be a very good thing.”

So I asked Forest Lake native Pete Hegseth about such a debate. He responded immediately: “Absolutely. You provide the time and place and I’ll be there.” Hegseth is willing to go elsewhere to debate. I hope schools all over the state take him up on this offer. You can reach him at

There’s been a great deal of shrill comment about Massey’s decision – both pro and con. Personally, I think he was right. Public schools should not be a place where just one side of a controversy, whether abortion, Iraq, or gay/lesbian rights, is presented. Public schools should, as Massey urges, “be places where we help students learn to be careful, critical thinkers.”

But in our conversation, Hegseth, a Princeton University graduate, impressed me as a very informed person who could do a great job of presenting his views. Before the debate, I hope students will read more on both Hegseth’s website,, and www.vetsforpeace. (Turns out the later group is coming to Minneapolis in August for a national convention).

Brave men and women have served honorably, and sometimes died to protect our freedoms, including speech and protest. One of the best ways to honor their sacrifice is to promote active, strong debate about what the U.S. should do in Iraq. Given that both Hegseth and Massey are open to a debate, I hope it happens.