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High school students leave a tough question unanswered

Four young men who went through the school's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program have died in combat. Their instructor keeps their memories close.

Shanahan remembers how Justin Davis, one of her favorites, occasionally came to class wearing his uniform. In it, he looked like an adult. It was easy to forget how young he was.

"The year he graduated, he was asking for a bathroom pass," Shanahan says. "Six months later, he was fighting for his country."

'They don't have a clue'

War doesn't resonate with Steve Hobson's students.

"They don't have a clue," the social studies teacher says. "They honestly don't have a clue, and it bothers me."

They don't often watch the news, he says, and even if they did, events in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't on so much anymore. Plus, there's no conscription, as there was when he was younger.

"Everybody was aware [of the Vietnam War] because we were all at risk of being drafted," he says. This generation is "built around their iPod, cellphone and computer. They're not aware of what's going on."

Spencer Datt is aware. Three or four times a week, he catches news about Iraq or Afghanistan. But it doesn't mean that war looms large. He has been accepted early to High Point University in North Carolina, and he wonders who his roommate is going to be. What classes will be like. What he'll major in.

Datt was 9 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. He's 17 now, and for most of his life, the United States has been at war. He makes no distinction between pre- and post-9/11. He doesn't remember what air travel used to be like. He doesn't remember Washington without the Jersey barriers.

War isn't new or pressing or different. War is constant, which makes it normal. "It's been built into our everyday lives," he says.

Although he knows no one who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, he has friends in JROTC and supports those who enter the military. "You have to be thankful there are people willing to do what you won't," he says.

Meanwhile, he has statistics homework: "The square of a number decreased by half the number can be expressed as . . .?"

A mother's response

Paula Davis wanted her son to know what he was getting into. She clipped stories from the newspaper when soldiers were buried at Arlington National Cemetery and left them for him on the dining room table. She circled the casualty counts in dark ink.

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