12th Grade: Foreign Policy in a Foreign Land


This week the seniors participated in a week-long game which also involved grades 7-11.  The situation was this:

  • We pretended that the upper school was a foreign country with generally pro-western leadership, but with a population where the United States was viewed less favorably than the country’s leadership viewed them.  Maybe a modern-day Jordan, Bahrain, or Kazakhstan.  Grades 7-11 played as civilians in this hypothetical country.
  • We surmised that that country’s leadership, having credible information that a terror-cell operated within their borders, invited a CIA “action-team” into their country to prevent the attack and dismantle the terrorist network.  This meant that the seniors had certain police powers at their disposal to arrest, detain, and send those they suspected off to Guantanamo.
  • The “bad guys” had to do all of their communicating between 7:30-3:00 on school days only.  Thus, all of their actions could hypothetically be observed by someone and reported to the seniors.
  • We allowed for a “Third Party” option to develop as well, a grass-roots party that wanted to eliminate terrorist presence from their country, but didn’t want the CIA/America to get credit for it.  This group would be more nationalistic, craving their own identity apart from both the U.S. and radical Moslem world.

To win the game, the seniors needed to

  • Dismantle the terror network and stop the impending attack
  • Try and win the local population over to their side and try and encourage them to adopt more western customs.

In the days leading up to last week I discussed the game with the seniors.  What I hoped they would realize was. . .

  • Finding the bad guys should not be their primary goal.  If they spent time building up their relationships with the students, building trust, and rapport (as well as greasing the skids with appropriate gifts and bribes) the intelligence they needed would come to them from the other students.
  • According to the rules of the game, mistakes the seniors make hurt them more than their successes help them.  So, for example, if they falsely detain an innocent person this costs them more than when they get it right and detain a terrorist.  This bears out true in real life as well.  Our mistakes get magnified much more than our good deeds.  We may lament this, but it is a fact of life.  If the Yankees, for example, lose a playoff series, the story is not what the other team did well but what the Yankees did wrong.
  • So — they would need to use their “police-power” judiciously.  They could not “shoot their way out” of their difficulties.

At one point during the week some of the problems related to their task dawned on them.  One senior said, “It’s not fair for us, because [during the election] they can either vote for us or themselves, and they’re going to vote for themselves.”

I thought this a very perceptive comment, and it illustrates perfectly much of our predicament abroad. Overcoming this requires a lot of careful effort and patience.  We also have to realize that these anti-American/pro-independence movements may not necessarily be our enemy.  We may not want to overcome it at all, but find a way to work with that attitude.

The seniors soon found themselves opposed at least in part by the PLA, the “People’s Liberation Army.”  This group ended up having a strong following among some high school boys, but they failed to extend their support beyond their original following.  The terror cell also had their network dismantled, so they could not win either, even though their bomb attack went off as planned.  In the end, the game finished as a Shakespearean tragedy — nobody won!

My thanks to all the students who participated in some way and helped make the game a success.