Maj. Gen. Walter Givhan has a cure for the “fake news” phenomenon: Go to the source.
The retired Air Force officer is the head of a group that tackles hot-button topics by bringing in military leaders and other experts to explain what’s happening to the public. Over the next two months, they’ll hold presentations in Montgomery about refugees and immigration, the rise of populism, U.S.-China trade, the Middle East and more.
Americans hear a lot about those topics every day but not all of it is useful, said Givhan, the president of the Alabama World Affairs Council.
“So much is in soundbites or tweets,” he said. “You just get these little bits of information and not a depth of analysis in a lot of cases. It takes time to really sink into the issue, understand the complexities and the subtleties, and see it in a larger context.
“These are pressing issues that touch all of us.”
Montgomery is lucky, organizers say, because some of the world’s top experts on those topics are either in the city or connected to it through Maxwell Air Force Base. And they’re anxious to share their knowledge, which often involves direct experience.
That includes the list of speakers for AWAC’s “Great Decisions” lecture series, which starts Jan. 23.
“They’re all coming from Air University,” organizer Jeremy Lewis said. “It’s very kind of them because nearly all of them are traveling the first two weeks of March (for the military). They’re still presenting in January, in February, and the ones who are available are presenting in March.”
Lewis, a political science professor at Huntingdon College, helps put together the series while using it to help teach his students. Troy University provides the venue for the talks at its downtown Montgomery campus, and teaching faculty donate their time.
Attendees get briefing books full of photographs, maps and essays, then hear a 20-minute presentation before a lengthy question-and-answer session. Lewis said that discussion gets “very lively” because the audience is usually very “opinionated.” Even couples in the audience often disagree with each other.
“Everything’s being argued with a renewed interest this year,” Lewis said. “It’s not often that foreign policy is as controversial as it is this year.”
Givhan has learned a lot about America’s partnerships and defense over the decades since growing up on a farm in Alabama. He was the liaison for the French ground forces in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, led the effort to rebuild the Afghan air force, and was a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“The alliances that have been so valuable to us and ensured a certain amount of peace and prosperity in our world are being taken for granted in a lot of cases,” he said. “That concerns me.”
He pointed out that the Council on Foreign Relations started when Americans involved in the peace process after World War I wanted to continue to get together and talk in order to keep the world safe for democracy. That’s a lesson Givhan believes we should follow.
“They wanted to keep the conversation going,” he said. “That’s what this is about. We have to keep that conversation going, and we have to grow that conversation to include as many people as we can.”
You can see more about the events at alwac.org.
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