A soldier's tale points the way for virgin army

WASHINGTON DAYS

Journalists who have been working here for a few years keep telling me that they have the most fun covering presidential election campaigns. Yet they concede that next year's does not hold too much promise. I was chatting to a couple of old hands from the Washington Post who said that if all goes according to form and the election turns out be a two-horse race between Bill Clinton and Senate majority leader, Bob Dole, it was going to be a bit of a bore.

President Clinton has charm but no gravitas. Mr Dole has gravitas but no charm. In search of a man who combines both, we strolled over to the Grand Hyatt Hotel to see Colin Powell speak at a lunch organised by an outfit called Best Friends.

The setting was a cavernous conference room, deep underground. But this was no military bunker. Six hundred pubescent black schoolgirls sat primly around 100 tables, chaperoned by 60 teachers. In the centre of each table a pink, heart-shaped, helium-filled balloon danced on a piece of string. Dominating the room from the back of the stagewas a giant pink heart. The name-tags we all had to wear bore still more pink hearts.

So what was Best Friends all about? Close attention to the schoolgirl speaker at the microphone revealed that Best Friends was an organisation devoted to the cause of teenage sexual abstinence. "With the ongoing communication and involvement in this programme," said Jamila Moore of Woodrow Wilson High, "I can say with pride that I have been able to abstain from intimate and sexual relationships." The room rippled with applause. Jamila, who was about 15, looked a good bet to achieve the seemingly modest objective set out in Best Friends' manifesto - encouraging girls to restrain from sex until they have finished high school.

Jamila stepped down and Vanessa took the podium, followed by Sheri, Tiffany, Jhonnai, Tiana and Lolita. Each, it turned out, was reading out her essay in appreciation and praise of Best Friends. "Aids and teenage pregnancy is so common these days: Best Friends says this does not have to be; Abstinence is the best and only way."

And so on ... would this ever end? We had come to hear the redoubtable General Powell and had stumbled into a virgins' convention! The girls received prizes. They sang. They danced. Grown-ups ("Best Friends Role Models") addressed the girls. Miss America 1995 made an appearance, for heaven's sake!

"When I was little, my mother taught me that the last four letters of the word American spell 'I can'," Miss America said. "To be a citizen of our great country means you can be whatever you choose to be ... we can be as famous as any celebrity because we've all been given the same basic equipment, namely a mind and a heart."

This was turning into a Mel Brooks movie, an impression Mayor Marion Barry's unscripted appearance on stage - a fox in a hen-house came to mind - did little to dispel. The notoriously promiscuous mayor of Washington DC, who recently served time on a crack-cocaine charge, praised the girls' capacity to contain nature. Then more dancing, speeches, prizes and then, at last, General Powell took the stage.

He spoke for three and a half minutes. America had lost its moral compass, he said. Best Friends was helping American girls rediscover the true path. Self-respect was the key to contentment. "Drugs are wrong, premarital sex before you're ready for it is wrong." He was very proud to be associated with Best Friends, whose chairperson, was his wife, Alma, to whom he announced that he had been married for 33 years.

On our way back to our offices my colleagues and I sought to extract some political analysis from the crumbs the general had tossed us. Gravitas, he certainly had. Tact and charm, too. What he said was corny, but it hadn't sounded bogus. The best thing for America, I couldn't help reflecting, would be for Clinton, Dole and Gingrich to follow Best Friends' example and abstain.

John Carlin

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?