Monday, August 20, 2007

When Academics go to War

No, this does not refer to a certain geeky librarian/citizen soldier. At least not for about a year. Rather, this post refers to a piece published last Friday by the Wall Street Journal, about the efforts of General David Petraeus to utilize the cultural expertise of scholars in support of the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Marcus Griffin is not a soldier. But now that he cuts his hair "high and tight" like a drill sergeant's, he understands why he is being mistaken for one. Mr. Griffin is actually a professor of anthropology at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va. His austere grooming habits stem from his enrollment in a new Pentagon initiative, the Human Terrain System. It embeds social scientists with brigades in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they serve as cultural advisers to brigade commanders.

Mr. Griffin, a bespectacled 39-year-old who speaks in a methodical monotone, believes that by shedding some light on the local culture-- thereby diminishing the risk that U.S. forces unwittingly offend Iraqi sensibilities--he can improve Iraqi and American lives. On the phone from Fort Benning, two weeks shy of boarding a plane bound for Baghdad, he describes his mission as "using knowledge in the service of human freedom."

The Human Terrain System is part of a larger trend: Nearly six years into the war on terror, there is reason to believe that the Vietnam-era legacy of mistrust--even hostility--between academe and the military may be eroding.

The author, Evan R. Goldstein, does a good job of describing these initiatives. He also points out the unfortunate truth that the idea of supporting an American war effort remains anathema to many in academia:

So will these instances of cooperation be enduring? Do they represent the harbinger of a more pervasive reconsideration of Vietnam-era pieties in academe? Hard to say. But it somehow seems significant that no less an archetype of Vietnam-era agitation than Tom Hayden emerged last month to raise the dusty banner of anti-military antagonism. In an essay posted on the Web site of the Nation magazine, he attacked Ms. Sewall for collaborating with Gen. Petraeus on the new manual, which he dismissed as "an academic formulation to buttress and justify a permanent engagement in counter-terrorism wars" that "runs counter to the historic freedom of university life."

It is probably too much to ask of Mr. Hayden and those that share his worldview that they acknowledge that our Islamist adversaries, who destroy schools and murder intellectuals, are thoroughly committed to the destruction of the "historic freedom of university life". Instead, like many on the left, Hayden and company are wedded to the principle of opposing evil Amerikkka regardless of circumstances. Thus, it is not the Islamists who burn books and murder authors who threaten academic freedom; it is American efforts to fight back that are the problem.

A profound ignorance of, and contempt for, the American military is one of the main symptoms of the left's near stranglehold on academia. Let us hope that the efforts outlined by Mr. Goldstein succeed in both defeating the Islamists and changing the anti-military climate among many university faculties.


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