Saturday, August 18, 2007

Military Automatons? Professors and the War on Terror

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.

This shift in the zeitgeist is embodied by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus, who holds a doctorate from Princeton University in international relations, made a point of speaking on college campuses between his tours in Iraq because he believes it is critical that America "bridge the gap between those in uniform and those who, since the advent of the all-volunteer force, have had little contact with the military." In a recent essay in the American Interest, Gen. Petraeus reflects on his own academic journey and stresses how the skills he cultivated on campus help him operate on the fly in Iraq. As such, he is a staunch proponent of Army officers attending civilian graduate programs.

Over the past few years, Gen. Petraeus has been cultivating ties to the academic community, drawing on scholars for specialized knowledge and fresh thinking about the security challenges facing America. "What you are seeing is a willingness by military officers to learn from civilian academics," says Michael Desch, an expert on civilian-military relations at Texas A&M. "The war on terrorism has really accelerated this trend."

Apparently our military members are not the mindless killing automatons that so many on the left make them out to be. Who knew?!!!

Go read the whole thing.


Tony said...

At the end of Hamlet, everyone is dead except Fortinbras and Horatio- a soldier and a scholar. If there is a better metaphor for the human condition, I can't think of it. A truly great nation requires both men, just as truly great men require both within themselves. I am pleased to see that these two pillars of democracy are making efforts to come together.

Queen of Dysfunction said...

Though this is not germane to the subject of the post, it doesn't surprise me that an expert from Texas A&M would be quoted in the article. Have you ever been to that campus? My husband and I had the opportunity to visit this last year when we invested in student rentals there. We went visited Kyle Field and the Bush Presidential Library and were shocked to find so many pro-George W. Bush t-shirts. On a college campus. Holy crap. Everywhere we went the conservative message overwhelmed the liberal one. After having been educated K through my bachelor's in California it was like walking into Alice's looking glass.

Darren said...

And let's not forget that great quote from Thucydides:
A nation that draws too broad a difference between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools.

And it's good to learn there's a public university that hasn't been completely consumed by BDS!