From the Classroom to the War

Cry the Once Beloved University

What are we to make of this increasingly corrupt institution, whose health is so necessary to the welfare and competitiveness of the United States? It brags that American higher education is the strongest on the globe, but that is largely true only because of the non-political and still untainted hard sciences, engineering, and informational and computer sciences—and despite the humanities, particularly literature, philosophy, and history that have become increasingly ideological and theoretical.


I was thinking of all this the other day, remembering the Larry Summers fiasco, eighty-eight of the Duke faculty weighing in through a public letter against their own students unjustly accused, the Ward Churchill mess, and the assorted outbursts of professors since 9/11.

We should at least insist on a little accountability from this increasingly medieval institution. After teaching some twenty years in the university and writing about its endemic problems, I keep asking myself the same questions.

Why? Why? Why?

Why does tuition continue to rise beyond the rate of inflation?

Why does the faculty castigate the free enterprise system that its own development officers court to ensure competitive faculty compensation? After all, their much praised socialism ensures under-funded universities, as we see in Europe where the once great institutions of higher learning have slipped badly and lack the resources of a Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Texas, or Berkeley.

Why do such vocal egalitarians stay mum, when part-time faculty and graduate students often teach classes for a fraction of professors’ pay, in a hierarchical system of exploitation that even the much maligned Wal-Mart would never get away with?

Why do professors insist after six years on life-long tenure—when everyone from garbage collectors to lawyers and doctors do not enjoy such insulation from both the market and accountability about job performance? If it is for the promise of “academic freedom” and “intellectual diversity” then the resulting institutionalized uniformity and mediocrity were not worth the cost. Compare the lopsided Academic Senate votes about issues extraneous to the operation of the university from gay marriage to the war in Iraq. There are usually reminiscent of plebiscites in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Castro’s Cuba with majorities of 90-100%.


Why when academia is so critical of other American institutions, from the Republican party and corporations to churches and the military, does it ignore its own colossal failures? The level of knowledge of the today’s graduate is the stuff of jokes, exactly what one would expect once a common shared instruction in science, history, literature, languages, and mathematics largely disappeared, replaced by a General Education potpourri of specialized classes in gender, race, class, and politics masquerading as knowledge-based?

All these thoughts I think explain the tragic-comic position of today’s university presidents who Janus-like must talk like normal humans when courting alumni donors only to assume alien characteristics when dealing with their often lunatic faculty. I noticed once that UC Berkeley administrators always talked about a beloved “Cal” to their alumni constituents, but always “Berkeley” to their grim-faced faculty, as if there were two different campuses. And, of course, there were—the real tragic one of the present, and the idealized lost one of the past.

Criminals more than combatants

In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, most Americans died either from small arms in firefights, grenades, or artillery, but in Iraq almost every combat-related death is due to two causes: either suicide bombers/IEDs or sniper/RPG fire. Both have one thing in common: the enemy is not often immediately to be seen, much less uniformed. So what do we call such a war in which the jihadist will never confront American troops in the manner of Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, or Vietnamese, but resembles more a sniper or bomber from the bad part of town? For all the tragedy of losing 3000, their tactics explain why we have lost 60-70 a month in over three years in Iraq and not 8,000 every thirty days as was true in 1941-5.


Don’t Cry For Saddam?

What a weird sick world. The more globalized we become, the more we make the fallacy that the resulting world village is Carmel rather than Tombstone. The latest absurdity is the daughter of the mass-murdering Saddam Hussein complaining to the British Daily Mail that she couldn’t call daddy one last time. Not much worry about how she got her millions or where she was when Pop was gassing the Kurds.

Indeed, the entire Western hysteria over the uncouth hanging of Saddam revealed more about pious intellectuals than it did abstract notions of justice. All executions are messy. Prisoners and guards banter all the time. That an Iraqi hanging was far cruder than our own lethal injections is to be regretted—but expected. In the end, one’s qualms about how exactly Saddam went into Hell depends to some degree on which end of his wood-chipper you were likely to end up on.

The Premodern versus Postmodern

We are careful to avoid talking about a “clash of civilizations,” perhaps in fear of alienating moderate Muslims. Our enemies welcome the identification in confidence they will thereby win over bystanders. So bin Laden bragged:

In a war of civilizations, our goal is for our nation to unite in the face of the Christian crusade…This is a recurring war. The original crusade brought Richard (Lion heart) from Britain, Louis from France and Barbarossa from Germany. Today the crusading countries rushed as soon as Bush raised the cross. They accepted the rule of the cross.


Recently Dr. Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s most frequent megaphone, warned that he would fight to free those poor terrorists in Guantanamo. We in turn worry that his brethren there get their Korans, Islamic-correct diets, and thus we can preempt Sen. Durban from more libeling of our troops there as Nazis and worse.

Go to the Internet and there are dozens of jihadist terrorist videos that broadcast IED explosions showing American torn apart to triumphalist jihadist music. Yet we recoiled when Marine Gen. Mattis remarked “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” Mattis said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” Whatever one thinks of the General’s candor, his realism and audacity and spirit are precisely what is needed now, and we owe him a great deal of thanks for past, present, and future service in the most horrific of landscapes.

Iran’s Ahmadinejad is cheering crowds by promising a world without the United States, of wiping Israel off the map, or becoming a nuclear player in the Middle East. We respond by fighting among each other about our impolite snubbing of Iran, as if our mannered discourse with Mr. Ahmadinejad could have led him to see the errors of his fanatical ways.

And now we in the West worry whether Sunni dominated governments in the Middle East will blame us for allowing the elected government in Iraq unceremoniously to execute the savage thug Saddam Hussein. But these same moralists did not mind when these same governments said little when Saddam once butchered thousands—or even applauded his bounties to suicide murderers.


Lowering the Bar

So the great disconnect in this present war continues, one that tests whether a sophisticated affluent West that eschews violence and nobly professes its wish to evolve beyond war, capital punishment, and unilateral preemption can defeat an ideology that is openly reactionary and seeks to return to the primordial world of the 8th century when beheading, limb-lopping, sharia law, and half the population in burqas were normal.

This is now a boring topic since 9/11—our postmodern refinement and their premodern savagery. One final thought though. I used to hear people say “It will take another 9/11” to come to our senses about our real peril. Now in several gloomy conversations I hear instead, “It will take three or four 9/11s to …”

The Old Slur of Impotence

During our own Civil War the Confederate propagandists proclaimed that Yankee industrials and city dwellers were no match for Southern martial courage. They erred since there were more yeomen farmers in the North than in the old South—as William Tecumseh Sherman’ s Army of the West demonstrated as it split apart Georgia and the Carolinas.

Hitler and the Nazis, along with the Japanese imperialists, laughed that American ‘cowboys” and “gangsters” were not up to fighting fascism’s ideological warriors. But they erred too—not realizing that a generation who came out of the Great Depression knew something about sacrifice and hardship.

The Soviet Union and Mao’s China made a similar complaint about the running-dog capitalists who would rather profit than sacrifice for their ideas. But the World War II generation that had endured Normandy Beach, the Bulge, and Okinawa proved them wrong in Berlin, Korea, and Cuba. So when the Cold War ended Russia and China both ended up trying to emulate our success rather than we aping their failures.


Now that the jihadists have taken up the tired age-old cry that America can’t fight, they become more barbaric as we seek to remain refined. Will bin Laden, like those in the past, find himself severely mistaken?

The verdict is out—not on our military that, as pointed out, crushes like a bug any jihadist who climbs out of his hole—but on our citizenry in general. So far, when we used overwhelming force in deposing the Taliban and Saddam, or retaking Fallujah or routing the Mahdists we were successful. In contrast, every time we have temporized—first Fallujah or pardoning Sadr—we have emboldened our enemies by perceptions of weakness, not won over their hearts and minds through magnanimity.

The American way of war has never been to be vicious or savage. Rather past success was always found opposing slavery, fascism, communism, or extremism by explaining to our enemies the choices before them, and then using overwhelming force to preserve our culture and values. Let’s hope that the surge follows that pattern, as President Bush warns that the gloves are coming off, and new rules of engagement are now geared solely toward victory.


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