When veterans need not apply


Army Lt -Gen- Karl Eikenberry

Northwestern profs decide a distinguished soldier isn't good enough

If you wonder what has become of us since the Greatest Generation began leaving the stage, consider this elegant 19th century warning from Victorian statesman and author, Sir William Francis Butler:

"The nation that will insist on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards."

Despite that timeless advice, foolishness and political correctness recently joined hands at elite Northwestern University, neatly tucked away in Chicago's toniest suburbs. As the Chicago Tribune reported last week, faculty opposition caused retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry to withdraw his name from a tentative appointment to head the university's new institute on global studies.

Top officials at Northwestern had clearly viewed this prospective appointment as a huge win. In addition to his military rank, Gen. Eikenberry was deputy head of the NATO military committee, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and a distinguished public servant, intimately familiar with foreign cultures and decision-making at the highest levels of government. Then there was his gig at the newly minted Buffett Institute, underwritten by a $100 million grant from business magnate Warren Buffett's sister, one of the largest research grants ever awarded to Northwestern. What could possibly go wrong?

Alas, the president and provost of Northwestern had obviously neglected a standard piece of academic wisdom, namely that faculty meetings are so vicious because the stakes are so small. Normally they are: But that whole ballgame changes when the faculty's animal cunning is alerted that now, suddenly, something has arrived on campus that might be worth stealing.

Things at Northwestern began going south back in February. An "open letter on behalf of academic integrity" was signed by 46 faculty members but quickly became notorious for dismissing Gen. Eikenberry as a "non-academic career military officer" too closely aligned with American foreign policy to run a truly independent institute. Last week's Tribune article quoted a professor of foreign languages who insisted, "It wasn't because this guy was military. That wasn't the case at all." But as Max Boot sniffed in Commentary, "Apparently soldiers are good enough to fight and die for our freedom but are not good enough to teach our students. They are too biased, you see - in favor of America!"

The Northwestern campus is hardly alone as a stronghold of leftist orthodoxy and elitism. But we should be even more concerned with what this episode suggests about the widening gap between American society and those who defend us. Ironically, Karl Eikenberry is one of the most perceptive observers of that ominous trend. In a widely noted 2013 Washington Quarterly article, he wrote about the "political decoupling of the military from the American people" that not only impaired congressional oversight but even compromised our civic virtue. "We collectively claim the need for robust armed forces and yet as individuals we do not wish to be troubled with any personal responsibility for manning the frontier."

But maybe that kind of thing happens when only 1 percent of that society ever serves in uniform, or what I have called in previous books and columns our national tendency to fight wars using "other people's kids." That trend was also an abiding concern of a Northwestern scion, the late professor Charles Moskos, a dear friend and once the dean of American military sociology. Charley wrote a host of influential books and articles, even coining the phrase that our defense manpower policy had "achieved the GI Bill without getting the GI." While on a peacekeeping deployment to Bosnia in the late ‘90s, I looked up in surprise to see Charley right there with us, administering a soldier personnel survey while trying in vain to keep his Kevlar helmet on straight.

I can only imagine what Charley might have concluded about his university's latest demonstration that the American soldier has become separated decisively from the state he or she has sworn to protect with their lives. Would he have simply urged us to re-read The Federalist Papers - to revisit the idea that our armed forces are not "them" but "us"? Or would he have suggested that we study anew the uncertain histories of nations that have allowed service to country to molder into a dead letter?

I leave it to others to judge whether the 46 members of the Northwestern faculty who signed that odious petition are worthy, either of their tenured appointments or as successors to professor Charles Moskos. However, I sincerely question whether they really deserve the freedom purchased for them by those who wear the uniform, those soldier-citizens who bore the fight and should never be told: "Sorry, but veterans need not apply."   

A version of this piece also appeared on Washington Times

Colonel Ken Allard is a widely known commentator on foreign policy and security issues. For more than a decade, he was a featured military analyst on NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. That experience provided the backdrop for his most recent book, Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War. 

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