Not-so-smart col­lege boys

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Suzanne Fields

John Kerry’s in­sult of the troops in Iraq ac­tu­ally of­fered a lit­tle in­sight. His “ad­vice” to stu­dents at Pasadena City Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia would have been con­ven­tional wis­dom on al­most any “elite” cam­pus, par­tic­u­larly in the Ivy League, where al­most any­one is ea­ger to tell you that only chumps go to Iraq — or any­where within the sound of the guns.

When Pres­i­dent Nixon ended the draft of an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion the prin­ci­pled protests against the Viet­nam War van­ished overnight. Most of the Ivy League schools con­tinue to bar the ROTC from cam­pus. Har­vard booted ROTC in 1969 and ban­ished it again in 1993, pre­sum­ably be­cause the mil­i­tary’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” pol­icy vi­o­lated cam­pus ideals. The crim­son cadets train now at MIT, funded by an alumni trust.

One of the most un­pop­u­lar views of Lawrence Sum­mers, who served briefly as pres­i­dent of Har­vard, was his sup­port for the mil­i­tary. He was the first Har­vard pres­i­dent to talk at an ROTC com­mis­sion­ing cer­e­mony af­ter it was ex­iled from cam­pus. He told his stu­dents to honor pa­tri­o­tism by un­der­stand­ing the re­quire­ments of na­tional de­fense af­ter 9/11: “Not the soft un­der­stand­ing that glides over ques­tions of right and wrong, but the hard-won com­pre­hen­sion that the threat be­fore us de­mands.” He was soon ex­iled him­self.

An hon­est em­brace of di­ver­sity and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism would re­quire in­clu­sion of the mil­i­tary. But in the Ivy League not all di­verse cul­tures are equal. Fac­ulty and stu­dents share John Kerry’s con­tempt for the mil­i­tary man and wo­man.

But the sen­a­tor’s in­ad­ver­tent in­sight hasn’t re­ceived the no­tice it de­serves: A col­lege ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly­make some­one smart. In “With­out a Soul: How a Great Univer­sity For­got Ed­u­ca­tion,” Harry R. Lewis, dean of Har­vard Col­lege, de­scribes what Har­vard stu­dents don’t learn even when they study. “In the ab­sence of any pro­nounce­ment that any­thing is more im­por­tant than any­thing else for Har­vard stu­dents to know, Har­vard is declar­ing that one can be an ed­u­cated per­son in the 21st cen­tury with­out know­ing any­thing about genomes, chro­mo­somes, Shake­speare.”

Derek Bok, Har­vard’s cur­rent pres­i­dent, echoes and ex­tends this crit­i­cism in “Our Un­der­achiev­ing Col­leges,” where stu­dents can’t write, can’t rea­son, can’t speak or read a for­eign lan­guage, and lack the abil­ity to think crit­i­cally. “Most,” he writes, “have never taken a course in quan­ti­ta­tive rea­son­ing or ac­quired the knowl­edge needed to be a rea­son­ably in-


formed cit­i­zen in a democ­racy.” Worse, they don’t know what they don’t know. Sur­veys show th­ese naive rel­a­tivists, de­struc­tive de­con­struc­tion­ists and su­per­fi­cial sopho­more philoso­phers, in­ca­pable of an­a­lyz­ing and dis­sect­ing even their own ideas, to be im­mensely pleased with their ed­u­ca­tions. Maybe it’s just as well they don’t serve in the mil­i­tary.

But prob­lems emerge when the schism men­tal­ity ex­pressed by John Kerry fuses con­tempt for mil­i­tary ser­vice with a sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity for not serv­ing. In “AWOL: The Un­ex­cused Ab­sence of Amer­ica’s Up­per Classes from Mil­i­tary Ser­vice — and How it Hurts Our Coun­try,” Kathryn Roth-Dou­quet and Frank Scha­ef­fer ex­pose the core of such elitism: “When those who ben­e­fit most from liv­ing in a coun­try con­trib­ute the least to its de­fense, and those who ben­e­fit least are asked to pay the ul­ti­mate price, some­thing hap­pens to the soul of that coun­try.”

A prej­u­dice against the mil­i­tary, cou­pled with grade in­fla­tion and lack of in­tel­lec­tual dis­ci­pline, com­bine to cre­ate spoiled and pam­pered stu­dents who lack the will to de­fend their coun­try from those who would de­stroy it. It was not al­ways thus. In World War I, a draft was es­tab­lished in part to pre­vent the na­tion’s most priv­i­leged young men from vol­un­teer- ing, com­pelled though they were by a sense of honor and a de­sire to serve. They were needed more, so it was ar­gued, for civil­ian jobs and lead­er­ship at home.

Fewer than a third of the cur­rent mem­bers of Congress have worn the uni­form, down from three-quar­ters in 1971. Con­gress­men of the fu­ture are even less likely to be vet­er­ans and some of the vet­er­ans in Congress to­day are like John Kerry, in­fat­u­ated with the pol­i­tics of protest. Our wars, says a cur­mud­geon of my ac­quain­tance, “are started by men ed­u­cated at Har­vard and Yale and fought by young men ed­u­cated at Cen­tral High School and Oklahoma State and Colorado Chris­tian and North Carolina T.”

First Lt. Vin­cent J. Tuo­hey, Class of ‘01, is one of the Har­vard ex­cep­tions. He grad­u­ated to serve in Iraq and learned more in the mil­i­tary than he ever did on the banks of the Charles. “De­ci­sive­ness, dis­ci­pline, and fo­cus were not skills that I honed in col­lege,” he tells the Har­vard Crim­son. “Un­der­stand­ably, Har­vard did not pre­pare me for the stresses of com­bat or the skills needed to fight an in­sur­gency. The Army did.”

Suzanne Fields, a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times, is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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