The Military and the Academy

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A newspaper cartoon preserved in the Hoover Archives illustrates one reaction to U.S. preparations to reconstruct Europe and Japan after World War II. A frantic horse, labeled “problems of winning the war,” tries in vain to push a cart marked “postwar plans.” In the background, a man complains, “Won’t people ever learn to hitch a horse up right?” Even during the Second World War—and much more so today, amid complex missions in Iraq and Afghanistan—this point of view was shortsighted. Wars end, and enemies become former enemies. Careful leaders know they have to keep the endgame in sight long before combat stops, and prepare accordingly.

During World War II, military and other government organizations worked closely with civilian institutions and academia, preparing and advising the personnel who would be deployed to devastated countries to restore order. Civil Affairs Training (CAT) schools were established at universities around the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, in addition to the ROTC programs at those campuses. The Army relied on the expertise of university professors to prepare officers for reconstruction positions. The relationship was extremely close and proved critical in many areas. Specifically, the CAT schools helped provide the foundation for the incredible recoveries of both Europe and Japan.

The CAT curriculum at Stanford, preserved in the Hoover Archives, demonstrates how universities can shape military leaders. For instance, in this excerpt the program addresses the many stereotypes about the Japanese, depicting them not as a horde but as people:

Biological capacity: The popular idea that the Japanese are a separate uniform “race” with certain given, biologically fixed traits not only of physique but also of capacity and temperament does not hold up. Anyone who knows the Japanese will attest to the fact that just as there is diversity in physical characters, so in their psychological capacities there is about as wide a range as in Western people. Some are brilliant, others dull to moronic, and the great majority are mediocre; as with us, individuals show their own special capacities and weaknesses. In terms of biological potential, therefore, the individual must be the unit of reference, and no safe assumptions can be made on the basis of the Japanese people as a whole.

The excerpt reflects scientific views articulated by professionals, a task at which universities excel, then as now. And by no means did CAT focus only on scientific assessments such as “biological capacity.” The curriculum was expansive, offering a thorough portrait: government, police, judicial systems, geography, climate, economics, population, politics, penal systems, industry, currency, family life, religion, even art.


Although our military institutions provide outstanding instruction in military history and warfare, civilian institutions usually have better regional experts. Unfortunately, a gap has emerged in this once-close relationship between the government and academia. Bridging this gap—working together to discover complex solutions to complex problems in an era with a high potential for global instability—is a critical need.

Lieutenant General (Retired) David W. Barno, director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University, describes the new national security environment this way: “Rather than a nation-state adversary armed with conventional military capabilities that very much mirrored our own, today we are dealing with a world of asymmetrical threats—fighting shadowy adversaries often operating at the murky nexus of terrorism, transnational crime, and illicit global money flows.”

He goes on to explain: “Effective national security responses have become necessarily whole-of-government, involving departments from Treasury to Justice to Commerce to the intelligence community. These responses are rightfully called complex operations, and only through integrated and coherent responses across all elements of national power can we hope to overcome adversaries operating in this new battle space.”

Moral questions concerning nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War helped lead to the estrangement of military and university.

The counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan require the military to clearly understand and focus on people. The new “Army Capstone Concept” has analyzed these efforts: “Essential elements of successful operations in Iraq included a keen understanding of the situation, integration of all arms and joint capabilities, the development and integration of indigenous forces, and military support to governance and development.”

The 2006 Lebanon war provides another example of the need for “whole of government” solutions. The militarily inferior Hezbollah used a blend of conventional and nonconventional tactics to counter Israel’s superior battlefield capabilities. State and nonstate actors blended and made accountability difficult. The solution goes beyond the mere use of Israeli military power; rather, it will require integration of Lebanese forces, support for the country’s elected government, and continued economic development in Lebanon.

Such challenges are not going away anytime soon. The Capstone Concept explains, “Important trends that will influence the global security situation and contribute to uncertainty and complexity include: changing demographics; emerging patterns of globalization; shifting economic patterns; emerging energy technologies and demands; scarcity of food and water; emerging effects of climate change; natural disasters; pandemics; and competition and conflict in the domains of cyber and space.”


Unfortunately, much distrust exists between the academic and military communities. Moral questions concerning nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War are often cited among the main causes for division. Examples of estrangement include the lack of support for ROTC at some of our finest institutions, including Stanford and Yale. Or take this recent statement by the American Anthropological Association: “A U.S. military program that uses social-science field research to gain a strategic advantage in conflict zones does not reflect the ethical standards of the American Anthropological Association.”

A gap has emerged in a once-close relationship between the government and academia.

This lack of trust must be remedied. Military and government leaders need to make sure that scholars know that their input is valued and their public service to our nation noble. Universities should not distance themselves if they disagree with current policies and operations; to the contrary, they should engage with policy makers and the military, using their expertise to bring about successes. ROTC programs initiate these productive relationships. Advanced-degree programs and fellowships can solidify career-long mentorships and foster university, industry, and government exchange programs.

The complex global environment demands a unified effort. As that World War II cartoon suggests, using resources to plan postwar reconstruction or a conflict’s endgame can be construed as “putting the cart before the horse.” However, today and in the future that is exactly what we should do. Government leaders who reinvigorate the collaboration among academia, government, and industry are taking a path that has made the United States exceptional. Working together illuminates the strategic implications of our potential actions. Focusing on the “cart” might prevent a war.