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Victor Davis Hanson on the idea of a national security academy.

Thursday, October 12, 2006
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HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, preeminent military historian and classicist. He blogs at www.victorhanson.com. And I’m surprised, I was reading during the break, Professor, you liked “300”. It seems to you, “It preserves the spirit of Thermopylae”.

VDH: With qualifications.

HH: I know.

VDH: It’s a convention…it’s a cartoon. It’s adapted…it’s not a cartoon per se’, but it’s adopted from a cartoon.

HH: And so, I’m looking forward to it now with that. Now the reason I asked you to come on, Professor, is today, when I read that there were only 33 Arab linguists in the FBI, I thought this country is not serious, and perhaps what is needed is a national security academy for high school students, like the Naval Academy is for the Navy, and the West Point is for the Army, and the Air Force Academy is for those who fly. What do you make of that idea?

VDH: Well, we had something analogous after the Sputnik crisis. Remember in the late 1950’s, when the idea was that we didn’t have enough Russian speakers, so the…defense agency, all of these intelligence branches grew up, and then billions of dollars were funded into the universities to create Russian studies programs. But we never really quite made a specific academy the way you’re envisioning.

HH: Well, you’ve taught at the United States Naval Academy. And you know the product that comes out of four years of a group of people who have a similar mission, and a faculty devoted to it, at least in some part. Would that work for people in counter-terrorism, and intelligence gathering, and linguists and cyber-terror experts?

VDH: I think so. I think you could combine sort of a CIA, FBI, Special Forces. The problem we have right now is that we have all of these diverse, fragmented programs, the Monterey Language Institute, or post-Naval, post graduate school, Army War College, the National War College. And I think that we need to consolidate them, and see that they don’t overlap, because as you point out, we’re not really teaching people languages. And a special key here is people who learn Arabic to a state of fluency who are not necessarily from the Middle East. We found that to be very helpful in the Cold War, that people who were not Russian were speaking Russian.

HH: Now Professor Hanson, though, the question I really wanted to ask you is if there was such a thing, how important would the Western canon be, the idea of what it is you’re defending by being in counter-terrorism, and training for domestic counter-intelligence?

VDH: I think it’d be very important, because we’re going to be increasingly finding ourselves in a war of ideas, where the old idea of a conventional war, even a nuclear exhange, are going to be very difficult. I mean, people don’t want to fight us that way, and we don’t want to fight in a nuclear war. So these are going to be dirty wars, they’re going to be asymmetrical wars, they’re going to be wars fought where CNN ideology, propaganda, are going to be very important.

HH: To what do you attribute, Professor Hanson, the vast gap between what it taught on college campuses, and the books that appeal? For example, your books, or Doris Kearns Goodwin, A Team Of Rivals, or the Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. The books that sell are books about America, and basically celebrate the idea that the country is worth defending. And yet, the college courses I’m familiar with don’t do that very much.

VDH: I think there’s two issues here. One, in the post-60’s generation, gave up the idea of the disinterested university, and said corporation, religion, the family unit, are all biased, so we have students for four precious years, and we can indoctrinate them in an alternate paradigm of anti-family, anti-religion, anti-American, anti-capitalist, and that’s not biased, because society’s biased. So we’re going to get rid of the old Socratic idea of disinterested knowledge. That’s one thing. And then the specialization, and the idea that the PhD theses got narrower and narrower, and more specialized, and more highly theoretical, that even if we had people in the university that wanted to reach a broad audience and talk about what caused the United States, they don’t have the linguistic skills or the expository skills to interest anybody. If you take a class on the Civil War today, it’s a good chance the person doesn’t know anything about Antietam or Gettysburg, but everything about gender codes on the plantation, or something.

HH: Yup. It is pretty amazing. And they also don’t know much about Lincoln’s political genius. So Professor Victor Davis…

VDH: Absolutely…

HH: Go ahead.

VDH: I just had my son. He’s a senior at Cal State, and he came home from a Civil War class, and I said you haven’t…you don’t have one book about one battle in the Civil War. It’s all about gender and identity in the Civil War. And he said that the professor told him the battles were not important.

HH: Oh, my gosh (laughing).

VDH: It’s freakin’ dimming.

HH: Now when you hear that there are only 33 Arab speakers in the FBI, what’s that tell you about our seriousness of purpose on domestic counter-terrorism?

VDH: I think that it either shows you we’re inept, or that we’re politically correct, and we don’t feel that we want to have people in the Arab-American community listening in mosques to see what’s happening. But I would like to be a broad number of people from all backgrounds learning Arabic, not just people from the Middle East who are immigrants. I think that was very important, as I said earlier, in the Cold War, that Condoleezza Rice learned Russian in that tradition…

HH: Yes.

VDH: And we didn’t have to rely on people from Russia themselves, who sometimes posed a lot of problems.

HH: You’re just back into Boston, Professor, so I’ll give you one more question, and let you go. Kim Jong Il…as you follow this, what do you make of the American rhetoric, and the reaction in the country to his high stakes saber rattling?

VDH: I think Mr. Bush has been pretty subdued, because he doesn’t really know the extent of this test. But I think we’re going to have to rethink everything. We’re going to have to rethink about do we really want American troops on the DMZ when the South Koreans triangulate, and create the disastrous policy of appeasement? Do we really want to have this idea that a proud and successful humane nation like Taiwan and Japan won’t be able to protect themselves? I mean, nuclear non-proliferation is failing. Maybe we should have a new strategy that says we want nuclear non-proliferation for non-democratic states. Places like Japan and Taiwan and Australia should be able to protect themselves from rogue nations that have nuclear weapons.

HH: Well, I hope that that gets put on the table as well. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure. www.victorhanson.com for the private papers of VDH. Thank you, Professor.

End of interview.

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