How universities can help the war effort
Dec. 15, 2001
The Washington Times
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) recently issued a report criticizing colleges and universities for their failure to defend Western Civilization and recommended that American History and Western Civilization be required courses of study.
In this report, titled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It," the authors outline the yawning gap between the academy and the public at large on the transmission of the history and heritage of the United States.
Now more than two months after terrorist attacks, "it is clear that college and university faculty members have been the weak link in America's response," wrote ACTA President Jerry Martin and Vice President Anne D. Neal, authors of the report. "While faculty should be passionately defended in their right to academic freedom, that does not exempt them from criticism. The fact is: academe is the only section of American society that is distinctly divided in its response to the attacks on America," noted the report.
The message from the academy has been distinctly equivocal. While there are groups on campus that have supported the war effort, the "blame America first" organizations have been equally influential. The Martin-Neal report cites more than 100 examples of anti-U.S. sentiment at colleges and universities.
Most significantly, the top-ranked 55 colleges and universities in the country no longer require the study of Western Civilization or American History. To redress this deficiency, ACTA has called on institutions of higher education to include such required courses in the core curriculum.
There is little doubt that the nation's first line of defense against terrorism is a knowledge about and faith in the unique institutions that serve as a foundation stone for the nation. Ignorance is a great weapon for America's enemies since it can be deployed to undermine confidence and shake the stamina needed to sustain battle readiness.
"It has never been more urgent for education at all levels to pass on to the next generation the legacy of freedom and democracy. What is not taught will be forgotten, and what is forgotten cannot be defended," the report notes. Alas, for a generation American History has either been ignored or eviscerated of its accomplishments. For revisionists, America is a land of colonialists, imperialists, warmongers and paranoid reactionaries. To the astonishment of many, this one-sided interpretation has taken hold.
Hence, Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues, "The best way to begin a war on terrorism might be to look in the mirror." Kevin Lourie, a scholar at Brown University School of Medicine contends, "This war can end only to the extent that we relinquish our role as world leader, overhaul our lifestyle, and achieve political neutrality." And to cite merely one more example from the report, Walter Daum, math instructor at the City University of New York, maintains that "The ultimate responsibility lies with the rulers of this country, the capitalist ruling class of this country."
Here in unadulterated form is the echo of the hate-America position reverberating through the corridors of U.S. history. Even as flags are exhibited throughout the nation in this time of grief and conflict, naysayers on campus have their acolytes. In many instances, they point an accusatory finger at America, not the terrorists.
While these radical professors are and should remain free to express their point of view, they should not be inoculated against criticism for their moral relativism and their hatred of the nation that offers a sanctuary for the pursuit of their scholarship. Moreover, Americans should realize that these instructors have an obligation to transmit to our children the heritage of the nation, including both accomplishments and failures.
The United States is an imperfect nation, but it is also the last, best exemplar of a democratic republic. To suggest the U.S. is the primary source of the world's ills as many professors do is simply misguided. Frequently students are told America's failure to understand and appreciate Islam accounts for the terrorist mind-set. Yet there is a failure to note how the U.S. supported Islamists in the Gulf war, Kosovo and Bosnia.
Restoring confidence in our way of life and giving students the intellectual tools to defend the nation should be part of the educational mission. In my judgment, it has never been more urgent for institutions of higher learning to pass on to adolescents the legacy of liberty and constitutionalism.
ACTA should be commended for taking a stand on this matter. Lynne Cheney, chair of the ACTA, put it well when she noted: "We need to understand that living in liberty is such a precious thing that generations of men and women have been willing to sacrifice everything for it. We need to know, in a war, exactly what is at stake." I say, amen.
Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and is John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University and author of "Decade of Denial," recently published by Lexington Books.