Wednesday, May 11, 2005

An Immodest Proposal

REAL CLARITY. I'm not sure I can take credit for this idea because the editors of seem to make a practice of putting related articles together. So it may be I'm not the first to see a connection between the last two items on the May 11 list of think pieces. But if I hurry I can be the first to make the connection explicit, because it's not quite as plain as the nose on your face.

The first of the two is Armor Amour - Suddenly the Beltway Loves Tanks by Austin Bay. When I clicked on it I discovered that it was all about -- TA DA -- tanks. Mr. Bay is taking the opportunity to offer a well-earned "I told you so" to his buddies in the military-industrial complex. Prior to September 11 and the Iraq War, a lot of the smartest military experts, including Donald Rumsfeld, thought the tank was obsolete:

In the original Rumsfeld program, heavy armor, like the M1 tank, was a "legacy system" -- an archaic technology. Rumsfeld's Whiz Kids weren't the only ones who thought the tank passe. An Army buddy tells the story of a could-be Democratic appointee he escorted through DOD briefings. The pipe-smoking pontificator kept saying, "The tank's dead." My infantry pal finally turned to him and said: "Yes sir, the tank's a dinosaur, but it's the baddest dinosaur on the battlefield. You face one."

By now, most people have forgotten that before the Iraq Occupation, it really had begun to look as if modern wars were about speed, mobility, special forces, and high-tech electronic gizmos that could destroy enemy communications at a distance and guide missiles through doorways. That's why the military vehicles in Iraq were mostly unarmored Humvees. Those of us who fume about the appalling lack of armor in 2003 are mostly geniuses in hindsight. Not Mr. Bay, though. All the way back in the old days, he knew better:

An article I wrote in August 2001 -- pre-9/11 -- took some hits from Whiz Kid supporters. Titled "Grunt Work," it argued for retaining a sufficient mass of high quality infantry (see it here). The article drew on T.R. Fehrenbach's Korean War classic "This Kind of War." One Beltway critic labeled me a hapless Luddite. Nope -- I believed then and now we never know the future and, when it comes to maintaining U.S. security, all bets must be hedged. I love robots and smart bombs, but I suspected full-spectrum 21st century war would also require bayonets and police batons.

And now everyone else knows better too:

The May issue of Armed Forces Journal features a tough-minded article by Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute. Goure notes "the conventional wisdom" assumed that a "small ground contingent" would wield "decisive power" by deploying promptly and maneuvering rapidly.

"On reflection, it now appears that the conventional wisdom is wrong. The overriding lesson of recent conflicts, both conventional wars and counterinsurgency campaigns, is that some armor is good and more armor is better."

A good article. It makes sense to have some tanks handy. Maybe even a lot of tanks.

The next and final article on the May 11 list was about something completely different. It's called Retaking the Universities. In it, Mr. Roger Kimball of New Criterion magazine describes just how terrible the condition of the nation's universities is. Like Mr. Bay, Mr. Kimball is writing about a subject on which he has taken strong positions in the past. In 1990, he wrote:

With a few notable exceptions, our most prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities have installed the entire radical menu at the center of their humanities curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. Every special interest--women's studies, black studies, gay studies, and the like --and every modish interpretative gambit--deconstruction, post-structuralism, new historicism, and other postmodernist varieties of what the literary critic Frederick Crews aptly dubbed "Left Eclecticism"--has found a welcome roost in the academy, while the traditional curriculum and modes of intellectual inquiry are excoriated as sexist, racist, or just plain reactionary.

What's different today is that it's all gotten much worse.

Traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. The goal was to produce men and women who (as Allan Bloom put it) had reflected thoughtfully on the question " 'What is man?' in relation to his highest aspirations as opposed to his low and common needs."

Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the "adversary culture of the intellectuals." The goal was less reflection than rejection. The English novelist Kingsley Amis once observed that much of what was wrong with the 20th century could be summed up in the word "workshop." Nowadays, "workshop" has been largely replaced by the word "studies." Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Afro-American Studies, Women's Studies, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies: These are not the names of academic disciplines but political grievances. They exist not to further liberal education but to nurture the feckless antinomianism that Jacques Barzun dubbed "directionless quibble."

These are only some highlights of the 'What's Wrong' portion of the essay, which is quite long but well worth reading in full. For example, there's a lengthy discussion of the importance of the gender tinkering that's going on in a lot of schools, even in places like Smith College. Mr. Kimball asserts that it is no side issue but fundamental to the radicalization process and offers us this quote from Irving Kristol:

"Sexual liberation" is always near the top of a countercultural agenda--though just what form the liberation takes can and does vary, sometimes quite wildly. Women's liberation, likewise, is another consistent feature of all countercultural movements--liberation from husbands, liberation from children, liberation from family. Indeed, the real object of these various sexual heterodoxies is to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.

Eventually, the article returns to its inital premise, which is to consider whether and how we can go about fixing what's wrong. Mr. Kimball proposes that reform is a two part effort, which begins with relentless, large-scale, and far-reaching critiques of the university system, including hiring practices, tenure policies, curricula, and even the contemporary definition of academic freedom. The second part is changing the institutions while maintaining the same level of criticism and questioning. But who is going to effect change and who is going to accept it?

Faculties often take it amiss when critics appeal over their heads to alumni, trustees or parents. But ultimately teachers still stand in loco parentis, if not on everyday moral issues then at least with respect to the content of the education they provide. Many parents are alarmed, rightly so, at the spectacle of their children going off to college one year and coming back the next having jettisoned every moral, religious, social and political scruple that they had been brought up to believe. Why should parents fund the moral decivilization of their children at the hands of tenured antinomians? Why should alumni generously support an alma mater whose political and educational principles nourish a world view that is not simply different from but diametrically opposed to the one they endorse? Why should trustees preside over an institution whose faculty systematically repudiates the pedagogical mission they, as trustees, have committed themselves to uphold? These are questions that should be asked early and asked often.

This is the point at which I began to lose the hope aroused by the article's title. Try as I might, I just can't see meaningful change of the academic monstrosity our universities have become issuing from faculties, parents, alumni, and trustees. I found myself speaking out loud.

"It ain't gonna happen that way," I said. "What it would take is..."

...and then the brilliant thought came to me: "Tanks!"

So here's my plan. We round up every tank we can find that isn't actually being used in Iraq or Afghanistan. Next, we conduct a nationwide Internet poll to determine which institutions need to be retaken first. The result of the poll will be a list of all the target universities in the order they will be subjected to reform. Then we have a secret meeting with all the anti-marxist and nonmarxist students and faculty in the country. I've even got a place in mind for this. It's called the Charcoal Pit and should hold everyone nicely. The ivory tower types will never suspect a thing.

The Charcoal Pit is in Delaware, which isn't centrally located, but on the positive side of the ledger the food is good and since this is summertime, after the meeting we could enjoy a couple of days at the Jersey shore before Operation Academic Freedom gets officially underway.

The actual battle plan is pretty simple. We drive our tanks up to the front doors of the universities and start shooting. Timing is important. We'll have to wait till 11 am or so, or else there won't be anyone in class. Ammunition is important. We'll need lots and lots of it. The firing plan is to keep blasting until there's nothing left but smoldering ruins. Then we go on to the next on the list. If the first target is Harvard, for example, we would move on from there to, say, Yale. So fuel will be important too. There's going to be some long distance driving involved between engagements.

I really think Operation Academic Freedom has an excellent chance of success. It's the only plan that fully addresses the scores of problems identified by Mr. Kimball in his article. So I urge you all to help us begin these reforms by contributing some money to the tip jar on this website. Give us much or as little as you can, but $1,000 per person seems like a good average to strive for.

How about it? There's no better time to start than today.

UPDATE:Instalanche underway -- thanks Glenn -- welcome to InstaPundit visitors and feel free to take a look around. With all the activity stirred by the Buchanan-Nazi post we were distracted. Our apologies.

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