Letter From February 2007Vietnam Magazine

Military Intelligence and Other Oxymorons

This issue’s article about CIA analyst Joe Hovey is a cautionary tale of one of the biggest intelligence failures in modern American history. Like all intelligence failures, it is all very clear now what was happening back then and the conclusions that should have been drawn—but only in hindsight, and that’s the rub.

Intelligence has always been as much an art as a science. It’s complicated stuff. Those who criticize intelligence practitioners the loudest—journalists, academics, politicians, students—are those who have never had to do it themselves or had to bear the responsibility for the consequences.

Although I spent most of my own military career in the combat arms, military intelligence is my secondary military occupational specialty, and I did spend a couple years working in the field. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people tell me dismissively: “Military intelligence! Boy, there’s the ultimate oxymoron.”
Well, perhaps. But I can think of a number of oxymorons that are even more absurd. Academic freedom is one that comes to mind.

This issue’s article on Dr. Gerald Hickey illustrates most poignantly the highly selective nature of the principle of academic freedom in the modern United States. After spending some 17 years working in Vietnam, this accomplished and widely respected anthropologist was denied a tenured university position because his work was tainted by his long association with the U.S. government, and especially the military. That’s code for his work being ideologically suspect—or politically incorrect, in today’s vernacular.

What academic freedom all too often means is that any professor or college student can say anything he wants, no matter how stupid or outrageous, so long as no one is offended in any way. The exceptions, of course, are anyone with even slightly conservative social or political beliefs, people in business or anyone involved in the actual production of wealth, males of European descent and, of course, all branches of law enforcement and the military. It’s perfectly OK to offend any of those groups all day long.

My own introduction to the world of academic freedom came when I returned to college in early 1970. It was the age of “do your own thing,” but it damn well had better be compatible with the “thing” of the Campus Thought Police. It was OK to be a Vietnam vet on campus back then, but only if you were deeply ashamed of your military service and abjectly apologized for committing nonexistent war crimes.

Today’s poster boys of academic freedom include Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado, who made himself famous by declaring that the 9/11 victims of the Twin Towers were the equivalent of Nazi war criminals. Another is Columbia University’s Nicholas De Genova, who during a 2003 anti-ROTC “teach in” declared, “I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus,” in reference to the 18 American GIs killed there in 1993. If this isn’t classic hate speech, I don’t know what is.

Charles Moskos, the great American sociologist, who has specialized in studying the American military, probably summed it up best when he once observed that antimilitarism is the anti-Semitism of the American intelligentsia.

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