“Pictures At an Exhibition:” Israel Has Nukes? and Academic Freedom at West Point

The Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society conference at Chicago’s venerable Palmer House was certainly a different venue from my usual academic forays: At dinner Friday night October 26, 2007, I am seated next to Dafna Shaked, an Israeli scholar from the The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. When I suggested that the Iran nuclear situation should be addressed in a more even-handed manner leading to a nuclear free zone including Israel, she responded, “What nuclear arsenal?” Israel for years, in its pariah status as a non-ratifier of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has danced around its rather hefty “deterrent” of fission and fusion weapons. I was surprised at her remark given the general independence of Israeli academicians, but perhaps she is affiliated with the government and has to engage in the illusion of ambiguity. She bemoaned the continued incarceration of three Israeli soldiers in Lebanon and Gaza and spoke about how their families must miss them. I agreed and asked her about the 20,000 or so Palestinians that are aging in Israeli prisons. She remarked they were deserving of their status as a threat to Israel.

At the same dinner table, I spoke at great length with Major Jonathan S.  Dunn, who is a professor of International Relations and Comparative Goverrnment at the United States Military Academy. He is a graduate of the academy and served in Iraq as an infantry officer and has a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Study–the same elite institution where war-criminal and disgraced former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz served as dean. I asked him many questions about academic freedom at West Point. He was sitting next to his wife, with whom he married a few days earlier, and indicated that students are allowed to disagree with their professors. Books are not always assigned to the instructor if less than one section, but will be assigned if a course has multiple instructors. He told me he wears his uniform to every class and that cadets are brought to attention by one of their peers who takes attendance. I asked him if Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn appear on reading lists and he said they “might” in a class on American Foreign Relations. I inquired whether a class could debate whether President Bush is a war criminal or if the senior military leadership of the army should be prosecuted for war crimes. Understand, the conversation was lively, robust and most friendly. He said that he knows that cadets were asked by an instructor if they agreed with the Iraq War and it was split evenly; but when asked if they would serve in Iraq, all hands went up. I noted without irony, “Well sure, they would have to go somewhere else to college if they did not express a willingness to serve.”

Major Dunn indicated that classes averaged around twelve students at West Point and that his current course load is two courses as I recall. He did indicate that sometimes he is required to teach four sections of the same class. I expressed astonishment with the modest class size and considerable envy given my usual teaching load of four classes and three preps with over a hundred students–sometimes there are course reductions. I queried whether classes end with a bell; he said the instructor ends the class. I asked him if cadets have to place their hats in a certain location and he said “no.” I asked him what students call him, and he said “major” or “sir.”

On my left at the same dinner table was army Lieutenant Colonel, Doctor William J. Gregor, who while retired from active duty, is a professor of social science at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and taught at West Point.  He told me there are three categories of instructors. Full time civilian; full time military; and “rotating” military who serve for three years. I then asked Major Dunn if he were in the latter category and he said he was and seemed momentarily surprised with my recently acquired knowledge. I then asked the major how students contact him and if he has office hours. He said they do by e-mail and they know how to reach him.

At the other side of the table was a prepossessing woman who was a major in the marines and was stationed at Camp Lejeune. The table was too large and the setting was too noisy with hundreds of guests for me to engage her in coversation. However, around a bar earlier, I inquired how she got her suntan. “Is that from Iraq or North Carolina, I asked?” She said, “North Carolina” where Camp Lejeune is located and then departed to purchase a ticket in order to consume a beverage.

Coming Wednesday, October 31, 2007: The fifth anniversary of my e-mail to Cadet Robert Kurpiel and my I.U.S. paper which was summarised by a colonel (ret) in the Air Force and graduate of the Air Force Academy.

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