Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, the president of the Naval War College (NWC), recently announced a radical set of reforms that he plans for the institution to make it more like liberal arts universities such as Brown and the University of Rhode Island. I’m not sure if the admiral has visited either of these two places, but I have.
I don’t think that the admiral’s proposals go far enough in emulating these paragons of liberal academic virtue. Adm. Harley wants to hire faculty who don’t necessarily agree with the Pentagon and bring in more foreign professors to internationalize the institution. He also wants to grant tenure so these progressive outside-the-box thinkers can be protected from retaliation by those who may believe that their ideas are loopy.
Creating a naval version of Brown will take a more radical approach than Adm. Harley advocates. In order to help the admiral in crafting his reform strategy, I’ll offer a few humble suggestions:
First, we need to change the name. The kind of progressive, hip faculty members he is looking for won’t want anything to do with anything that has “war” in its name. I’d suggest something like the Naval University for Conflict Avoidance. That catches the new, less threatening and more accepting spirit that the admiral is advocating quite nicely.
Second, we are going to have to create safe spaces so that the naval service officers who make up the majority of the student body can avoid offensive ideas by the progressive, new faculty members. Most of these upwardly mobile young officers have grown up in an environment where aggressiveness and war fighting skills are highly prized, and some of the new, progressive ideas they are exposed to may come as a culture shock. Perhaps therapeutic trips to the Marine Corps or Army War Colleges can be arranged for those who have a hard time adjusting to a kinder and gentler military philosophy.
A third suggestion is to do away with offensive trigger words that might make the new faculty members uncomfortable. Words like war, annihilation, target, destroy and defeat must go; and when they are used, professors should be trained to deflect conversations toward a less threatening direction.
One particularly offensive practice that must be eliminated is war gaming. Some of the regressive thinkers on the current faculty and among the alumni will point out that war gaming at the NWC was critical in crafting the naval strategy that won World War II and did much to bring the Soviet Union to its knees. Perhaps we could substitute them for conflict resolution seminars.
A great faculty hire would be the officer in charge of the patrol boat flotilla who surrendered his command to the Iranians after getting lost in the Straits of Hormuz. Rather than stick to the archaic Code of Conduct, he chose to apologize for violating Iranian waters. The pictures of American sailors kneeling with their hands behind their heads in front of smirking Iranians was a real step toward promoting better relations with an adversary that despises us.
Toward the goal of internationalizing the faculty, the admiral should consider hiring one or both of the captains of the oil tankers that incapacitated the USS Fitzgerald and USS Mc Cain. Together, these two caused more material damage to our surface combatants than the North Vietnamese and Iraqi navies combined.
The reactionaries on the faculty and among the alumni who object to these reforms will have to be dealt with, but Adm. Harley reportedly has the full support of the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, in his efforts. Top cover is needed for crusading reform and Adm. Richardson, in partnership with former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, has done more to make the U.S. Navy a less threatening, kinder and gentler force on the world stage than anyone since the legendary Adm. Elmo Zumwalt during the glory days of progressive Navy reform in the 1970s.
At a time when the Iranians and Chinese are threatening our naval supremacy in two separate theaters and the Baltic is fast becoming a Russian lake, it is comforting to know that Adm. Richardson and Adm. Harley have their eyes squarely on the ball and are concentrating on liberalizing naval professional education. They need to ignore the naysayers who claim that we are rapidly becoming a second-rate naval power. The admirals can do what the Battle of Trafalgar did to the French navy without firing a shot.
• Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel who served as the Marine Corps representative at the Naval War College Center for Naval Warfare Studies and authored two of the Newport Papers series.