10 June 2005

Proud to Be an American?

Phil Carter, at Intel Dump, perceptively notes:

[C]an someone explain why the United States did not fund massive Arabic, Urdu, Pashto and Farsi language programs immediately after 9/11? Hindsight being 20/20, it seems that it would've been a solid investment to pour massive amounts of money into U.S. universities to fund these programs, much as we did for engineers and scientists during the Cold War.

Or, can someone explain why the U.S. didn't instantaneously require students at the three service academies (West Point, Annapolis and Air Force) to learn Arabic plus another foreign language? Or why this wasn't made part of the standard curriculum for new sergeants and lieutenants going through professional military education courses?

Grunt for grunt, America likely has the best-trained military in the world when it comes to warfighting. But in today's world, being able to kill the enemy isn't good enough. Indeed, in today's operational environment, cultural competency must be regarded as an element of combat power — and something to be measured when one assesses the readiness of our forces. Without it, we have a glaring hole in our capability. 45 months have now passed since 9/11 — how long are we going to sit on this before we actually do something?

"Linguistic Lag" (10 June 2005) (emphasis in original).

I offer the following "bottom ten" list of explanations—and some of them are even intended seriously.

10. Because doing it in college is too late anyway; doing it early enough would mean actually funding foreign-language instruction for all students starting not later than sixth grade, and offering languages other than the Unholy Triumvirate (German, French, and Spanish) outside of honors-based schools in rich suburbs (which we couldn't even manage in the face of the Russian Menace).

9. Because that would actually prepare Academy graduates for something in the real world.

8. Because we don't have enough qualified teachers, and would have to give jobs to immigrants and hire from overseas.

7. Because that kind of knowledge might occasionally make clear that dearly held positions are harmful outside US borders… where we expect the US military to do its dirty work.

6. Because that might reveal that the Academies aren't the shining bastions of intellectual prowess that they portray themselves to be.

5. Because that would require senior officers to pay attention to what junior officers and enlisted personnel said about the reality of the situation being faced in the field.

4. Because the most-critical languages are non-Western, and it would be too difficult to ensure that instructors were also maintaining "appropriate" political indoctrination (since their supervisors wouldn't have much first-hand knowledge, either).

3. Because it's only a short step from understanding what someone is saying for the first time to rehumanizing him or her, despite the best efforts of the propaganda apparatus.

2. Because one can't porkbarrel defense contracts that employ Joe Lunchbox on the basis of language lessons.

And the number one reason that Carter's sensible policy hasn't been adopted is:

1. Because we're proud to be Americans ("If you speak three languages, you're trilingual; if you speak two languages, you're bilingual; and if you only speak one language, you're an American").

Note: By that standard, I'm not an American. I'm not Emilio Sandoz, but I'm satisfactorily nonmonolingual, and not limited to the West, either.