McChrystal must have been through something ominous because,
according to Elisabeth Bumiller's Times article, McChrystal asks that students in the class take
notes on an "off the record" basis -- i.e., not for attribution.**
extraordinary act seems drastically out of place with notions of academic and
intellectual freedom. At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where I teach
history, intellectual freedom is fiercely encouraged and protected. In
addition, there is also accountability. No matter what I say in my history
classes - either about history or my combat experience -- cadets are free to
tell it to the world, critique it, or reject it privately or publicly.
Restrictions on cadets don't exist even for an instructor with direct ties to
the U.S. military. (I did two combat tours in Iraq, the second one in command
of a combat battalion in West Baghdad at the height of Iraq's Shia-Sunni civil
war in 2006.)
Yale University's readiness to impose special conditions -- enabling
a retired American four-star general with celebrity appeal to teach classes on his own terms -- is puzzling. Why would Yale bend
the dictates of academic freedom, especially knowing that McChrystal's students
have little personal knowledge of the true nature of the conflicts in Iraq and
Afghanistan, much less of the officers who've decisively shaped their conduct? Have
at least portions of the Yale faculty have been seduced by the "better war"
myth -- the notion that to win wars of occupation inside the Muslim World, the
trick is to put the right general in charge and tweak the tactics of
counterinsurgency with clever political science theories that win hearts and
This is not to suggest that former military officers should
not be teaching at American universities. On the contrary, there are many
former soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with the background and
credentials to teach at the University level, and they should. But intellectual
freedom should not be corrupted by "special arrangements" in order to draw a
former general to teach a class at Yale.
Buckley's warning in the early 1950s of the dangers of an
ideological mindset, whether left wing or right wing in orientation, is still
valid. Yale's faculty and student body should heed the words of George Orwell, himself
a former soldier: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes
a revolutionary act."
* An earlier version of this article stated that General McChrystal teaches in Yale's Grand Strategy program. In fact, he teaches at Yale's Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, home to its majors in international studies and global affairs.
** An earlier version of this article stated that Yale University imposed restrictions on students in General McChrystal's class. According to James A. Levinsohn, Charles W. Goodyear Professor in Global Affairs and the director of the institute in which McChrystal teaches, it was McChrystal himself, not the university, who imposed the restrictions.