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May 21, 2024

Although this is graduation week at Harvard, the nation’s attention is properly focused elsewhere. In New York, the Trump trial grabs every headline. It is as if “My Cousin Vinny” is being re-shot in Joe Pesci’s old neighborhoods with an even dumber presiding judge. A half-continent away, in my adopted hometown of San Antonio, our border is still overrun, thirty-seven thousand Chinese illegals (2023 figures, averaging 6000/month, mostly military-age males) paying tribute to the cartels and winking at the Border Patrol before vanishing into the great American outback.

With Memorial Day fast upon us, should our annual graduation season give way to serious questions about national survival? And which is worse: The recently admitted enemies walking amongst us or the infamous Bidenesque lawfare campaign, aimed at defeating Donald Trump even as American jurisprudence is reduced to Third World levels? After all, who is your preferred enemy: The cartelistas selling fentanyl in your local high school or the Soros-funded district attorney releasing them with ankle monitors? Most profoundly: Which comes first: another 911 or Civil War 2.0? 

While pondering such weighty matters, a startling communication recently arrived – an invitation from the Harvard Alumni Association to attend the graduation festivities taking place this week on the Cambridge campus. A cheery note from our incoming Alumni Association president described the endless ceremonial wonders: the parade of alumni, processions of new graduates, inspiring speeches by distinguished visitors, including Harvard’s new interim President. And afterwards, “we’ll all party in the Yard with live music, lawn games, Harvard swag, and food and beverage trucks from local establishments. Chicken tikka masala or lobster roll anyone?”

Are you kidding me, folks? Only six months ago the duly elected President of Harvard, one Claudine Gay, was forced to resign in disgrace after bungling her congressional testimony and appearing either confused or indifferent about the First Amendment rights of the Harvard students she was allegedly sworn to protect. It subsequently turned out that Ms. Gay’s own research contained shortcomings that would have ended the academic careers of lesser mortals. While losing her presidential position, she somehow retained her tenure as a Harvard professor, knocking down an a high six-figure salary. Which is a lot of lobster rolls if you feel like celebrating.

I did not so my brusque rejection underlined my outrage when alleged Harvard students tore down the American flag and desecrated the statue of John Harvard, a Bay Colony gospel minister, with the flags of Hamas. Even worse were the morons chanting outside Harvard’s front gates to urge “An American intifada.”

But to my surprise, Harvard replied with an exquisitely nuanced note, appreciating “your frustrations and concerns about recent events on campus” and promising to “share your message with our leadership.” Unlikely, of course, but please ask them: Whose idea was it to admit the Hitler Youth to the student body; what kind of faculty honed their totalitarian impulses; and which inmates are actually running that over-priced asylum at Cambridge 02138?

My Harvard sojourn of the early 1980’s was essential for a young officer improbably selected to join the West Point faculty. I studied under Dean Graham Allison, Ambassador Joseph Nye and Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling. Former Governor Mike Dukakis was an amiable, avuncular super-star-in-waiting who later deserved much better military advice (“Governor, don’t try riding that tank on your own”) than I could offer. Later, I wrote my dissertation on the American military command structure under the acerbic, always humorous direction of Professor Anthony G. Oettinger, an intelligence guru who now has Washington buildings named in his honor.

I strongly suspect that most of these men had political and even spiritual beliefs that contradicted mine but so what? Unlike the Harvard of today, what you believed back then was far less important than your reasons for believing it, a constant interrogation that always began: What books have you read? What other sources supported or contradicted them and how did you assess the better argument? Above all: Do you think your analysis went deep enough?

Those relentless lessons served me well when teaching cadets, serving on Capitol Hill as an Army Congressional Fellow or providing personal advice to the Army Chief of Staff during the tumultuous run-up to the Gulf Wars. Professors Schelling, Oettinger and their colleagues had eventually persuaded me that the primary duty of any teacher was to honor their institutions through disciplined scholarship by professors who held themselves responsible for deeply critical thinking – and who would accept nothing less from their students.

Either at Harvard or elsewhere in American academe: Do those ideals still hold true? And if not, then why not?


Colonel (Ret.) Ken Allard is a former draftee who became a West Point professor, Dean of the National War College and NBC News on-air military analyst.

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