March 29, 2011 A graduate of Dickinson College serving as an infantry platoon recently leader praised — of all things — his liberal arts education for helping his unit make military gains in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.
One day, as he recounted in an e-mail that he sent to Dickinson President William G. Durden, the graduate, who was commissioned through Dickinson’s Reserve Officers Training Corps and majored in Middle Eastern history, found himself sharing small talk with five village elders. After he recited the first chapter of the Koran (which he learned as part of a class assignment), the first lieutenant earned the men’s trust, he wrote to Durden.
Soon after, one of the men handed over five small papers which appeared to be “night letters,” or notes left by the Taliban on local mosques or the doors of homes. Typically, such letters urge resistance or threaten violence to those who cooperate with American forces. These, however, were asking for help. “The three letters this man gave to me thus signaled a major shift in Taliban morale in our area of operations, and at the end of the day became very valuable intelligence information,” the unnamed lieutenant wrote.
This episode — which demonstrates how core liberal arts subjects, such as foreign language, cultural studies and history can yield better-trained, more culturally sophisticated soldiers and officers — illustrates the kind of thing that Dickinson’s administration and military analysts want to see happening more often. And, by ensuring that future military leaders learn on campus alongside more typical students, higher education and military officials hope to start bridging the divide that separates servicemen and -women from the rest of society.
On Monday, the college announced that Dickinson had received $100,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to organize forums (one next month and another in the fall) that will help liberal arts colleges collaborate with neighboring military institutions of higher education. The forums will draw upon and look to strengthen several existing relationships between neighboring institutions: Dickinson and the nearby U.S. Army War College; Bard, Union and Vassar colleges and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; St. John’s College and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and Colorado College and the U.S. Air Force Academy.