The Rise of U.S. Power Corresponds to the Growth of Its Educational Institutions


Anthony Eames gets it.  He is a nuclear historian working on a Ph.D at Georgetown University.  His piece “The New Know-Nothings” makes a historical connection between the United States’s investment in education and the nation’s security.

Here is a taste of Eames’s piece at War on the Rocks:

President John F. Kennedy steered the United States through the most dangerous moments of the Cold War during the Berlin and Cuban Missile Crises. Afterwards, he made a special appeal to Congress, arguing, “For the nation, increasing the quality and availability of education is vital to both our national security and our domestic well being.” Kennedy insisted that the cultivation of the American intellect through federal funding for education must be a security priority in an increasingly dangerous world. Kennedy’s wisdom appears to be lost on President Donald Trump. The new president offers policy proposals that suggest he fails to see how education and intellectual capital contribute to the safety of the United States.

Trump has unapologetically proposed an immigration ban targeted at Muslim countries and a $54 billion increase in defense spending that purportedly “advances the safety and security of the American people.” However, these policies come at the cost of cutting funds to federal agencies — such as the State Department (28.7 percent) and the Department of Education (13.5 percent) — that support critical education and research programs. As such, these proposed policies will jeopardize U.S. security by neglecting the educational and intellectual growth necessary to sustain American power. Historically, the federal government nurtured the American intellect through investment in education at all levels, funding cultural and humanities programs and embracing foreign intellectual talent. These initiatives have reinforced American security by contributing to diplomacy and strategic thinking, the development of military technologies and tactics, and the pace of economic innovation. Given this context, cutting important education funds and limiting immigration undermines the intellectual development imperative to U.S. power and influence.

The rise of U.S. power corresponds to the growth of its educational institutions. In the early years of the Civil War, Southern officers proved strategic superiors to most of their Union counterparts. Recognizing these deficiencies, Rep. Justin Smith Morrill advocated for the 1862 Land-Grant College Act in Congress by embedding military training into the curriculums of institutions of higher education funded by the federal government, creating a network of nurseries for educating military officers across the United States. In turn, Land-Grant colleges promoted regional diversity in the military and bridged social divides by connecting far-flung territories with urban centers through a web of academic contacts.

The American university boom in the early 20th century was a direct result of the Land-Grant College Act. This boom created an institutional gravitational pull that drew in some of the brightest minds fleeing violence and fascism in Europe. Thanks to the initiatives of American universities, an infusion of intellectual capital transformed the United States into the global scientific power that it is today. Émigré scientists built up the scientific infrastructure in the U.S. that was critical in developing superior technologies during World War II and the Cold War. In constructing the first atomic bomb, Enrico Fermi’s lab at the University of Chicago produced the necessary nuclear chain reaction. Émigré scientists like Hans Bethe, John Von Neumann, Joseph Rotblat, Eugene Wigner, and Stanislaw Ulam drew up bomb designs at the Los Alamos Laboratory under the stewardship of the University of California system.

Read the entire piece here.

Thanks to Jennifer Bryson of Center for Islam & Religious Freedom for bringing this piece to my attention.