Photo Credit to “The Daily Beast”
When I took an assignment from the Cardinal and Cream on the annual Scholarship Banquet, I had no idea my life would momentarily turn into a journalistic thriller. I thought it would be interesting to get some interviews with staff and students of Union, asking them what their opinion was on Rumsfeld. Every time I asked for an interview however, people would decline, not willing to risk their job or scholarships to comment on a potential moral dilemma the University has embroiled itself in. Much like Orwell in his writings about the establishment, I was surrounded by fierce opposition and dire warnings to “maybe not write about this particular subject.” The only thing that was missing was black helicopters following me around.
If you know anything about me, you already know that I don’t particularly care about who I offend when I write about the truth. Many Union students, teachers, and staff may not know about this man who was invited to speak, or the things he has done that are so against the University’s ideals. This article should raise some questions in readers, and encourage them to think for themselves, not blindly accepting the decisions of an authority as law. As a preface, all ideas in this article stem from me, and I am solely responsible for writing this article.
First off, why was Rumsfeld chosen? “Our ultimate goal” says Josh Clarke, Director of Alumni and Annual Fund, “is to bring in as much money as possible, so we can offer more scholarships to students.” With this goal in mind, it is easy to see why the University would choose someone well-known, yet controversial, over someone else who could deliver a better speech. After all, Rumsfeld is a rich, right leaning political figure that will sit well with the potential donors at the University. One simply has to look at past speakers: Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Laura Bush, and many others to see that there is a precedent for extremely conservative speakers. Yes, there are occasionally others, such as Mikhail Gorbachev, but they are scattered few and far between. Clarke says the University picks speakers who will “be of the most interest to not only our students, the faculty or staff, but also the Greater West Tennessee area.” This is great and all, but isn’t Union’s primary goal education? If we continue to pick extremely biased speakers from the same camp, over and over again, this will eventually negatively affect the academic progress at Union. Union needs to show students both sides of every issue, educate the students on what they should believe (per Lewis in The Abolition of Man), and respect their opinion afterwards.
Lauren Butler, a Freshman Political Science/ French double major, who has absolutely no negative feelings towards the University says “part of being future directed is having the ability not only to articulate our own beliefs, and what we stand for, but also to be able to articulate the other side, and what they stand for. [Union] should prepare us for the outside world and prepares us for the future, while creating a safe environment for dialogue and discussion of all these things.” Indeed, one of the University’s goals in inviting this speaker is to give students an opportunity to grow academically as well.
“Future-directed” is one of Union’s four central beliefs, along with “excellence-driven,” “Christ-centered,” and “people-focused.” When the University brings in a speaker, it should hold these four standards and the commitment to academic achievement up to the speaker, and decide whether or not, the speaker would be beneficial for the University. I’ve already discussed the “bright-line” related to academic achievement above, but the University’s four central tenets are another issue, and are in fact, entirely opposite Donald Rumsfeld.
“Excellence-driven” means that Union does its best, and encourages good work from its students, teachers, and staff. Is Donald Rumsfeld a stellar example of someone who has done his best? Well, that depends on what you think of the war in Iraq. It may not have been the best decision to make, and is in fact, often likened to Vietnam. Rumsfeld also surrounded himself by many like minded individuals, leading to a ring of “Yes-men,” much like what is seen in Disney’s,
The Lion King, with the hyenas following Scar’s orders with no thought beforehand. For Rumsfeld, this led to a severe lack of accountability, and resulted in a plethora of horrendous decisions which exacerbated the war in Iraq, eventually making it unwinnable. Is Donald Rumsfeld excellence-driven?
“Christ-centered” is another core belief of Union, stating that the goal of all on Union’s campus should be centered around Christ. This includes loving your neighbor like yourself, which is something that Rumsfeld fails to do. When Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard asked why the HUM-VEEs had so little protection against the IEDs in the Middle Eastern conflicts, Rumsfeld infamously responded “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” This is just one of many examples in which Rumsfeld was tied to a lack of planning regarding the War on Terror, directly leading to American casualties. With all of this in mind, can the University truthfully say Rumsfeld is “Christ-centered?”
“People-focused” ties back to the University’s belief that everyone is made in the image of God. Does Donald Rumsfeld embody this ideal? Considering he is the man behind the war in Iraq, and is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers, and over 150,000 civilian deaths through the war in Iraq, it’s a difficult argument to make. In addition to being a primary architect of this conflict, the infamous torture practices that took place in Abu Ghraib appear to have been authorized by Rumsfeld himself. Dozens of individuals have confirmed that Rumsfeld approved of the torture techniques, and even encouraged them, although he has never been proven guilty in a court of law. With “People-focused” in mind, should Rumsfeld, a man who may have approved inhumane practices, and is definitely behind more than a hundred and fifty thousand deaths, be the keynote speaker?
The fourth and final core value of Union is “future-directed,” saying that the University is focused not on the now, but on what is to come. I’ve already discussed the lack of planning regarding the HUM-VEEs, but there is much more in this camp. Rumsfeld has also been accused of having the knowledge that Iraq had no functional WMDs, and simply used this as an excuse to invade Iraq to try and establish a democracy. Indeed, the U.S. government had many different excuses for about a decade, about their true intention in the Middle East. These have ranged from finding WMDs, to defeating Al-Qaeda, to helping the people of these countries, to establishing democracies, to being the world police and so on and so forth. Even if Rumsfeld did originally suspect WMDs in the Middle-East, there came a time when he knew that was no longer a threat, and decided to march forward with no clear plan.This lack of planning led to the destabilization of the country, and indirectly led to the formation of ISIS, which has killed many more people. Does Donald Rumsfeld exemplify the University’s idea of planning ahead?
It is important for the University to give its students the opportunity to excel academically, but there is a bright-line that the University should meet when choosing candidates for high profile speeches. Getting money for scholarships is incredibly important, but does it trump the moral integrity of the school, and the negative effects that might be brought upon by certain speakers? If a speaker does not meet four of a school’s four base ideals, should the school still invite them to speak, influencing the student population, teachers, staff, and donors who choose to attend? Union University faces a moral dilemma with this speaker, and regardless of the speaker’s experience and the possibility to bring in scholarship money, the potential consequences should be considered.
If no one finds my body after this article is published, tell my wife and children I loved them.