The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Learning on Two Ships in the Night: A Sinking Feeling

Will Munger Summarizes the Annual SCUSA Conference

Every fall, Reed’s political science department awards a fellowship to participate in the Student Conference on United States Affairs (SCUSA) at the US Military Academy at West Point.  This past fall marked the sixty-second year of SCUSA. The conference’s theme for 2010 was “Reconsidering US Hegemony: The Limits to US Force and Power.”

The goal of SCUSA is to promote intellectual and social exchange between future military and civilian leaders and to reduce the gap between those who make policies and those who implement them. Furthermore, the conference clarifies what is sometimes hazy amidst our unique campus life: Reedies and cadets are being groomed as different sides of the same coin.

As civilian managers of a crisis-ridden empire, we have quite the task set out for us.

The first night of SCUSA, a panel consisting of a Lieutenant Colonel, a diplomat, a finance banker (remember Lehman Brothers?), a Pentagon correspondent, and a former West Point professor laid out the military implications of the current economic crisis. The panel’s main point was that the government’s debt situation is so severe that the U.S. will be unable to continue its military endeavors in their current form. In their view, the U.S. is will be forced to choose between funding its domestic obligations or the foreign projection of hard power.

Luckily for them, Obama’s recent budget prioritizes military spending over trivialities like Pell grants and low-income heating assistance. Crisis averted?

Etymologically, crisis comes from the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death. The Lt. Colonel on the panel echoed this in claiming the current crisis could “spell the end of the liberal-democratic free trade order.” If anyone is confused about the relationship between the so-called free trade order and the military, consider Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen’s belief that the purpose of the military is to create conditions for business to expand. The end of this free trade order, the Colonel warned the cadets and delegates, could mean a reduction in lifestyle. But whose lifestyle was he talking about? Something had seemed to be missing…

Despite the panel’s discussion of crises, there was no mention of the record foreclosure rates and record divides between rich and poor in the U.S. The closest the panel got to this was mentioning that if the U.S. would have a 17% unemployment rate if it analyzed its unemployment using the more comprehensive EU standard.

Actually, there were a couple things missing.  Despite SCUSA’s emphasis on understanding policy’s effects on interconnected systems, there was no discussion around the risk of maintaining a fossil fuel empire in the face of catastrophic climate change. There also was no mention of how US foreign policies of occupation, structural adjustment programs, and torture might spawn the insurgencies the cadets will be fighting when they graduate.

By the end of first night, I got a sense that an era defined by ideologies of unlimited greed, growth, and military force had produced a real clusterfuck of a situation for our generation to sort out.  The cadets and I called the panel the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I also have few optimistic conclusions for you.  The gracious cadets who welcomed me to their barracks to sleep and eat as equals will soon fight and die to preserve an empire that produces enormous wealth for a few but misery, crisis, and terror for the rest of the world. Soldiers deserve better than to bleed out in an Afghan firebase.

Remember that crisis is either death or opportunity.  We Reedies can betray our management positions by working with soldiers to end endless war and the political-economic systems that require it. One way to start is by supporting resistance inside the military.  Check out these websites to get started:

I encourage all Reedies to apply for the SCUSA fellowship.  Learn the issues, get involved, and walk like an Egyptian.

More information about the SCUSA fellowship is available through Alex Montgomery-Amo ( Applications are available from Lois Hobbes in Vollum 112. Students of any major are open to apply.

Leave a Reply