Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 16, 2014

The growing intimacy between Bard College and the American military

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 4:09 pm

Parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be Bardians.

I say that as a Bard graduate who went there when it was a bohemian outpost even if it wasn’t very radical. There’s one thing I know, however. Under President Reamer Kline, an Episcopalian minister who ruffled the feathers of the student body on more than one occasion, you would have never seen the kind of outrageous partnership with the US military that has been developing under President-for-life Leon Botstein, who once had the temerity to invoke Karl Marx in a commencement address in the early 1990s. Well, you know what they say about the devil quoting scripture.

As an alumnus, I get the occasional email from the school. Most often they are innocuous items about a weekend up at the school to hear Leon lecture on Dvorak or some such thing. But you can imagine my consternation when I received this last Friday:

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 10.10.48 AM

Malia Du Mont, who is leading this macabre tour of Murder, Inc. strikes me as the same sort of character that Jessica Chastain  played in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty”, a woman capable of administering torture in the morning and then going out later to dinner at a quaint restaurant with another well-educated chum where they could discuss Rilke’s poetry. Here’s some information on her from the Bard alumni website:

Malia Du Mont ’95 is special assistant to the chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. Malia majored in Chinese at Bard, and after graduation moved to China, where she spent a year teaching English and a year doing graduate studies. In 1997 she moved to Beijing to serve as a Defense Intelligence Agency intern and bilingual research assistant at the United States embassy. “At Bard, joining the military never entered my mind,” she says. “But I was interested in service to my country, and living in China, I gained an appreciation of American freedoms.” Sheen listed in the United States Army Reserve in 1999, and, the same year, entered the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, eventually earning a master’s degree in public policy. After several years working as an Asian security analyst at The CNA Corporation, she decided to volunteer for deployment with the Army Reserve, and in 2006 was sent to Afghanistan, where she was responsible for providing strategic political-military analysis to the commanding general and other senior United States officials. After a year in Kabul, Malia continued her military service as an Afghanistan analyst at NATO’s Allied Command Operations in Belgium. She returned to Washington D.C. in 2008, and volunteered for further military service in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where she participated in the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan Strategy Review.

There was about as much chance of a Bardian from my generation following such a path as there was me being invited to Botstein’s house for tea and crumpets. (What the fuck is a crumpet anyhow?)

That’s not the end of it. On the Bard College website, there’s an announcement for a joint Bard-West Point conference on the Middle East:

The Bard Globalization and International Affairs program, and the West Point–Bard College Exchange will present a panel “New World Disorder: U.S. Grand Strategy in a Chaotic Middle East,” featuring Walter Russell Mead and James Ketterer of Bard College and Ruth Beitler of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The panel will address the increasing and overlapping challenges facing the United States across the Middle East and North Africa. It will take place, on Monday, September 22nd at 6:30 p.m. in the Weis Cinema at the Bertelsmann Campus Center at Bard College. For more information, go to http://www.bard.edu/bgia/.

The Middle East and North Africa present a wide variety of foreign policy challenges for the United States. The panel will discuss U.S. policy toward the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the aftermath of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, ongoing tensions in Libya, strained relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and continuing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program. There will be opportunities for questions and comments from the audience.

Walter Russell Mead is James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities. He is the author of many articles and books, including Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. James Ketterer is director of international academic initiatives at Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement and was previously Egypt country director for AMIDEAST. Ruth Beitler is associate professor of international relations and Comparative Politics in the Department of Social Sciences at the U. S. Military Academy, where she serves as course director for Middle East Politics and Cultural Anthropology. She is also director of the Conflict and Human Security Studies Program.

I’ve written about Walter Russell Mead in the past. He is Bard’s Thomas Friedman. People like Friedman understand the true nature of globalization. In a March 28, 1999 NY Times article, he put it this way:

The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

That’s clearly understood by Mead and by Bard’s Globalization and International Affairs Program that should be renamed the Program for Globalization and American Hegemony if the people running it had a shred of honesty. Like Du Mont, the character running the program is a Bard graduate–his name Jonathan Cristol. In an article about Cristol I wrote in February 2011, I took note of his disgusting take on the Arab Spring in an article for Mead’s “The American Interest”, where he wrote:

Am I really arguing that these states should brutally suppress the protestors and that the United States should encourage them to do so? Not really. The optics of America supporting brutal suppression would not be good for Washington. However, if these governments wish to stay in power, the best means of doing so is to scare the people sufficiently enough to stop them from marching through the street.

Maybe liberty and justice are indeed for all, but these particular protests are not necessarily good for the United States. America’s love of democracy sometimes blinds us to the potential results of the democratic process (re: Gaza) and to the fact that liberty and democracy do not always go hand in hand.

Just the sort of person qualified to organize a conference on the Middle East, at least if you see things from the perspective of the Pentagon and the CIA.

James Ketterer is a new name to me. I have grown to expect new hires at Bard to follow the State Department script and he did not disappoint. He was “country director” for Egypt under the auspices of Amideast, an outfit dedicated to promoting American and Middle Eastern ties. Its past President was Robert S. Dillon, the Ambassador to Lebanon from 1981 to 1983. You have to assume that anybody serving in such a capacity was there to promote imperialist goals, no doubt provoking such anger among the natives that they had the nerve to bomb the American embassy.

Finally, there’s Ruth Beitler, the West Point professor that we can assume was chosen to reinforce the idea that Arab protest was not necessarily good for American interests. She’s the author of “The Fight for Legitimacy: Democracy vs. Terrorism”, a Praeger book that came out in 2006. With a title like that, you can be sure that she would feel right at home on the Sean Hannity program. On February 24, 1967, the NY Times reported that Praeger had published 15 or 16 books on the advice of the CIA. When asked whether the spooks had financed their publication, Frederick Praeger said that he had “no comment”. Back then, you could be sure that Bard students and professors would have been outraged by such interference with American intellectual life but now I am not so sure.

Like all works in this genre, you will never see a reference to how democracies can act in a terrorist fashion. Hamas is terrorist but when an IDF jet drops a bomb on a UN School harboring women and children, it is the act of a democracy defending itself. Too bad Orwell did not live long enough to see how doublethink functioned when it came to the Middle East. I am sure he would have some pungent words for the likes of Ruth Beitler.

It should be acknowledged that Leon Botstein is not an outlier in building ties to the American military. Like most college presidents, he understands that corporate and military power go hand in hand with the health of the American academy. The corporatization of the American university continues apace. If the U. of Illinois bends over backwards not to alienate its bourgeois Jewish funders, you can bet that Bard will be even more solicitous since its President is a Zionist ideologue. In a January 2nd Chronicle of Higher Education article, Botstein spoke about the role of alumni in his opposing the BDS movement: “As an active member of the Jewish community, I recognize that the American Jewish community is disproportionately generous to American higher education. For the president of an institution to express his or her solidarity with Israel is welcomed by a very important part of their support base.”

All of this is part and parcel of the deadly grip of American corporate and military on the American academy, with the full impact being felt in Middle East politics. Just as Steven Salaita was victimized by the U. of Illinois, so was Joel Kovel at Bard College. Leon Botstein much prefers a faculty that will not have the brass to complain about a conference like this rigged to favor the Netanyahu agenda. I guess for that kind of faculty, we would look to a place like Brandeis University that despite its official ties to Judaism at least hires professors willing to stick out its neck when it comes to Israel, as this Fox News report would indicate:

Emails within a tight circle of academics at an exclusive university just outside Boston founded by American Jews reveal a long-standing and vehement anti-Israel bias and anger at Fox News and a human rights advocate who renounced her Muslim faith.

Thousands of messages on a Brandeis University ListServ obtained by conservative students and reviewed by FoxNews.com were hyperbolic in their condemnation of Israel, regarding the recent fighting in Gaza and prior conflicts with the Palestinians. Accusations that Israel has committed war crimes and “holocaustic ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians appear in the messages from academics at the school.

In one message, Brandeis Professor of Sociology Gordon Fellman urged Israeli academics to sign an “open letter” to “end the illegal occupation in Palestine.” The letter states that “the government of Israel, having provoked the firing of rockets by its rampage through the West Bank, is now using that response as the pretext for an aerial assault on Gaza which has already cost scores of lives.”

It goes on to note that “an atmosphere of hysteria is being deliberately provoked in Israel, and whole communities are being subject to collective punishment, a war crime.” Fellman later encourages participants to read a work titled, “S. African Nobel Laureate Tutu likens Mideast crisis to apartheid.”

So, if you are trying to figure out where to send your kid to school, my suggestion is to give Brandeis a second look. It is there where professors are defending true Jewish values rather than at militaristic Bard College.





  1. An excellent account of how Bard, no doubt like many other colleges, has become linked to US imperialism and militarism. Maybe there is a military college complex.

    Comment by ken — September 16, 2014 @ 11:29 pm

  2. Thanks for this post, Louis. Having lived here in DC for 22 years, it is astonishing to witness the pervasive ooze of the military and intelligence and repressive state over everything, and into everything. The lure of the riches that await those who serve Empire now washes out in all directions, and up the Hudson to Annandale apparently. The big colleges around here crank out graduates in all sorts of niche fields that see them going directly from school graduation to some private contract killing machine. The lack of any sizeable left activism among the students — and fewer decent job prospects upon graduation — merely funnels huge amounts of our best talent into these shameful sectors. Was recently at a union function in a downtown hotel and found myself mingling with a defense contractor trade show. And like the auto shows of old they featured scores of young college gals who swarmed middle-aged kibitzers like me, surely thinking that I was some possible purchaser of contract torture, gatling guns, poison gas, killer drones, or any of the other products on sale. Flabbergast was the order of the day. Empire has taken a truly deadly and unforgiving turn.

    Comment by Chris Townsend — September 17, 2014 @ 12:31 am

  3. It is interesting to see how blatant it has become. A former head of the Department of Homeland Security runs UC. An Army or Marine guy runs UT at Austin.

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 17, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

  4. Yes, I posted about the U. of Texas here: http://louisproyect.org/2014/08/15/the-university-of-texass-new-chancellors-pearls-of-wisdom/

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

  5. So you think the military should be secretive and off limits? It is your right (and your responsibility) as an American to understand all the instruments of our democracy. Pentagon tours are open to the public, just as are tours of the White House or the Smithsonian Museum of Art. Apply at the link here. http://pentagontours.osd.mil/
    You are keeping yourself deliberately misinformed and ignorant, and are accusing people of guilt by association. That does not strike me as keeping with the best of Bard. “Parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be close-minded cynics.”

    Comment by Malia Du Mont — June 8, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

  6. Malia Du Mont is a Kennedy School classmate and a friend of mine. It’s one thing to take issue with DoD (and yes, there is plenty to take issue with) but your slanderous mischaracterization of her is as insulting as it is without merit. But hey, you have a problem with the Pentagon, so why not just denigrate a smart, thoughtful, and decent person who decided to serve her country in a military uniform? Thanks for nothing.

    Comment by From an FoM (Friend of Malia) — June 8, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

  7. As someone who both went to Bard and actually knows Malia Du Mont, I have to say that I am saddened by your rather casual character assassination of her. It appears to be founded in your rigid adherence to a black-and-white ideology, and also utterly unmoored to either knowledge of her personally, or of knowledge of the world beyond the cloisters of academia. Indeed, my perusal of your writings shows you to be merely the equal and opposite to the propagandists at the likes of Fox News. Frankly, I would expect a better, more critical, and more nuanced quality of thought from a Bard graduate. There is more in the world than is dreamt of your you limited philosophy, lad.

    Comment by Bill Hornbostel — June 8, 2015 @ 7:39 pm

  8. […] a spate of comments showed up on my blog in response to an article I wrote last year calling attention to Bard College’s increasing ties to the American military. […]

    Pingback by In response to a Pentagon official (and Bard College graduate) | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — June 9, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

  9. Truly ironic that the author should assassinate the character of an alumna who has volunteered and sacrificed to maintain his very freedom-of-speech to do so.

    Comment by Stephanie — June 12, 2015 @ 12:10 am

  10. Thank you for your service to the US Malia Du Mont and for your thoughtful comment here, and thank you, Malia’s supporters. As an ardent Bard alumna, I cringe at everything this reckless author writes, his statements full of baseless hyperbole. Even suggesting to parents that they send their students to Brandeis, a school of “true Jewish values,” is unfathomable and tasteless. Of course, Brandeis was founded by Jews; today, students of all races, creeds, non-creeds, and nationalities attend Brandeis. The myopia! Bard prizes debate and critical thinking – let the students think for themselves when they visit the Pentagon or any place at all! Bard is characterized here as a “militaristic college”? Louis Proyect, your judgments and characterizations are senseless – please stop writing!

    No part of this statement may be quoted, duplicated or reproduced by any means.

    Comment by Constance Clemmons — November 29, 2016 @ 4:34 pm

  11. 2/13/2019: My trajectory at Bard College…I had several majors, moderated not once but twice in the Music Department which was a tiny department…after my junior year I got my father (a lawyer who was paying my bills, sometimes grudgingly) to cooperate with me taking the academic leave of absence that Professor Elie Yarden suggested…Elie said “the countryside of England, France and Germany is filled with bicycle paths…” instead my father had a secretary in his law office whose husband was a retired Hebrew teacher…I was steered toward a HaShomer Ha’Artzi kibbutz in the Menashe Hills, Kibbutz Ein HaShofet where I (a very secular American Jew with no bar mitzvah whatsoever) learned Hebrew in Kitah Aleph…in the Ulpan Program…I went to several kibbutzim, worked with chickens, with plumbers, with dairy cattle & in factories and fields etc….went back to Bard after a year and a half…there was always some antisemitism there among the student body under the woodwork…finished in December 1981, soon thereafter back to Israel for another kibbutz ulpan in the Golan Heights…then I got drafted into the IDF…2 years….artilleryman…a simple soldier, a grunt….drove armored personnel carriers and weapons carriers…put fuses on shells…some of them might have been cluster munitions…in November 1984 I came back to America and eventually I went to law school at night and became a lawyer. I’m sure that Ms. Du Mont had a maturing experience when she worked and lived overseas. Bard was expensive, there were some scholarship students there, but the rich kids, the drama and film majors, were a flashy presence in the dining commons and in the parking lots with their BMW paid for of course by dad or grandpa. So if somebody wants to call me Zionist pig because of my military service in the IDF then I will snort and grunt with delight. My grandfather on my mother’s side could not get his cousins into the USA when they were trying to flee the Third Reich and several of them perished thanks in no small part to our illustrious State Department.

    Comment by Randall Bass — February 13, 2019 @ 2:13 pm

  12. So if somebody wants to call me Zionist pig because of my military service in the IDF then I will snort and grunt with delight.

    Glad to oblige. You are a Zionist pig.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 13, 2019 @ 5:21 pm

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