How good a job is Kansas University doing to provide its students a reasonable understanding of international affairs?
Last week's terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., hammered home the point that most Americans need to know far more about international matters, including the histories, the leaders and the religious and cultural environments of various nations and many other facets of today's world.
"Why would anyone want to attack us?" "Why are we hated?" What have we done to anger these people?" "What should we do now; how should we respond?" "What do those of the Muslim religion have against the United States?" "Is this a Christian vs. Muslim matter?" "Are there other countries that share this hatred of the people of the United States?" "What's a jihad?" These are just a few of the many questions confused Americans have had following the well-executed and deadly attacks in New York City and Washington.
Many years ago, the late George Waggoner, with the full support of then-Chancellor Franklin Murphy and his successor, Dr. Clarke Wescoe, was able to get KU administrators, faculty members, students and alumni to be enthused about and supportive of more education about international affairs. KU's area studies programs and their leaders on campus were looked to as a major strength of the university. These programs were pointed to with pride by alumni and friends of KU.
To many, KU has slipped in the intervening years in its recognition of the importance of teaching international affairs. Those questioning the current KU international efforts suggest KU students should leave the university knowing a great deal more about the world and the U.S. position in it.
Recent events, and events that likely lie ahead, are bound to expose how little most Americans know about world affairs and the histories of these countries and regions that play such a significant role in what is happening today.
President Bush has declared war on terrorism. He has made it clear the United States intends to hunt down terrorists and take action against those nations and their leaders who lend support to the terrorists.
He acknowledges it will be a long and probably costly struggle, but he says he intends to wage this battle until freedom conquers fear.
This is good, it is right, and most Americans support the president. They know what he says is true, although some may disagree with the methods Bush may use to achieve this country's goals.
It is interesting to note the world's current population is approximately 6.1 billion. About 1 billion of those are Muslims. In 25 years, knowledgeable observers predict, about a quarter of the world population will be Muslim. It stands to reason Americans need to know far more about the Muslim religion.
Speaking of war against terrorism, one very knowledgeable KU faculty member compared such a war to a big bull elephant walking into a cloud of mosquitoes. The elephant may be stronger, bigger, more powerful, richer and hold many other advantages, but it still can't rid itself of the mosquitoes.
This same observer asked, "Who surrenders in this conflict, and who and what determines when the war is over? Who signs a treaty?"
It is interesting to listen to the reaction of college-age students to the terrorist attacks and the likelihood of a long struggle. It is wrong to generalize, and many students will have different views of the current situation. However, based on the comments of several top KU students, it seems their main concern is that any major U.S. military action could interrupt their planned careers. They are saying, "Here I have committed X number of years to pursing an education that will lead to a career in X, and now I'm likely to have to give up or postpone this plan and dream."
What's more important: protecting the freedoms in this country, which allow people to pursue whatever career they wish if they have the talent or commitment, or pursuing an academic or career path without interruption?
Unfortunately, it seems the "what's in it for me" attitude is far too prevalent among a number of college students. This then raises the question of whether today's college students have the same commitment to their country and threats to this country's freedoms as did those who were in college in the late 1930s and early 1940s who were willing to sacrifice or postpone many dreams and plans to help Uncle Sam meet and defeat the challenges of Germany and Japan.