April 17, 2009

Matthew Bogdanos, Class of 1980, champions the citizen-soldier.


By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. – One thing that's clear to Matthew Bogdanos, a medaled veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who led the recovery of stolen Iraqi artifacts, is that the United States faces leadership challenges from all corners of the globe.

Amid the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan, continuing Israeli-Palestinian turmoil and a recession that may rival the Great Depression, Bogdanos, Class of '80, said the United States should consider the possibility of another Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

“May I take it that by your mere presence that you recognize there are leadership challenges ahead of us?” Bogdanos asked a group of about 200 people at Trout Auditorium Wednesday night. 

Global Leadership
Bogdanos was the third speaker this semester in the Bucknell Forum series “Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century,” which began in January and continues through spring 2010. His talk focused on the importance of the "citizen-soldier" in dealing with present and future global challenges. He has championed the concept of the citizen-soldier and a better understanding of the military and its role in society.

Bogdanos, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves who now works as an assistant district attorney in New York City, wrote a book, Thieves of Baghdad, about his investigation into the looting of the Iraqi Museum in 2003. The book is in its fourth edition, and a movie is in the works.

Bogdanos asserted in his talk that it is the responsibility of the U.S. commander in chief and Congress to fully understand the capabilities and limitations of the U.S. military. He noted that every president since Thomas Jefferson has called on the Marines. In Jefferson’s case, it was to stop piracy off the North African coast.

Jefferson to Obama
"From Jefferson to Obama, that is unchanged," Bogdanos said, noting that just last week the U.S. military rescued a captain of a merchant vessel who was taken hostage off the coast of Africa.

Today, Bogdanos said, just 23 percent of Congress has served in the military, down from 74 percent in the 1970s. In President Obama’s administration, just two Cabinet members have served in the military, while President Kennedy, a medaled World War II veteran himself, had just two Cabinet members who did not see military service.

Bogdanos said that the military has been mischaracterized in recent years in "myths" such as that the military is an "employer of last resort," noting that 99 percent of those in the military are high school graduates and 95 percent are college graduates, compared to the general population of 82 percent high school graduates and 27 percent college graduates. This mischaracterization, he said, is a "disturbing trend" that makes the nation vulnerable to global terrorism.

Citizen-soldier ideal
"If you study history, the trend is even more disturbing, because in large measure we are a nation largely founded on the citizen-soldier ideal," Bogdanos said."In my view, with 30 years in the Marine Corps, the real strength of this country is our diversity, diversity of everything, diversity of thought and thinking. But the lack of shared vision that comes with a country in which you have military and civilians eyeing each other with suspicion leaves us ill-prepared to defend ourselves against global terrorism.”

Throughout his talk, in a darkened Trout Auditorium, Bogdanos punctuated his case for the enlightened citizen-soldier with tales and slides of his counter-terrorism experiences in Afghanistan and his investigation into the looting of the Iraqi Museum. The investigation recovered some of civilization’s greatest relics, such as the Treasures of Nimrud. He argued such efforts show what can be accomplished “when you have academic, scholastic, military and law enforcement all working together.” 

The citizen-solder ideal, he said, is a synthesis of America. "The goal is an educated citizenry that understands that we, the military, are you." 

The Bucknell Forum
The Bucknell Forum series, "Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century," began in February with a talk by former South Africa President F.W. de Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for bringing an end to apartheid. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of Infidel, spoke in March about women's rights and Islam in a talk titled "Ladies First."

The series will continue with speakers including Howard Gardner, the renowned Harvard University scholar who pioneered the multiple intelligences theory and has published a series of books on individual and institutional leadership. He is slated to give a talk Oct. 21 called "Leadership That Is Ethical: Promises and Pitfalls." Gardner will describe the results and applications of a 15-year project on "Good Work" – how ethics, engagement and excellence can be combined in work and citizenship. || More information

For more information about upcoming and past events, visit The Bucknell Forum.

Contact: Division of Communications

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