Speech delivered at Princeton University on 7 February 2006 by Mark Bruzonsky - Mark@Bruzonsky.com

Comments and Articles about Speech:    
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                                                   Forum Participants: 
Anne-Marie Slaughter - Dean, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton
Professor Cornell West - Professor, Princeton University
Mark Bruzonsky - Journalist, Woodrow Wilson School MPA, NYU Law School Root-Tilden Scholar JD

Good Evening –

Nearly all of you will remain here at Princeton in the days to come.  But though I have interesting memories of Princeton I will be here with you only for a few hours  tonight before going back to imperial Washington tomorrow. 

So I ask you in the few moments we have together to please allow me to give you my perspective in a clear and admittedly pointed way.  In a sense I’ll also be summarizing what I have learned in about 200 trips abroad since my own student days.  I realize many of you may not agree with or even accept what I have concluded.  But I thank you in advance for the opportunity to be here tonight to join these two distinguished persons who play such important roles at this exceptional university and in our country.

Though what happened a few years ago on 9/11 was certainly not the start of the conflict that now dominates our lives, the impact it has had on our society, including events here at Princeton, is overreaching.

I say it was not the start because one can trace what happened on 9/11 back to many other critical historical events from which it was spawned.  And since he was the President of this University before he came to Washington as President of the country I’ll start by recalling the famous Paris ‘Peace Conference’ of Woodrow Wilson’s time.

Though called a ‘Peace Conference’ the result was anything but.  Back then the victorious Western powers essentially divided the defeated Ottoman Empire into many artificial nation-states and sheikdoms that still remain today.  Then the legitimizing theme was ‘self-determination’ which was not really to be of course… much as today the ad-nauseum but disingenuous themes are ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom.’

It’s crucial to remember that at the time the people of what we Westerners named the Middle East had been promised Independence as an Arab Nation – only to find themselves sold out by the secret British-French Sykes-Picot Agreement and then confined in neo-colonialism termed Mandates and legitimized by Wilson’s own League of Nations.  

That 1918 ‘Peace Conference’ turned out to be ‘The Peace To End All Peace’, the subtitle in fact of Professor David Fromkin’s remarkable book about that crucial period which is the precursor to our own.

Or in view of current issues today we could skip forward and start with the largely democratic and secular attempt to reform Iran in 1953 – one which the CIA then undid putting the Shah back on the throne until 25 years later a traumatized country threw him out.  We then took him in, Iranian students then responded by sacking the U.S. Embassy and taking hostages, and in a sense their revolution then led to our Reagan Revolution…and to today’s Iran.

Or we could start with the region-shaking 1967 War, or for that matter the U.S.-sponsored birth of Israel twenty years earlier, or with Jimmy Carter’s Peace Conference of 1978, which then became another Peace to End All Peace – the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the Lebanese Civil War, the Iran-Iraq War, the Afghanistan war, the invasion/occupation of Lebanon which midwifed Hezbollah, the anti-occupation Intifada which midwifed Hamas and the rise of suicide bombers…all precursors to 9/11 and what has followed since.

The crucial point is 9/11 didn’t come out of the blue and did have causes and, for many, reasons and even justifications -- as much as American politicians and commentators refuse to discuss this backdrop and how the stage was set.   Huge numbers of people, in total millions of Arabs and Muslims, had already been maimed and killed in this ongoing convoluted conflict laced with superpower proxie wars, oil and petrodollars, Zionist and Muslim ideologies, corrupt repressive Arab ‘client regimes’, and the never-ending Israeli/US military occupation of the Palestinians.

And let’s be clear about this -- among the main reasons most American politicians and commentators don’t talk about any of this and don’t connect the vital dots that could lead to both understanding and conflict resolution is because most of those who are allowed center stage are either in the pay of special interest groups or have little  experience with the peoples of the region and little serious knowledge of the culture and history about which they are so incessantly chattering.

One of your own current History Professors, one whom I just happened to grow up with in Duluth Minnesota a long time ago, has this to say in the interview that accompanies his bio information on the Princeton website:
"There are rules of the game in every society. We have to get inside a foreign culture and understand internally how it works. In 1940 we were confronting what we thought was fanatical emperor worship from the Japanese. They seemed to have had no contact with Western civilization; they were inscrutable, incomprehensible. Today we’re describing our current enemy, Islamic fundamentalists, in much the same way. Whether it’s good or bad, there are ways that Islamic fundamentalists see the world. To call them terrorists and fanatics is simply to say they’re different from us and we don’t understand them. But clearly we’ve got to delve more deeply.”
And so in the few remaining moments I have please allow me to try to delve more deeply with you and to summarize my perspective about what has happened here at Princeton that has led to this forum…all in the afterglow of 9/11.

Some may still think of this as just a speakers controversy here at Princeton, one which the recent 75th Wilson School anniversary highlighted.  But actually it is far more than that. 

What has happened here at Princeton I believe is in the end the result of the serious and growing financial, political and social pressures educational institutions now face in our country -- pressures which in turn largely determine what kind of people are put in positions of authority and what kinds of decisions they are encouraged if not forced by circumstances to make.  

What has happened here at Princeton, all the more so since 9/11 it seems to me, is not by accident but rather by careful design.  Beyond the general pressures facing all major universities you have today a Woodrow Wilson School fearful of losing a major part of its endowment and as a result courting power and money more than ever. 

And yes, in my view, with all respect to Dean Slaughter for the positive things she may have done here of which I may not be aware, WoodyWilson and Princeton are now playing big time the big money and big power game – and it all comes at the expense of the rigorously independent intellectual and educational pursuits that should be foremost in mind but are not.

Furthermore the person most responsible for choosing speakers, handing out awards, and selecting faculty in the past few years here appears to me to be using the University as a stepping stone to future personal and political power in Washington should that opportunity strike.   Others have done this in recent years from academic dean positions -- Paul Wolfowitz from SAIS and of course Condi Rice from Stanford come first to mind.

The major problem though is that when universities – the very places that are supposed to reflect independence of thought and analysis and true expertise  -- become so dependent on corporate, government, and lobby-connected largess then one of the major centers of honest education and knowledge in our society becomes severely compromised.

That, in short, is what I think has happened here at Princeton and most of all at the Woodrow Wilson School. 

This situation cannot be remedied by a single forum or by inviting an occasional “dissident” intellectual like Noam Chomsky to give a talk.  

If you really want to remedy this situation there are ways you can – but very frankly I am sure the powers that be will not let this really come about.

You could for instance establish, and separately fund, a special maybe student-run program specifically designed to bring the very best independent academics, social critics, and expert journalists to Princeton from around the world.   And you could and should make a point of bringing such people together at the same time as those who hold power.  Doing so would make good use of the unique university environment to bring about provocative and insightful debate and challenge about the crucial issues of our time among those most knowledgeable and most informed. That would be truly educational.

I stress the word ‘independent’ for the notion that the span of major guests should range from senior government officials to top personalities in the other mirror party competing for senior government positions is really quite ludicrous.

Such a notion plays well in corrupted and lobby-infested Washington; but it shouldn’t be allowed at a world-class university especially with regard to major international issues.  Because when it is allowed not only are all of you short-changed as students at a very special and formative time in your lives, but all of us as a society are dangerously short-changed for our collective future.

For we don’t need world-class universities to invite the very same power and money speakers and faculty that the government-and-lobby think-tanks and departments invite. There’s already far too much of that.  

We do need universities to invite speakers and to engage faculty based on their  demonstrated serious knowledge, expertise, independence, and critical thinking.  It use to be much more that way.  It doesn’t seem it is that way any longer, certainly not here at Princeton.

I also stress ‘from around the world’ – rather than nearly always turning to those sponsored by or acceptable to the powers that be.   For to really understand what is happening in our world you have to both hear from and engage others who see things very differently and who are outside your own blinders and restraints… people who are not subjected to or controlled by the pressures for political correctness and advancement that now so dominate our own society.

Just from my own contacts I can quickly think of people who could have brilliantly engaged and educated all in attendance at the 75th celebration.  You may not know some of these personalities but I assure you they are all very much valued, respected and in great demand throughout the world, though not here at Princeton:
·    Robert Fisk
·    Harold Pinter – recent winner of the Nobel Prize
·    Mohammed Heikal
·    Arundhati Roy
·    Mohammed Mahathir
·    Amira Hass
·    Dan Almagor
·    Haider Abdul Shafi
·    John Pilger
·    Boutros Ghali

Indeed, for the 75th anniversary where everyone was force-fed a nonstop diet of self-serving top government officials without even one single major independent academic or journalist or political analysis, any of these persons would have made an immensely needed contribution and in fact changed the proceedings.
For there is a reason our current Secretary of State even now says she was so surprised by the Hamas electoral victory a few days ago – not to mention her insistence before Congress that no one had imagined that anyone would use airplanes as they did on 9/11. 

The reality is quite otherwise in fact.  Many independent experts knew, predicted, and explained what has now come to pass.  And when it comes to 9/11 no less a flag-waver than Tom Clancy had written a novel that opens with an airplane diving into the Capitol during a State of the Union address.  So just what kind of a self-isolating, apologist, and unaware world is Ms. Rice, even now, living in?

And there is a reason why Rice’s predecessor – also recently honored here at Princeton even after he perpetrated such a great historic hoax on us all… the third anniversary of which was just two days ago.

And by the way this term hoax is not mine
"I participated in a hoax on the American people,
the international community and the
United Nations Security Council."
That’s what Colin Powell’s own Chief of Staff at the State Department  finally confessed in public just last Friday in fact. 

The result of this and many other cruel hoaxes coming from our government is the dangerous polarization, dumbing down, militarization, and in some very troubling ways the neo-fascist developments in our own society.  This on top of the disastrous Iraq invasion/occupation which has caused so much death and suffering, now cost nearly a half-trillion dollars, squandered so much American credibility, created so much more hatred around the world, and badly weakened and tarnished our military forces as well once again.

All of these issues should be seriously, vigorously and continually discussed, debated, dissected and analyzed at this world-class center of higher education.  But instead there has been a parade of Cabinet Secretaries, Ambassadors and Generals, one after the other – all part of the same team, and all offered nearly a free ride.

This is not in my view in ‘the nation’s service’ it is in the government’s service.

This is surely not ‘in the service of all nations’ -- it is a very limiting and nationalistic approach which just further cuts off Princetonians from our world as it really is.

And this parade of the powerful, financed by the special interests, simply does not reflect the real world we all must live in and in which our country must now desperately find its way anew before it is too late.