Jewish World Review Feb. 26, 2004 / 4 Adar 5764
Fort Leavenworth school plants seeds for democracy
LAWRENCE, Kan. In 1998, the year after David Tevzadze finished his training as an international military student at Fort Leavenworth northeast of here, he became defense minister of Georgia, the former Soviet republic.
Last fall, all political hell broke loose in Georgia. Georgians and Americans can be grateful that Tevzadze understood, as he said at the peak of the chaos, that in democratic countries, "the armed forces are not a means to use in the intrapolitical struggle." So despite pressure from Georgia's embattled president, Eduard Shevardnadze, to send troops into the streets to punish protesters, Tevzadze insisted that "the army would not interfere."
Instead of a Tiananmen Square, the result was a swift and bloodless change that brought reformer Mikhail Saakashvili to power in the "rose revolution."
The Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth has been educating foreign military officers such as Tevzadze for 110 years. This year, the 6,500th officer to go through the program will be graduated. The officers, mostly majors or colonels, often go on to become generals. More than two dozen have become heads of state. And hundreds have reached the level of minister or ambassador, as did Tevzadze.
Democratic values are part of what these officers are exposed to here, both in their coursework and as they live off base. Many come from countries with long histories of open societies and civil institutions, so they learn not fundamental values but, rather, how those values get expressed in the American system. But some student soldiers come from countries that historically have been ruled by threat and force. What they begin to see here is a way of organizing society from the bottom up.
If democratic values are to spread around the world, it's crucial that military officers such as Tevzadze understand them and more than that put them into practice, especially when crises strike. The future of democratic reforms in many countries depends in part on how top military officers understand their role. Do they represent the citizenry or simply whoever is in power at the moment?
Recently, nearly 90 foreign officers from more than 75 nations, each now enrolled in the Fort Leavenworth program, came here to the University of Kansas to learn more about freedom of the press, a crucial pillar of open societies.
The morning began with an excellent lesson in how good information delivered in a timely way can prevent the cancer of rumor and secrets that often permeates countries without a free press.
One officer who was to be in Lawrence was missing. So Lt. Col. James F. Fain, chief of the international officer student division at Fort Leavenworth, announced to the troops that the missing officer, from Afghanistan, had been sent to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., to be treated for a skin condition common among soldiers in Afghanistan. It isn't life-threatening or contagious, Fain said, and this officer came to Kansas with the condition. He'd return in a week or two.
Tom Volek, associate professor of journalism, quickly pointed to Fain's announcement as an example of how good and timely facts can dispel misinformation and help people feel part of the process.
The way the American media do that is not transferable as a whole to all other countries. But the values it represents can be adopted elsewhere. They include: a press uncontrolled by government, the media as government watchdog, credibility as the media's foundation and the notion that information is power, so the more information the electorate has the better, with the obvious exception of legitimate state secrets.
Toward the end of the day, a dozen or so foreign officers divided up into three panels and held mock news conferences. KU students asked them questions.
The officers' answers reflected an appreciation of democratic institutions.
"I believe the media is part of the people and its role is to keep the people informed," said a lieutenant colonel from South America.
An emerging model of war places new importance on coalitions. Many of these foreign soldiers have peacekeeping and other experiences from which the American military can learn. If, in turn, their time here can help move them toward a commitment to democratic values, they some day may be in a position to follow the splendid example of David Tevzadze in Georgia.
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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved