- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I blurbed his book, he blackballed me
Did faculty members at the Army War College curtail their criticism of the Iraq war for fear of institutional retaliation?
That seems to be the bottom line in a situation I stumbled across just a few days ago. A friend passed along a 2005 e-mail note in which Steven Metz, chairman of a department at the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, urged several of his colleagues to blackball me because of my coverage of the Iraq war. “We all need to avoid Tom like the plague,” Professor Metz advised.
I was surprised by this in particular because the last time I heard from Metz last year, he was asking me to blurb his new book on the Iraq war, which I did, as you can see here. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but it is more than a little disappointing for him to denounce me privately and then turn around and ask me for help selling his book publicly.
But more important is what Metz’s note may say about the state of academic freedom at the Army War College. When I asked him why he would urge his colleagues to shun me, he quickly apologized via e-mail and explained that it had to do with the political climate at the college back then. In fact, he explicitly blamed the strained relationship between the Army and its civilian overseers under then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “[A]t the time — with growing sensitivity to criticism by Rumsfeld and the Army’s attempt to make peace with Rumsfeld after Shinseki left — several members of SSI had been verbally flogged after interviews with you when the stories portrayed [sic] as more critical of the administration than we intended. We were worried about what might happen to SSI, even frightened for the organization. Many of us, including me, simply stopped doing interviews. Luckily, the climate eventually changed.”
Metz went on to tell me that he now thinks he was wrong to tone down his criticism of the conduct of the Iraq war back then. “Today I believe that I should have been more critical of the unfolding disaster in Iraq and simply borne the consequences. As government employees, we walk a fine line between being critics and ‘part of the team.’ In 2005 I, at least, lost the sense of balance.”
Maybe it is time for the commandant of the War College to issue a statement emphatically reaffirming his institution’s commitment to academic freedom?
Update: Metz responds below.