Outside View: Is Socratic Method DOA at Columbia University?

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  July 5, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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HERNDON, Va., July 5 (UPI) -- A fine line exists for university educators between teaching and preaching. Young student minds may not discern the difference, accepting the latter as "gospel" rather than subjecting it to Socratic analysis to arrive at a reasoned conclusion. The Socratic Method invokes an individual's common sense to assess whether a viewpoint is reasonable to avoid irresponsibly drawing outrageous conclusions.

At Columbia University, there has been some tilling of the soil in the past to cultivate a friendly environment in which erroneous, and outrageous, positions on Iran's human rights abuses have been voiced by that country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It should come as no surprise then this has led one of Columbia's international relations professors to plant the seed of an idea Iran's nuclear weapons aspirations need not be feared.

His rationale, like Ahmadinejad's before him, escapes Socratic analysis.

Columbia University provided a forum for Ahmadinejad to speak to students when the Iranian leader visited New York to address the United Nations in 2007. There should have been no doubt among faculty and students present Ahmadinejad was a 21st century Adolf Hitler "wannabe."

His continued hatred of Jews blinds him to life's realities. He disavows the Holocaust occurred while threatening to complete what Hitler started by wiping Israel off the face of the Earth.

Ahmadinejad seems to be an equal opportunity denier. He denies Islam's intolerance and, therefore, that apostates have been put to death. He denies the existence of homosexuals in Iran and, therefore, that Iranians have been executed for being gay.

Interestingly, while an anti-gay leader was provided a forum at Columbia from which to preach his Islamic supremacist views, the university has denied the U.S. military a voice on campus for over four decades due to its anti-gay recruitment policy.

Of interest, too, is that while students remained respectful of Ahmadinejad's views, allowing him to complete his outrageous remarks, they failed to extend the same courtesy to a veteran attempting to share his views about Ahmadinejad and those like him.

Last year, a town hall meeting was held to discuss whether ROTC should be allowed to return to the campus due to the military's new policy accepting gays into the service. One student -- a veteran wounded 11 times in Iraq during a single firefight in 2008, requiring a 2-year recovery -- tried explaining ROTC's need on campus as evil men in the world, such as Ahmadinejad, seek to do us harm. He was jeered.

For Columbia University students, tolerance extended to evil leaders but not those endeavoring to warn us about them.

From this university environment now comes faculty member Kenneth Waltz, published in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs" suggesting we should fear nothing by Ahmadinejad having the bomb. In an article entitled "Iran Should Get the Bomb," he astonishingly surmises Iran's possession of such a weapon "would probably be the best possible result: the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East."

Recognizing the U.S. claim a nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable," Waltz suggests such language is historically typical from major powers, as others attempt to join the nuclear club, but -- in the end -- they accept such membership.

He argues, "by reducing imbalances in military power, new nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stability, not less."

He justifies Iran's effort as one to counter nuclear-armed Israel as "power, after all, begs to be balanced" -- the crisis with Iran will end "only when a balance of military power is restored."

He suggests Iran wouldn't use such nukes as it "would invite massive retaliation and risk destroying everything the Iranian regime holds dear."

A major flaw in Waltz's argument is his focus on historical deterrence -- claiming as states joined the nuclear arms club, they recognized a duty to conduct themselves responsibly. He points out that is why no two nuclear armed nations have ever gone to war with each other.

Ironically, until December 2008, he could have said the same about no two democratic states ever having fought each other in a conventional war. However, that no longer remains true as almost three years after democratic parliamentary elections swept Hamas into power in Gaza, it was at war with democratically elected Israel. It took a "Muslim democracy" to break that streak.

Waltz badly wants us to believe, just like the ominous responsibility of possessing such weapons caused those who became nuclear club members to behave responsibly by not using them, so, too, will Iran. He argues such an awesome responsibility reduces a nation's bellicose nature.

But Waltz irresponsibly reaches this outrageous conclusion, failing to consider the personality of the man with his hand on Iran's nuclear trigger.

There is no acknowledgement Ahmadinejad believes he is ordained to play a role in the return of Islam's 12th Imam -- who disappeared centuries ago, ascending into a state of occultation, destined to return to Earth in the future to restore Islam to greatness.

There is no acknowledgement Ahmadinejad is part of a cult -- so feared decades ago Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini outlawed it -- believing the return only occurs in the wake of world chaos triggered by man.

Ahmadinejad believes he is that man, claiming he was visited by the 12th Imam and that his future role was revealed by the aura engulfing (and only visible to) him as he spoke at the United Nation.

Waltz makes no acknowledgement an Iranian nuclear trigger would be manned by a madman!

If Waltz were present at Ahmadinejad's 2007 speech at Columbia, he failed to hear what he said. The Iranian leader began with a prayer for the 12th Imam's return and victory. Had Waltz explored what this means for non-Muslims, he would know it means they must convert to Islam -- or die.

Ahmadinejad's prayer, therefore, was one wishing death to non-believers -- a fate he intends to trigger with a nuclear weapon.

For Columbia University, it appears the Socratic Method is DOA.


(James. G. Zumwalt is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who heads Admiral Zumwalt and Consultants, Inc. He is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and the e-book "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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