The Language Deficit & National Security
Michael Geisler has a fantastic article on Inside Higher Ed about why Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary and Harvard University president, is wrong in his op-ed about foreign language education in the United States.
Soon after 9/11, Mike Wallace, then still the most hard-hitting reporter for “60 Minutes,” sat down with several of the heads of the intelligence community to discuss how the worst terrorist attack in United States history could have happened. At the end of the interview, he asked each of the five or six section heads: “So, tell me, how’s your Arabic?”
Not surprisingly, not one of the section heads spoke Arabic although several had some Russian and one offered that he knew some Vietnamese. The story is worth remembering not because of the embarrassment it caused the interviewed section heads but because their helplessness was the result of a similarly misguided policy of linguistic ignorance as the one advocated by Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University and former secretary of the Treasury.
Read the full article:
While I strongly agree with Michael Geisler on the value of foreign language training, I can’t help but comment on his lead-in where he recounts the lack of Arabic skills among intel section heads.
It is far from clear to me that running a group of analysts necessarily requires good language skills (although they certainly don’t hurt). It does require good management and people skills to make sure they function as a team, produce what is needed, and develop the necessary analytical skills.