Events emphasize Yale’s military connections, history ahead of WWI anniversary

Officers from the French War College and cadets from West Point visited campus for a series of events emphasizing Yale’s past and present military connections.

Eagle-eyed observers would have noticed an increased number of men and women in military uniforms on campus a few Thursdays ago. Students in the Air Force and Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps wore their uniforms as usual on March 9, but they were joined by a small cadre of officers and cadets from the French War College in Paris and the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York for a series of events that emphasized Yale’s military connections and history of contributions to national security.

The French War College is an elite advanced training institute for officers in the French military who have completed 15 years in the field. Officers are selected to join the college through a competitive exam with the objective of helping them “shift from the tactical level to the operational and strategic level,” said Emilie Clèret, head of the English department at the college and organizer of the trip.

The 10 officers who visited Yale are members of the college’s debate team, and their visit began as a trip specifically to debate against the Yale Debate Association (YDA).

Officers of the French War College and Yale Debate Association members pose for a photo
Officers of the French War College and Yale Debate Association members pose for a photo after their debate, which was also attended by several West Point cadets. Photo by Lionel Monnier, courtesy of the French War College.

We travel to the U.S. and the U.K. to debate teams composed of native speakers … to improve the officers’ debating skills, and it became obvious over the years that we needed to debate with the best teams in the world and get feedback from them.” Clèret emphasized the rigorous training the officers undergo to master the English language and said that the YDA was an “obvious choice” for an opponent, given the YDA’s consistent success at national and international debating competitions.

The two teams sparred over whether the United States military should take a less active role on the international stage. Dalton Boyt ’20 and Charlie Barton ’20 of the YDA argued that a multipolar world in which the United States had a reduced presence would benefit both smaller countries and American citizens. Undeterred by the rapid English of their competitors, Major Louis-Charles Desrousseaux de Médrano and Major Jean-Pierre Royet of the War College argued that if the United States dropped its active role abroad, then “someone else will arise as the world’s policeman … and it is unlikely that this next ‘number one’ will do it as wisely.”

The 12 West Point cadets — hosted on campus by Lieutenant Colonel Faint, alumnus of Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs — joined the French officers at the debate and at a luncheon at Mory’s. At the luncheon, the cadets were joined by Jackson senior fellow Clare Lockhart, founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness and author of the book “Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World.”

We are in awe because our international relations class uses ‘Failed Statesas a central book in our class,” said one cadet of meeting Lockhart.

On Friday, March 10, the Jackson Institute held a Special Operations Forces and Interagency Academic Symposium. At one of the events, Jackson senior fellow Emma Sky discussed the Middle East with former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. Elsewhere, retired general and senior fellow Stanley McChrystal discussed the evolution of Special Operations Forces into an integrated force within the U.S. military and how that increases the need for interagency cooperation and information sharing, as well as the difficulties those pose.

McChrystal argued against the traditional segmentation of military and civilian wartime activities in fighting the kind of networked opponents now found in insurgencies and especially the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As a commander in Afghanistan, he said, he opened the lines of communication to agencies and groups with the U.S. government and international coalitions that improved operations in both speed and efficacy.

Guest speaker Thomas Graham, former senior director for Russia on the National Security Council, discussed Russian politics and global interests, saying that Russia’s historic fears of foreign invasion and its desire to be seen as a powerful global actor are primary motivators of its international relations. Finally, former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of African Affairs discussed the rise of extremism on the African continent with Johnnie Carson, who has served as U.S. ambassador to multiple African states.

For the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War One, Yale has planned a series of events illuminating the University’s strong historical ties to the military and national security.

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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale remembers World War I