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Spring 2005

Vol. 05, No. 2


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Gen. Charles F. Wald.

Gen. Charles F. Wald recently returned to North Dakota State University, his alma mater, to receive an honorary doctorate. He is a four-star Air Force general, currently serving as deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in ninety-one countries and territories in Africa, Asia and Europe.

North Dakota's a very patriotic state.

9/11 was an obvious wakeup call.

There was Kennedy getting killed and the Berlin Wall falling and 9/11. How's that? Significant social events in my life in a negative way I guess.

We were in the Pentagon when it got hit, on the opposite side of the building so I was never affected. It was pretty amazing.

My reaction was, first of all, unbelievable, shocked that something that unbelievable could happen. Number two is knowing that there was going to be a reaction. There was going to be a military reaction.

And a lot of anger.

It was a galvanizing event for America, the military and everybody, there was no doubt that America was going to have to respond.

I don't think America and the rest of the world have come to grips with the problem yet, frankly. We know it's a problem, but we don't understand the enemy very well.

We have to adjust to what in military terms is called the asymmetric threat. Symmetric is kind of the old Russian thing, they've got a big force, we've got a big force, we use similar capabilities. Whoever has the biggest muscles is going to win.

They operate, terrorists do now, in a criminal environment. They don't have a state, they're not defined by a country. They don't follow laws. Matter of fact, where they operate in is a lawless area. That's how they can get away with it. Even though they're not necessarily criminals, they operate in a criminal element. That's how they get their money, that's how they move around. The United States military doesn't operate in that arena. We operate in the arena of international law.

The Western world has to develop the capabilities to fight in that arena and still maintain who we are from an ethos standpoint. It's very difficult. We've had some hiccups. No doubt about it, the Abu Ghraib prison issue was very disturbing. There's no way to rationalize it or excuse it, that's not the issue. The element you're working in almost drives you to that. You have to be very careful not to cross over the line and lose who you are.

You have to develop that mindset of confidence. You have to have a firm belief that you can change things for the better. You have to have a little of idealism, a little naivete. If you're in a position like mine and you don't think that way, you probably won't stay there very long.

I think we're safer than we were, but I think we also know a lot more. We're probably more attuned to the fact that some bad things happen in this world. We're a little bit in a scramble for time.

There's no clear ending of this right now. There isn't any way somebody could say in five years we're going to wipe all these guys out.

When you are as fortunate as we are you need to have a certain degree of magnanimity and humility.

The irony is we don't do a very good job of telling the story. Americans are the most generous people in the world by a long shot. America does a lot of things in the world that we just never publicize.

The United States military has a keen understanding of that which we do very well. We learned a lot in Vietnam about image and message and people understanding what you do and building consensus.

The people in the United States are pretty self-critical which is a good attribute, because if you don't criticize yourself you never get better.


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