A Tactic More Productive than War: Education

The United States’ self-declared war on terror(ism) has produced results, but not necessarily the kind that the current Bush administration desired. Since the infamous 9/11 attacks, which claimed the lives of over 3,000 people and nearly depleted the ranks of Al Qaeda, the relatively recent transnational group has ballooned to new heights in adherents and prestige with its international notoriety as the adversary of the United States. After the U.S government spent close to one trillion dollars on the combat-related efforts to fight Al Qaeda and other considered targets, we find a global terrain as tenuous and dangerous to the U.S (if not more) than before 9/11. To make matters worse, according to the U.S economist Jeffrey Sachs, currently less than 8% of the world’s population looks favorably upon the U.S.

Engaged in official conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S troops have faced difficult terrain and challenging conditions, the least of which Al Qaeda. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for U.S soldiers is maintaining the necessary support of local Afghans and Iraqis. The push for local support and help is related to another problem in Islamic countries: Education.

In war-torn and drug-infested Afghanistan, one of the most undetected but devastating casualties is local access to education. The Taliban, interested in maintaining control over the population, destroyed many schools prior to and during the U.S invasion. The Pakistani earthquake in 2005, which took the lives of over 140,000 people, also destroyed schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The destruction of these schools are important to consider when assessing Afghanistan’s economy and its climate for Islamic extremism. It is now a general agreement among scholars that richer countries have less internal conflicts than poorer countries. In this respect, education is a crucial element in improving a country’s economy and reducing an individual’s designs for violence. When looking at education, there is also the role of women in Islamic societies to take into account. For many male Muslims in places like Afghanistan, one important requirement before joining a radical movement or suicide movement is receiving the blessings of their mothers. Not surprisingly, Muslim women are found to be less likely to offer their blessings if they are educated. These two facts– education’s role in improving an economy and women’s roles in condoning men to commit violence– may be the reasons that the Taliban and other Islamic extremists have targeted and destroyed schools, specifically ones opened to girls.

Greg Mortenson has been fighting a different battle in both Pakistan and Afghanistan than U.S troops: A battle to preserve local rights to education. After serving in the United States army and receiving the Army Recommendation Medal, Mortenson founded Pennies for Peace and the Central Asia Institute. He joined civilian life to take on the goal of building locals schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, schools specifically for girls. His work has led to the building of over 61 schools and providing education to over 25,000 people. For more information on work, one can check out the recent New York Times’ best seller he wrote, Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson’s work and influence has not gone unnoticed by the U.S and NATO forces. Just recently, military outfits in Afghanistan have shifted their work from combat to community assistance- particularly in education.

With what appears to be a clear link between raising education and reducing violence and religious extremism, it comes as a shock to find that recently the United States’ Fulbright award, the most prestigious and generous education awards to international students, was canceled for U.S-bound Palestinians. The reason: Israel refused to grant the students access to international visas.

Ethan Bronner of the New York Times reports, May 29, 2008:

The State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted permission for the students to leave Gaza.

Israel’s restriction is in keeping with its policy of isolating this coastal strip, which is run by the militant group Hamas.

The United States consulate in Jerusalem said the grant money had been “redirected” because of concern that if the students were forced to remain in Gaza the grant money would go to waste. A letter was sent by e-mail to the students Thursday telling them of the cancellation.

Abdulrahman Abdullah, one of the seven Gazans who received the letter, was in shock.

“If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society,” he said. “I am against Hamas. Their acts and policies are wrong. Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?”

Often the U.S’s military budget is compared to other important domestic and international endeavors. With a daily budget of 1.5 billion dollars, the U.S Pentagon might find itself more efficient and productive directing its efforts toward reconstructing and educating societies, rather than arming them. Although the United States is appearing to shift some of its focus from combat to education, there is much more emphasis, money and attention needed to improving education in areas like the Middle East and South Asia. And with the current presidential election on issues such as the U.S war in Iraq, we can only hope that the politicians take heed.

  • Michael, I have to say I generally agree with your premise. I have often stated that the best way to improve a country’s economy is by improving their education, as in, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a life time, etc…

    Financial help is a temporary solution which does not yield long term results. Helping people help themselves is the way to ensure a lasting effect, the same goes for this country.

    However, the fact that “less than 8% of the world’s population looks favorably upon the U.S.” doesn’t concern me. Most countries would have preferred we just rollover on 9/11 and not lift a finger to fight back, then I’m sure we would have been popular. We’re the most generous nation on the face of the earth giving billions, much out of our citizen’s own pockets, to charities helping foreign interests with everything. We are there for every natural disaster providing untold amounts of aid and manpower on the ground. Our nation has nothing to be ashamed of as there is no other nation as generous, or as able to assist others.

    Source (PDF File)

    They don’t have to like us, but that never stops anyone from accepting our charitable donations. We constantly help and support the rest of the world without so much as a “Thank You.”

    However, your article is good and makes many valid points on the subject of education of which I totally agree.

  • Josh

    Michael, very well written piece. I doubt that we’d ever engage in education aimed in that direction though. The military-industrial complex is essentially in control of the U.S. military, and they don’t stand to make much money from educating these people. The only thing that makes them money is government spending on guns, tanks, and bullets (and the myriad of other goods purchased for war-making). For the MIC to make money, then, they need for the military to be killing people, thus war will continue until the MIC loses control of our military.

  • Josh

    Nate, recall that the invasion of Afghanistan didn’t garner much chiding from the global community, except the French. The French have always hated us, but then, they hate just about everyone. In fact, we had a pretty well rounded coaltion force in Afghanistan. It was Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, that really ticked off the international community. Who can blame them? First off, we invade a sovereign nation that hadn’t even threatened us. Second, we only ended up helping Al-Qaeida, which is as much the enemey of our coalition brethren as it is ours.

  • Josh, unless I’m mistaken, I believe the US military in Iraq has devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to building or rebuilding schools in the country.

    From 2005 figures:

    3,100 schools have been renovated
    364 schools are under rehabilitation
    263 schools are now under construction
    38 new schools have been built in Iraq

    To say the military isn’t engaging in furthering education in the country isn’t accurate, at least in some respects.

  • Josh

    Tell me exactly what building schools does for a population that is continually being killed or maimed in a war they had nothing to do with.

  • Isn’t that what Michael’s entire article is about? Building schools in these war-torn regions?

    Josh, you stated “I doubt that we’d ever engage in education aimed in that direction though. The military-industrial complex is essentially in control of the U.S. military, and they don’t stand to make much money from educating these people.”

    I countered that by saying they are building schools and provided the figures to prove it. They’re building schools and furthering education, isn’t that what you claimed the US “military-industrial complex” wasn’t doing? Are we not engaging in bolstering the education systems in these countries? Of course we are!

    Sorry, I guess I just don’t know what you’re complaining about since our military is indeed building schools and engaging in education in Iraq. Concede that point, then we can argue something else.

  • Josh

    Nate, you can kill people and you can educate people, but it’s very difficult to do both at the same time. Just because we built a couple of schools doesn’t mean we’re educating them. The only “education” that they’re getting is hatred for Americans, because they see Americans as reason that they’re relatives are all dead (not neccessarily the truth, but how they likely see it, especially if coached in this direction). My point is that, in that situation, education is kind of moot, don’t you think?

  • Then why would you complain by stating the following:

    “I doubt that we’d ever engage in education aimed in that direction though. The military-industrial complex is essentially in control of the U.S. military, and they don’t stand to make much money from educating these people.”

    If you’re correct in that “education is kind of moot,” then why does it matter what the “military-industrial complex” does in regard to education?

    It just seems that you complained about the military not investing in education. Then I stated the military has invested in education with evidence. Now you’re stating that education doesn’t matter anyway because it’s a war zone.

    Just keeping the facts straight..

  • Josh

    Exactly…education doesn’t matter in a war-zone, at least not to the MIC. We can build all the schools we want, but it doesn’t mean we’re investing in education. We’re investing in infrastructure, not education. For this infrastructure development to translate into actual “education”, the war has to stop, and since that’s not what’s in the best interests of MIC profits, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.


    Josh we dont just build the stupid buildings, We provide the students and children with the materials needed and the support they need and we protect the schools if for any reason there would be any type of attack. Also the U.S. has also found teachers and has done great things. IS IT TO HARD FOR YOU TO ACCEPT THAT AMERICA IS A GOOD COUTNRY NOT JUST ONE THAT IS BAD, from how you talk its as if you hate this country, well if you do than why dont you and all your friends move out of this country to Europe or somewhere else because i for one love my country and we dont need people like you always talking bad about us. You are the true enemies of america.

  • Josh

    *******Nuked by Admin*******

    Reason: Don’t call people “idiots” and/or “stupid lemmings”


    Im a small town blue collar asset to my country, I am sorry that IM not a great asset like you are, i will try harder to improve, thank you.

  • One thing that Greg Mortenson has shown Josh, is that even in war-torn areas of Afghanistan, children need to learn. He showed slides of camps where refugees are holed up. Right now some of these camps have Taliban-sponsored educational centers for children. There is no alternative education to get, so they go to these places to receive their education.

    Mortenson has people teaching in abandoned military vehicles, tents, and even out in the open. People are going to learn– the question is what and by whom. My critique right now is the direction our money is going in— with a 1.5 billion budget a day for the Pentagon, imagine how much we could do if we held back combat spending for a week? (10.5 billion dollars) and donated that to grassroots organizations like Mortenson.

    The key here is local investment. We cannot do this ourselves (e.g., build U.S schools). The locals do not want “Taliban” education, they want their own form of education, but they need funding and protection. This is what we can give– and hopefully we will do more of it.

  • Josh

    I agree Michael, all I was trying to say is that the interests who control our military aren’t going to let that funding go without a fight, and I certainly don’t think that John McCain is, either. Let me be clear, though. I was never against the invasion of Afghanistan. The availability education there never was very great in the first place, so I don’t think that we’ve had anything but a positive effect in that regard there, simply because there was no where to go but up. However, Iraq had a decent education system before the invasion, at least in relation to other nations in that geographic region. When we invaded them we completely disrupted this system. To be fair, we have spent a good deal of money attempting to re-develop the educational system in Iraq, but I don’t think it’s working, simply because I think that the system is still disrupted. Think about it, how well would you do in school if there was a war going on around you? Would you even go out to go to school? My fear is that every year this conflict continues is another year’s worth of students that gets shortchanged.

  • IndiMinded

    It’s a pretty basic truth that people aren’t likely to gain education very well in a war zone. Anyone who’s familiar with Maslow’s Heirarchy of needs should know that someone worried about their safety, or where their next meal will come from, probably won’t be able to keep their mind on world history. And of course there have been numerous articles about the brain drain going on in Iraq (obviously many of the brightest minds have figured out how to be to somewhere other than Iraq by now).

    But of course, who wants the war to end more than the US? The students of Iraq are obviously not best served by drawn out conflict, but they’d probably be best served by a prosperous non-oppressive government – and in the long run that’s obviously more important to their education. I think the real question is whether or not this goal can be accomplished, and at what price.

    Obviously, if our troops leave in the near future, education isn’t likely to be on the up and up in Iraq.

  • Josh

    I sort of agree, IndiMinded, but I would argue that it is education that will have to happen before a prosperous and non-oppressive government can take shape. However, if we continue agressive actions against the Iraqis, the children who could grow up to change their government may just grow up to hate the West, and especially America. Of course, we must have a peacekeeping force there, and we need support from the rest of the U.N. and NATO as well. In this situation,our image would change from an agressor to a more humanitarian one, especially with the addition of peacekeepers from other nations, which would show strong international support. Under these circumstances, I think the ability for Al-Qaeida and it’s surrogates to recruit young people to their ranks would all but cease. Once peace starts to blossom, and a new wave of young minds starts flowing into the Iraqi parliment, then and only then will the government there change.

  • I’ve lived in areas during war time and let me say- from personal experience the violence certainly makes an impact on one’s emotional and mental stability. However, I was able to teach classes during this time period and EVERYONE not involved in the conflict was eager to continue their lives in a vain attempt to exert a level of normalcy.

    Recent psychological studies on trauma indicate that in order for a person to mental operate, these people get desensitized to the violence and trauma around them during war. There is of course PTS that occurs once the violence is over, but this is another matter.

    Education marches on, it does not matter if there is a war going on or not, people are learning– the questions again are from whom and about what. Instead of marines teaching kids, we need to give money to local schools, principles, and teachers so they can continue to offer local education.

  • nzpudding

    You can either teach a person to kill or you can teach a person a skill. The more people taught a skill means less people who are taught to kill.

    I have no idea how much it costs to set up a school in Afghanistan, but it’s got to be cheaper than a platoon of dead marines. So its got to be worth giving it a shot….right???

  • Stalin


    Just as long as one of those skills isn’t flying commercial jets…

  • nzpudding

    Teaching the Taliban to play baseball with live hand grenades could be a good skill for them to have.

  • bdjnk


    What a wonderful word.

    The question that arises in my mind whenever education gets mentioned; what is being taught and by whom?

    To blindly cite facts about the benefits of ‘education’ while giving no clue as to how the system is set up or runs, is foolhardy at best. Who are the teachers? What are their values? How are the students educated?

    Islamic preachers who pride themselves on being Mujahideen are teachers. They educate their students in hatred and blind fanaticism. It’s an education none the less.

    However, I am a huge believer in the results of the right type of education. But what are the values and morals worth embracing? And more importantly, who do you trust to impart these values?

    Regarding forcing our value system on another people… I would justify it with the claim of self preservation as their current educational standard generally calls for our death.

    All that aside, the best way to ensure that lessons stick and values are steadfast, is to make sure the child is young. As it says in Proverbs: “Educate a child according to his way; even when he grows older he will not depart from it.”

    Communist Russia knew this truism and used it to their own benefit. We need to use the same methods for the benefit of the entire world.

    On a bit of a side note.
    It is all well and good to criticize Israel for denying certain students international visas, but the reality is far worse.
    There is a track record among Palestinian students who travel abroad. They commonly return to Israel with degrees in subjects like chemistry and become bomb makers, or remain in America as terrorist sleeper agents.
    This is mostly due to the fact that the leaders of the Palestinians are the ones deciding who gets to go. The same leaders who are all but publicly terrorists. The same leaders who, when given free reign, provide their people with media and an education filled with hate mongering and outright lies designed to incite violence.
    Israel has agencies that monitor and deal with these types of threats. Yet when the red flag is raised regarding those chosen to learn abroad, Israel is blamed for denying them the chance at education.

    disclaimer: I have not read all of the comments and may be repeating someone, or asking something which has already been answered. I apologize if so. I just needed to vent a bit.

  • nzpudding

    It’s a bit foolhardy to disagree with comments been made claiming people are ‘blindly citing facts’ when you’ve admitted you hadn’t read all the comments.

    I believe the thread was talking about America and the west helping set up and fund the teaching of the children in both Iraq and Afghanistan. So one would assume it would be set up and run in an America/Western style system. With western style teahers, who’s values are learning first and foremost. That’s what I assumed anyway when reading the comments.

  • bdjnk

    For nzpudding

    The ‘blindly citing facts’ insult I made was in reference to the original article, as was my entire post. My disclaimer was to let people know that all I had read was the article and some of the comments, but not all twenty.

    Assuming is a good way to remain uninformed and even become convinced of utter nonsense. When confronted with a situation where you lack the facts and have no way to discover them but must make an assumption, I advise you to assume the worst, not the best, as you seem to have done.

  • nzpudding

    Wouldn’t advising me to assume the worse not the best be kinda pessimistic and not optimistic? I’ve always been a glass is half full sorta guy. That said, I sometimes plan for the worse and hope for the best.

  • bdjnk

    It is all well and good to look at half a glass of water and declare it half full. But that is not a proper analogy.

    Try this one: There is a supposed glass of water somewhere. You have dozens of groups, each trying to convince you of a different story. The glass is almost empty. It is overflowing. It’s been missing for weeks already. There was never a glass. We are filling the glass right now. They are trying to break the glass. And so on and so forth.

    In this type of situation, you must carefully pick the most reliable sources of information, and then take it with a fist size chunk of salt.

    Pessimism has nothing to do with it.

  • nzpudding

    Your overflowing, missing, never was a glass, almost empty comments is complete nonsense and irrelevent as it’s a glass that you can see right in front of you.

    If your glass only has 50% of liquid in it, it can only be half empty or half full.