I just met a group of Midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy who are looking for research projects on political participation (for their poli.-sci. seminar). Most of them will look at big data sets like the National Election Study and try to figure out relationships and trends. That’s fine, but I encouraged some of them to consider interviewing service people who had done “nation-building” work in Iraq. During the discussion, someone mentioned an officer (probably in the Army rather than the Navy or Marines) who had become the de facto mayor of a Bagdhad neighborhood. I’m curious about what skills and instincts for political work people in his position feel they possess. They may have gained good skills and instincts from growing up in the US or from their formal military training. But I’d also like to know what they feel they’re missing, and what they are learning from their service in Iraq. Do they think that they can use the political and civic skills they acquire “over there” after they get back home?
The Midshipmen I met today are not ideally placed to conduct this research, although a few seemed game to try. I may also try to persuade some Maryland undergraduates to interview people at the National Guard’s 352nd Civil Affairs Command, located near our campus. This is a specialist unit that?s been assigned to Iraq. I believe at least one officer has also been an elected official in Prince George’s County, MD. Whatever we think of the invasion and occupation, it should create opportunities to learn how to build communities and democracies.