Four-star Marine Corps general delivers inspiring address

Molly Grace

“You live in an exciting and interesting time.”

These were the positive words of encouragement with which General Anthony Zinni, a recently-retired, four-star Marine Corps general, left the Navy and Marine Corps midshipmen on his March 23 visit to campus. A 1965 Villanova graduate, Zinni returned to his alma mater to share some of the insight he has gained throughout his illustrious forty years in the service of this country. As he detailed some of the contemporary issues facing today’s military, he hoped to prepare the midshipmen sitting in front of him to become better leaders in the future.

After being commissioned in 1965 as an infantry second lieutenant, Zinni’s military career has taken him to more than 70 countries in a wide variety of capacities. In his last assignment, he served as the commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command from 1997-2000, where he was responsible for all of the American troops in the Middle East. Although his retirement in 2001 marked the end of what Colonel Glenn L. Wagner – the commanding officer of Villanova’s NROTC battalion – referred to as “one of the best careers I’ve ever seen in a marine general,” Zinni has remained an active figure in military circles.

After serving as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s special envoy to the Middle East until 2003, he teamed up with Tom Clancy to co-author “Battle Ready,” a book on his career that made the New Your Times Best Seller list in 2004. He also has a new book, “The Battle for Peace,” due out in April 2006.

Zinni returned to Villanova to speak to the more than 120 naval and marine midshipmen about his personal experience in the military. Interspersing personal anecdotes with more general reflections on a large scope of topics, Zinni described a military far different from the World War II version he entered in 1961. He explained how this new military – growing out of the last remnants of the Cold War and further impacted by the aftermath of 9/11 – has taken on an increased amount of responsibilities due to the rise of technology and the overwhelming potential for communicable information.

When the effects of the Information Age are coupled with those resulting from increased economic competition and cultural migrations in other parts of the world, Zinni told his audience that their generation finds itself facing two threats to national security. In addition to the potential for a major threat, the military must also fight a plethora of low-level threats such as fighting terrorists and insurgencies, rebuilding nations and protecting the environment from national disasters.

Zinni explained that today’s military finds itself “saddled with many new missions and problems” because the United States, in its failure to understand how to utilize its powers of diplomacy, information, economic strength and social-cultural influences, relies solely on its military might. Not the least of these problems is a global miscommunication across cultures: often, the United States’ well-intentioned inquiries into world affairs get misinterpreted as attempts at world domination.

Zinni assured the naval and marine midshipmen that they will play a very relevant and crucial role in today’s expanded conception of the military; their constant global presence will not only continue to deter potential threats around the world but will also help to break down the cultural barriers perpetuating these issues of miscommunication.

In response to a question about the relevancy of instituting a cultural awareness course as part of the ROTC program, Zinni answered that anything to endow midshipmen with at least a rudimentary understanding of culture is useful. “Culture 101” would teach midshipmen that culture is much larger than food and drink. In order to defend against arrogant feelings of cultural supremacy, midshipmen must understand and respect how particular religious and historical significances are implanted in various world views; only then will cross-cultural communication and connections be possible.

As the future leaders of the Marine Corps and the Navy, Zinni challenged his audience to take the lead in cultivating this cultural awareness. In doing so, they will be better prepared to help the sailors and marines under their future command prepare for the culture shock they will undeniably face throughout their years of military service.

At the crux of Zinni’s message was this call for leadership. In an occupation that is not known for its pay or its stability in life, Zinni described how military leaders must make people their “number one mission” in order to get the military “through the low periods.” Through their steadfast dedication to a belief system, the military leaders inspire the next generation to stay in the service long enough to develop the high-skill sets necessary for the expanded roles today’s military must assume.

While Zinni warned that their military lives will be more chaotic than his, the retired-four star general ,world-renowned for his tremendous leadership skills , reminded the future military leaders before him that the remarkable responsibility to adapt to the ever-changing world situation falls to them in this “exciting” and “interesting” time.