Academics and Research

Alumnus Gen. George Casey Jr. shares experience and savvy with graduate students

Gen. George Casey Jr. spoke to student-athletes about leadership during his recent trip to campus. Photo: Wayne Armtrong

Gen. George Casey Jr. spoke to student-athletes about leadership during his recent trip to campus. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

In what has become a springtime tradition at DU, retired Army Gen. George Casey Jr. returned to campus in March and April to teach a two-week class at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

Casey, who received his master’s from the Korbel School (then the Graduate School of International Studies) in 1980, served as chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 2007–11. He previously served as commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, overseeing a coalition of more than 30 countries. While in Denver, Casey also held office hours to meet one-on-one with Korbel School students, spoke to student-athletes about leadership, hiked with international studies students and addressed the Korbel School’s 50th anniversary alumni celebration on April 2.


Q: This is the fourth year you have returned to campus to teach a class at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. What do you get out of it?

A: I come back for the first two weeks of spring quarter — the last week of March and the first week of April. It works out great for me, and it just seems to fit. I thoroughly enjoy coming out here and giving back to the institution that I got so much from. I really enjoyed [going here], but I didn’t realize how much it was going to impact me. I took courses on Russia from Jonathan Adelman, and six months after I left here I was sitting on the Suez Canal at an outpost with just myself and three Russians. This is the middle of the Cold War, and we’re debating the merits of capitalism and communism. I got to know some Russians and how they were thinking, and then I wound up negotiating Russian rule in the Kosovo peacekeeping force with Russian generals in the Kremlin. If it hadn’t been for the background I gained from Jonathan, I wouldn’t have known where to start. Arthur Gilbert taught a course on how wars start and how wars end, and I was there as the decision was made by the Clinton administration to declare war on Serbia, and I was there when the Bush administration went to war in Iraq. I got so much from this place that I love coming back and giving back a little bit.


Q: Were there any surprises about teaching here, or things that were different from what you expected?

A: The thing that surprised me the most was how hard it was to prepare to teach. And even though I do it every year, I always have to recharge my data points and try to expand it and bring some new things into it.


Q: So do you teach the same class every year, or is there a slightly different focus each time?

A: It’s the same class. I teach Civil-Military Relations in War. I start with the Constitution, to explain how the framers thought that civil-military relations should be conducted, and then I use three 20th-century case studies and two 21st-century case studies: The decision to go to war in Iraq and the decision to surge in Afghanistan. The first time I talked about the decision to go to war in Iraq, it was the 10th anniversary [of the start of the Iraq War]. So I decided I should do it. And the history’s not written yet, so you’ve got to draw from different people’s books and things. And what I realized as I was preparing for it was that the students were probably about 15 when we went to war, and they were even younger on 9/11.


Q: What’s different about Korbel students today than back in the ’70s and ’80s when you were a student here? Are they preparing themselves for a different kind of world, or are the challenges the same?

A: The challenges are nowhere near the same. When I was here in ’79 or ’80, it was the middle of the Cold War. China was just coming out. The hardest paper I wrote here was a two-page paper comparing and contrasting the development styles of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. I had to single-space the last paragraph, but I got it all in. It was 35 years ago that I graduated. Everything’s different. We didn’t have computers. I typed that paper on a typewriter.


Q: Because of technology, do you feel students have a lot of information about the world? Are they seeking out accurate information?

A: They’re seeking it out. What I notice with them is they’re fairly sophisticated and they get a lot of information, but I get the sense they don’t accept it all. They’re always seeking out what’s really right. And it’s getting harder and harder to figure that out.


Q: The students who are going into positions like the ones you held, what kind of world are they going into? What has changed?

A: What I tell everybody is that the threat has changed substantially since 9/11. And really since the 40 years I was in the Army. The likelihood of major state-on-state conflict, anyplace but the Korean peninsula, is pretty remote. The real change has been the rise of non-state actors and the ability of non-state actors to acquire weapons of mass destruction that they could use to inflict catastrophic damage on states. And that’s a different ball game. The fact that we’re involved in an ideological struggle with a global extremist network that is actively seeking those weapons of mass destruction, and that we’re going to be involved in that ideological struggle for the next 30 or 40 years, needs to be paid attention to. It’s discomforting. But that’s the world they’re going to get involved in. It used to be that if you could control the conduct of states, you had some chance of maintaining stability and order in the world. And we had conventions that grew up over hundreds of years that regulated the conduct of wars and economies. But these non-state actors, they don’t bow to any of that. And you can’t deter them. They have very little or nothing to hold dear.


Q: What changed that enabled these kinds of groups to rise up? Why weren’t they around 20 or 30 years ago?

A: It’s a number of different things — first, the rise of the Internet. On 9/11 you had half a million people on the Internet; you’ve got 3 billion on now. Facebook’s been around for 11 years; they’ve got more than a billion people signed up and 75 percent of them are outside the U.S. Twitter has 650 million subscribers, 75 percent of them are outside the U.S., and they send half a million tweets a day. It’s brought us a lot closer together; it’s allowed people to have more access to information; and it’s allowed people to proselytize on the Internet. That’s troubling.


Q: Do you think something like ISIS would ever get over here? Is that a possibility, or are there enough safeguards in place to put a stop to that?

A: They don’t need to come over here. They’re already here online, and they can influence people online to do things. It’s pretty scary. I believe that they’re actively trying to get a weapon of mass destruction that they can use against a developed country. I’m talking chemical, biological, cyber, radiological — nuclear is probably still a bridge too far. I’ve been saying that there’s going be a weapons-of-mass-destruction attack against a developed country in the next five years, and I’ve been saying that for about eight years. So far I haven’t been right, but I feel confident about that.





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