Activities in and out of the Studio

Participating in a National Security Seminar at
The U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA

Yes, that's me seated at the right hand end of the picture below (see inset).
To find out how and why an artist ends up participating in a National Security Seminar at the
U.S. Army War College, and why the ability to think in pictures instead of words may have been useful, scroll down this page.

"Not to promote war, but to preserve peace."
- motto of the U.S. Army War College

Part I:
How it all Began

When the mail brought me an invitation to participate in a National Security Seminar at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I thought someone must have made a mistake. I imagined the Department of the Army had me confused with some other "Jonathan Talbot." Why invite me? I had no military experience, knew little about national security, and could not imagine what I could contribute to the dialogue. But the opportunity seemed too good to be missed. I knew that if I attended I would learn a lot. I didn't begin to imagine how rich an experience it would be and how much I would learn.

My first task was to "let go" of not knowing how or why I had been selected. That sounds easy enough to do but in actuality it took some effort. I filled out the questionnaire which came with the invitation and returned it, along with my curriculum vitae, to the organizers. Then I waited for what I imagined would be a letter explaining that an error had been made.

No such letter arrived. Instead, I received travel and accomodations instructions along with a letter informing me that I was welcome to bring my spouse. Marsha agreed to join me and we made plans to spend a week in Carlisle.

My second task was to get clear on my views of what the role of the military is. While my anti-war activism during the Viet Nam era had focused on the government rather than the military, I had lingering uncertainties regarding the role of the military and its relationship to myself and my family. I shared my uncertainties with a number of friends. I am grateful to my friend Michael Ladwig who reminded me that traditional societies have always had "warriors" whose task it is to guard the camp and protect the rest of the members of the tribe. This image allowed me to accept the invitation more comfortably than I might otherwise have done.

How had it happened that I had been invited to this event? 'Though I did not know it, it had all started back in the 1978 when I did an etching titled "Through the Pass" which pictured a biplane flying through some snow-covered mountains. I sold most of the signed and numbered impressions of this etching to an art dealer in New York and promptly put them out of my mind.

It seems that the dealer in New York sold some of the impressions of my etching to a dealer in Germany who was running art auctions at U.S. Military installations in Europe. At one of those auctions a young American officer purchased an impression of "Through the Pass."

For years this officer enjoyed the artwork he had puchased. Sometime in 2000 he decided to check out the artist (me) on the internet. I do not know if he was disappointed to find that I am still alive and that his artwork had not increased astronomically in value, but he did send me a nice e-mail and, since his name, Kevin Cunningham, and his phone number were on the e-mail, I called him and told him how much I appreciated his message and how much I enjoy hearing from people who own my art. We had a nice conversation, I added his and his wife's name to my mailing list, and then, as I had twenty-two years before, I went on to other things. When the invitation from the Department of the Army arrived I did not make any connection between it and my conversation with Kevin. Unbeknowst to me, Kevin was, at the time of our conversation, Assistant Dean of the War College. It was he who had placed my name on the list of "invitees."

That's the "how" of it... but what about the "why?" Why would the Department of the Army invite an artist to a National Security Seminar?

In order to answer this question it helps to understand what the War College is. Unlike West Point, where young civilian men and women are educated to become officers, The U.S. Army War College is where the Army educates seasoned U.S. military officers, Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels to become Generals. A number of officers from outside the U.S. also attend. This is a major step for these career soldiers. They have spent most of their lives in a close military environment following orders. When they graduate from the War college they have to be able to formulate policy, interact with civilians, and assume responsibilities unprecedented in their careers. For this reason, at the end of their year at the War College, the faculty of the College invites a group of civilians of diverse backgrounds to participate in a weeklong series of discussions with the soon-to-graduate officers. These civilians are invited to afford the officers an opportunity to gain insights into the attitudes, ideas, and feelings of the folks whom they have choosen to defend. In the process the civilians also gain new insights into the concerns of the brave men and women who have made it their life's work to defend the United States.

The Army puts it this way:

The objectives of the National Security Seminar are:

a. To provide a privileged forum in which distinguished speakers may discuss their views on issues of importance to the nation's security and welfare with students, faculty, and guest participants from across the country.

b. To provide an extended opportunity from free and candid dialogue on these issues and others indentified by the students and guest participants.

c. And finally, through all the activities of the seminar, to enable representative American citizens to get to know some of the prospective leaders of their armed forces and officials of other government agencies and, in turn, to permit the students to better understand the society they serve.

/////////////// .

Part II:
What It was Like

Marsha and I arrived in Carlisle late Sunday night. Comfortable off-campus accomodations had been arranged by the Army and, as you would expect, everything ran smoothly. Monday morning we drove the few miles to the college where we received our "orientation kits" and each guest participant met his or her individual liason officer. Mine was Lieutenant Colonel Keith Armstrong.

Keith explained to us that the day would begin with a keynote speaker followed by a series of discussions. He further explained that, because of space considerations, arrangements had been made for spouses who wished to watch the proceedings (instead of venturing off on guided sightseeing trips) to do so on closed circuit TV. Marsha choose this option and I arranged to meet her at the end of the afternoon. Then Keith took me up to our seminar group discussion room to meet the facilitator and other members of Seminar Group 4. Shortly thereafter we went to the auditorium to hear a welcome by MG R.R. Ivany, Commandant of the War College and then an address on Defense Issues by LTG K. P. Byrnes. General Byrnes remarks were followed by a question and answer period after which I followed Keith back to our seminar group discussion room where we got to know each other as we candidly discussed what we had heard.

Leutenant Colonel Keith Armstrong (left)
with Marsha and myself.

This was, as it turned out, the basic format of all our days at the seminar. First we gathered to hear a keynote speaker and then we returned to our discussion rooms for a day of discussions prompted by the remarks of the keynote speaker. There were also some optional lectures right after lunch for those of us who wished to attend them. The keynote speakers included Lieutenant General K. P. Byrnes, The Honorable John M. Simon, Dr. R. H. Kohn, The Honorable Lawrence S. Eagleburger, and Retired General Wesley K. Clark.

Fortunately it turned out that as long as there were empty seats at the back of the auditorium after everyone had been seated, Marsha could hear the keynote speakers in person. On four of the five days she was able to do that.

The members of Seminar Group 4 had, with the exception of its seven guests, been together for the entire year under the guidance of Professor Gabriel Marcella. In addition to the sixteen "students" from the U.S. and there were also a Colonel from France and a Brigadier General from Bangladesh. The guests included a Federal Judge from Oklahoma, the Mayor of a small town in Alaska, A State Government Official from the state of Washington, two representatives of high-tech industry, a catfish farmer from Arkansas, and myself.

Without exception, the members of Seminar Group 4 welcomed us into their midst despite our ignorance. They were brave, intelligent, educated (I believe most had masters degrees), and dedicated men and women with great expertise. Their patience and courtesy were exemplary

Our discussions were frank, "no-holds-barred" interchanges with a diversity of points of view being represented by both the military and civilian participants. There is a general rule of confidentiality regarding particulars of what was discussed but I do not believe I transgress when I share that we spent considerable time on the topic we called "Homeland Defense," a threat which was clear to the military even though this seminar took place some four months before September 11th, 2001.

The evenings were time for relaxation. The first night the seminar gathered at the home of one of its members for a barbeque. Later in the week had tea at the home of the commandant, General Ivany. The Students and Staff of the War College were model hosts throughout our visit.


Part III:
Confront Carl von Clausewitz

Since I, like all seminar participants, agreed to abide by the Army's "non-attribution" and confidentiality policies, there is much that occurred during the week that I am not able to write about. I am, however, confident that in describing the following"artful" incident I will not be revealing any critical information about individuals other than myself.

Seminar group leader Professor Gabriel Marcella, in order to describe the relationship of the military to the government and the people, drew on the blackboard a diagram (reproduced as best I can remember it to the immediate right) attributed to the Prussian military theoretician Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831).

Clausewitz Diagram

Talbot Diagram

Clausewitz' diagram depicted the military, the government, and the people as three separate sides of an equilateral triangle. I didn't like this diagram. Not only do triangles have sharp points but, more important, the diagram did not reflect my experience of the relationship between these three entities. Almost without thinking, I asked for an eraser and replaced what Gabe had drawn with the "pizza pie" diagram at the far right. In my diagram the entire circle represents "the people," the green area represents the military, and the orange area represents the government. The striped area is where the military and the government overlap. Both "the military" and "the government" are parts of "the people." Lightheartedly I chose to imitate the Army fondness for acronyms and labeled the rest of us "NGNMFs," or Non-military, non-governmental folks.

My interposition of another pictorial point of view brought smiles to the faces of many of the my seminar-mates. Whether those smiles were because they found my diagram satisfying or because they were embrassed for me I will never know. But I was happy to have been able to offer an alternative picture of the military/society relationship for my colleagues consideration, especially a picture which was about togetherness as opposed to separation.


Part IV: Reflections

The members of my seminar group were intelligent, educated, and concerned men and women of good will. The military members have awesome responsibilities. Some of them feel that they are doing our nation's "dirty work" and not being respected for it. We discussed the possibility that this disrespect for the military (real or perceived) was a legacy of the Vietnam Era and my own personal belief is that it is. I expect that now though, in this post-September 11th world, they are feeling more respected. At the same time, I imagine that they are, like many of us, feeling more vulnerable.

My time at the seminar has been brought into sharp focus by the events of September 11th. Some of the topics we discussed addressed the possibilities of terrorist attacks on our home ground. At the same time I was made aware that, although the military takes it orders from the executive branch of our government, congress holds the military purse-strings.

My time at the Army War College has left me with great respect for the noble intentions of the brave men and women who have sworn to protect our nation. I imagine that some of my seminar-mates are now in harm's way. This saddens me. We have become citizens of "a nation at war" even though Congress has not declared war.

The seminar was marked by exceptional courtesy and genuine interest on the part of both the hosts and the visitors. Both groups recognized that this was a unique opportunity for social artistry and made the most of it.

The warm and supportive community which the military and their families provide for each other is a model which many civilian communities would do well to follow. It was a privilege to be invited to join it for a brief but intense time.


Part V: Acknowledgements

Thank you to Colonel Kevin Cunningham for inviting me to the seminar. Thank you to Colonel Keith "Stretch" Armstrong for being my "liason officer," for providing me with invaluable insights into the military, and for helping me avoid social blunders. Thank you to Major General Robert Ivany and Mrs. Ivany for their warm hospitality. Thank you to Professor Gabriel Marcella, Group 4 seminar leader, the members of Seminar Group 4, and my fellow guests for making our week together a time of deep learning.

- Jonathan Talbot

June 17, 2002

Colonel Kevin Cunningham and myself with my
etching "Through the Pass".



Subsequent to my visit to the War College, Kevin Cunningham was promoted to Dean of that venerable institution. We continued to stay in touch (he was kind enough to review this webpage before I posted it) so it was with sadness and regret that I learned that he had passed away in February of 2003. His death from cancer was sudden and untimely. He was only 49. I shall always remember Kevin's warmth, courtesy, and sensitivity. It was a privilege to get to know him.

- Jonathan Talbot

March 4, 2003

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