"America's adversary is...a state of mind."

September 16, 2010
John B. D. Potter '11

John HillenAt Hampden-Sydney, the anniversary of 9/11 does not go unnoticed; every year since the tragedy, the Wilson Leadership Center has brought scholars, military officers, and/or representatives of federal and state agencies to campus to discuss the "War on Terrorism."  On Friday, September 10, 2010, members of the H-SC community filled Crawley Forum for this year's 9/11 lecture, "Nine Years from September 11: Perspective on the First Decade of an Enduring Conflict." The event was sponsored by the Wilson Center and featured the Honorable Dr. John Hillen.

Dr. Hillen currently serves as the president and CEO of Global Defense Technology & Systems, Inc. and is a member of the Board of Trustees of Hampden-Sydney College. He was Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs under President George W. Bush from October 2005 until January 2007.

While serving in the Bush Administration, Dr. Hillen was responsible for coordinating America's diplomatic strategy with its military operations. He is a noted expert in international security and American military policy. During the lecture, Dr. Hillen used his expertise to give the audience an historical and strategic perspective on America's current conflict against terrorism.

Throughout his speech, Dr. Hillen highlighted the importance of relevant geopolitical factors. He believes that such factors are the cause of friction between the Middle East and the West. For instance, Dr. Hillen noted that Islam is struggling to reconcile itself with modernity, that is to say, Western economic, political, and social institutions. In addition, decades of bad governance in the Islamic world have led to stagnation and cultural decay, which have given way to autocracy and instability. Unsurprisingly, extremist groups, like Al-Qaeda, have emerged. Such groups advocate violence because they believe that a once glorious Islamic World has been victimized by the West.

However, Dr. Hillen pointed out that the American military is fighting an unconventional war against fringe groups like Al-Qaeda, not particular countries. In other words, America's adversary is not a state, but a state of mind. This fact means that the United State is dealing with an especially dangerous, albeit small, group of enemies, a group that thinks it is waging a perpetual, apocalyptic war. Because of the nature of the conflict, America's overwhelming military might cannot bring the struggle against radical Islam to an immediate, simple conclusion. Indeed, as Dr. Hillen made clear, the dynamics of the current conflict still remain unsettled. In order to help resolve this "clash of cultures," Dr. Hillen insisted that Americans must be patient. Bringing the conflict to a satisfactory end--peace and reconciliation--will take time and tact.

Hampden-Sydney lost one of her sons, Kenneth E. Lewis '74, and two spouses of alumni to the 9/11 terrorists' attacks on the Pentagon.  Another alumnus, Mark Finelli '98, ran down sixty-one flights of stairs in the north tower, barely escaping the destruction of the World Trade Center.  Through speakers like Dr. Hillen, Hampden-Sydney does not forget this tragic day in American history.

Every September, we remember.