“We become captive to the myriad of complexities, of doctrines, and philosophies,” Senator Chuck Hagel said to a vast audience of educators. “So many things take us away from what’s most important in the world — and that’s humanity. If that is not fundamental to every purpose . . . then nothing else will matter.” He concluded, “Nothing else can matter.”
President Obama’s official nomination of Hagel for U.S. Secretary of Defense on January 7 has the pundits atwitter. But when Hagel spoke at the National Chinese Language Conference in Washington, D.C. back on April 12 of last year, his remarks to 1,200 educators caused a different kind of ripple.
Addressing an audience made up largely of Chinese-language educators and school administrators — people who are preparing the rising generation for a complex world — Hagel seemed to be truly speaking their language. He raised questions: What is critical in leadership? What kind of world do we want to create?
Video: Chuck Hagel at the 2012 National Chinese Language Conference in Washington, D.C.
He spoke of the “immediacy of our world” and the pressure on us all to react and respond quickly to problems. He emphasized that, when addressing problems, leaders must not forego the critical thinking process, including the consideration of humanity and dignity, and tolerance and mutual respect for others.
While citing economic power and stability as what anchors a nation’s security, Hagel also acknowledged the relationships and alliances between seven billion “global citizens” as the underpinnings of our “global community.” And that is exactly what educators understand. We are proud to work with so many to build students' global competence.
On the relationship between the U.S. and China in particular, Hagel said these two nations “do not need to agree on everything . . . but we have to build a platform, a relationship . . . based on some values that we share — and we’ll have differences.” It’s a realistic take. And how does he propose we build this platform? Through education: “More powerful than any other force — certainly military, certainly economic.” Through exchange: of our ideas and our cultures. By “becoming aware of who we are, first as human beings. Sharing our most fundamental beliefs.”
These should be telling remarks for a potential Secretary of Defense, who would wield authority over all of our military forces. If Hagel holds these beliefs as deeply as his audience received them, he has my support for the President’s nomination — and my own unofficial nomination as Secretary of Our Global Community.