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Retired General Anthony Zinni: “I’m worried we’re backtracking.”

A warrior for education

General Anthony Zinni retired from the Marine Corps with a formidable array of medals (among them a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Navy Distinguished Service Medal) and a view of the world shaped by 39 years of military service that took him from the jungles of Vietnam as an infantry battalion advisor to the top job at U.S Central Command, whose military responsibilities include perhaps the most volatile powder kegs on the planet: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East.

He is, in short, a man with a keen understanding that the world is a dangerous place. So what is a matter he thinks is critically important to the United States right now that is not getting the attention it deserves in our national conversation? Education.

“We should regard education as an investment, not as something that governments have an obligation to put out there,” Zinni told me during a visit this week to Bowdoin College in Brunswick. One of things that bothers him is the staggering debt so many graduates are saddled with when they leave college. And there’s more. “I worry about the quality of our elementary and secondary education in our inner-city schools and elsewhere. To me, that’s where our money should go.”

Not once in our conversation did Zinni say that more money should be spent on the military. He speaks in a conversational tone, but the importance he attaches to education is unmistakable. Having visited more than seventy countries, he--unlike so many politicians--looks beyond his community or state to consider the world beyond. “I watch the Chinese and the Indians and others who get it—they see education as their future. They invest in it. I’m worried that we’re backtracking in it.”

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