I'm way too cynical these days. After leafing through the doublespeak and
circlicued excuses for inaction that make up the Pentagon's new "Defense
Language Transformation Roadmap," I blew it off.
The document — only 19 pages, so take a look — traces, all too
clearly, the project's shameful chronology. It got under way in November
2002 — over a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — when the
undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness was directed to have
the military departments review their requirements for language
In September 2003 — two years after the 9/11 attacks that made
officials realize they didn't know enough about the rest of the world —
the deputy undersecretary of defense for plans commissioned a study
"assessing language needs..."
From June through August, 2004, the steering committee oversaw the
development — and on Aug. 31, approved—the "Roadmap," and submitted it to
the undersecretary of defense.
So, by the end of last summer, it had taken 21 months simply to draw up
a 19-page plan.
It gets worse.
The plan lays out a series of "required actions" to improve language
skills and incorporate expertise in languages and area studies in the
military's programs for recruitment, promotion, and training. But look at
the plan's dawdling deadlines.
For instance: "Publish a DoD Instruction providing guidance for
language program management." The deadline: July 2005. That's 11 months —
not to come up with a program, but to issue guidance for managing the
"Develop and sustain a personnel information system that maintains
accurate data on all DoD personnel skilled in foreign-language and
regional expertise. Work closely to ensure stabilized data entry and
management procedures." Deadline: September 2008...
In the three and a half years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in
1941, the United States built a massive arsenal, equipped an equally
massive fighting force, and declared victory in a worldwide war over
imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
In the three and a half years after the Soviets launched the Sputnik
satellite in 1957, the U.S. government funded dozens — if not hundreds —
of Russian-language and Russian-studies departments not just within the
military but in high schools and colleges all across America.
Now, three and a half years after Islamic fundamentalists flew
airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Department of
Defense is three months away from publishing an official "instruction"
providing "guidance for language program management."