Episode 1

Civil-Military Relations and Building Strategic Thinkers with Colonel Suzanne Nielsen

Published on: 13th March, 2023

Welcome to Inside West Point: Ideas That Impact with Brigadier General Shane Reeves. In this episode, we sit down with our guest Colonel Suzanne Nielsen, the head of the Department of Social Sciences at West Point and a leading civil-military relations scholar and expert. A graduate of the United States Military Academy with a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University, and a background as an intelligence officer, Colonel Nielsen provides insight into her research on change in military organizations, civil-military relations, and cyber policy and strategy.  

We also focus on the Department of Social Sciences and the SOSH Research Lab’s work in the area of civil-military relations. The topic of civil-military relations is this year’s  annual intellectual theme for the Academic Program at West Point, entitled, “Called to Serve:  Military Leadership in a Democratic Republic.” Join us as we dive into these critical topics and  hear about Colonel Nielsen's experiences at West Point. 

In this episode, you will learn the following: 

  1. What is the relationship between the armed forces and the society they serve? 
  2. How can military expertise be connected to political and strategic thinking to achieve national interests? 
  3. What are the lessons we need to teach young military officers? 
  4. How is West Point leading in the area of civil-military relations? 

Chapter Summaries: 


[00:00:26]: Introduction to Inside West Point: Ideas That Impact and focusing on the SOSH Research Lab and the Department of Social Sciences work in civil-military relations. 

[00:01:50]: Interview with Colonel Suzanne Nielsen, head of the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, discussing her background and research interests in the change in military organizations, civil-military relations, and cyber policy and strategy. 

[00:06:35]: Discussion on the importance of political awareness and the role of military activities in serving political purposes. 

[00:16:58]: Apolitical vs nonpartisan; advice for young officers; impact of social media; SOSH research lab; 

[00:20:08]: Comparison of the works of Morris Janowitz and Samuel Huntington on the 

professional soldier and the education of officers. 

[00:27:05]: Discussion on the role of values in creating an inclusive and unified military. 

[00:32:35] Overview of the SOSH Research Lab’s initiatives and projects, including a 

longitudinal survey of cadet attitudes towards civil-military relations. 


Resources in this episode: 

Annual Intellectual Theme: bit.ly/CMRTheme 


Article, “The Continuing Relevance of Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier for the 

Education of Officers”: bit.ly/WP_SNHL 

Department of Social Sciences: bit.ly/WP_Sosh 

Sosh Research Lab: bit.ly/WP_SRLab 


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Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/deanusma 

Website: https://www.westpoint.edu/academics 


Disclaimer: This podcast/episode does not imply Federal endorsement. 


Episode 1

Dean: Welcome to Inside West Point, Ideas That Impact. I'm Brigadier General Shane Reeves, the Dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Through a series of discussions, we will show you a different side of West Point where we will make even our most complex initiatives accessible to broad audiences and give you an inside view to our cross-disciplinary work, which is being applied throughout the world.

Today's spotlight is on the SOSH Research Lab, and more specifically, our Department of Social Sciences work in the civil military relations realm. It just so happens that the head of our Department of Social Sciences is a leading civil military relations scholar and expert. We are tremendously fortunate to have Colonel Suzanne Nielsen here with us today to break down some of these important topics.

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen is a professor of political science and the head of the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, an intelligence officer by background. She served on the personal staff, the commanding general multinational force, Iraq, and she also been a special assistant to the commander, US Cyber Command and director and personal staff of Iraq Theater Commander.

A graduate of the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science and Political.

She holds a master's degree from the US Army Command and General Staff College and is an alum of the National War College. She also holds an MA and a PhD in political science from Harvard University.

Apparently, you have an uncanny ability to find any file, book or other product, hard copy or el. In roughly 30 seconds or less. Is that true?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I wish it were .

lty group Howitzer photo from:

You seem to know where everything is, which unfortunately has the effect that everyone asks you where everything is. Is that also true?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I can't complain. .

Dean: So finally, as I mentioned, the promotion speeches, that's like your signature, right? This idea that you, you can get in front of a group of people and talk for 40 minutes with the intimate details of individuals that they don't even know would follow them throughout their military career.

It really demonstrates both how you value the people in your organization, but also the type of leader you are, and I know that we've had conversations about how important people in your organization are, in particular, the faculty. Why do you, put such an emphasis on your faculty.

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I really appreciate it.

Thanks very much for having me with you today. I think that there is absolutely a kernel of truth in that in terms of the accomplishment of our mission to the degree of excellence that we really should hold ourselves to really depends first and foremost on the quality of our staff and faculty. And we just have an enormous privilege at West Point of being able to select everyone on our team, our civilian faculty, and our military faculty.

It is an extraordinary group, absolute privilege to work with them. So I do have fun with the promotion ceremonies, but in part it's because it's one more opportunity to express that we know that our mission accomplishment is due to their talents. Yeah. And their energy. And frankly, it's a lot of fun sometimes when I can tell colleagues about one another in a way that they learn something new when they walk away.

Dean: so What exactly is civil military relations? What are we talking about?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: So I think at its basic level, the study of civil military relations is the relationship between the armed forces and the society that they serve. It is very much a interdisciplinary field with historians, military sociologists, and political scientists.

And in some cases, lawyers and folks that study in the humanities add to the richness of it. I think we're a political scientist focused mostly within some multi relations, which is sort of my academic identity is in the power relations among institutions. So the institution of the armed forces and the political institutions of the state.

So that's sort of at the basic level how I would define it.

Dean: I think it's a good segue into asking you what brought you to this intersection of being a civil military relations scholar and military officer. So what brought you to that intersection?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I really started exploring civil military relations, in depth as a scholarly field in my doctoral program. I initially approached it from the perspective of what interesting questions in the theory have not seemed to be underexplored? And so what I was interested in is what's the connection between civil leaders and military leaders and military effectiveness?

And I tried to look at particular case through that lens, which was how the US Army recovered from the Vietnam War and became this force less than two decades ago that everyone raved about. Yeah. So a force in disrepair, dismay to a force that was arguably one of the best in the world. And I started by trying to understand that through the civil military lens. What I actually found was that despite the fact that there were incredibly important civil military aspects to that problem, such as the introduction of the all volunteer force, a civilian political leader decision about how to resource the armed forces and some negotiations between Army senior leaders in Congress over the years that it was a primarily an internal to the organization story. That it was really a story about senior military leaders transforming their own organization, over time. I ended up focusing more on military innovation and military change in my dissertation, and then later sort of came back to civil military relations, which really had been my first love.

Dean: When you were doing that work, what was the impetus for the military leaders to decide to transform the organization from inside?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I think that there's something to the proposition that failure induces the imperative to change, but my dissertation advisor, Steve Rosen, I think made the really compelling argument that actually quite possible, that failure just produces more failure.

So I think the crisis environment was a supportive element to that, but I think there were some really critical organizational changes that we just take for granted right now, and a lot of it was bound up in the creation of the training and doctrine command and a intensive focus on making the military a meaningful career for volunteer personnel.

The professionalization of the non-commissioned officer cor, the training revolution and the fact that. TRADOC as an organization came to do what we frankly all take for granted right now, which is take a single integrated approach to doctrine, training organization and material logistics, and do that in a coherent way.

The creation of TRADOC was really a critical enabler in my dissertation in terms of understanding how it was that the Army transformed over those decades.

Dean: Do you think it's continued to transform in this positive way to understanding itself in the, in terms of the learning from itself? A learning and developing organization, or I've heard from some, they think that the US military has become a bit static and we are no longer evolving.

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I could connect that to my dissertation in that I think that the initial powerful innovations were driven by a sense that the army at the tip of the spear had never been as effective out of the gate as it should be. Hmm. So the whole notion historically of losing first battles or taking, disproportionate casualties. The army got tactically superb during the training revolution and with new equipment.

But I, I would argue that the army never made that last step in a very strong way, which is recognizing that the true measure of what, of any military operation is really gonna be fundamentally strategic, and that is gonna be political as well as military. How well did we help political leaders connect military means to political ends?

And that really takes me back to civil military relations, and one of the reasons why I find it so fascinating, but also so critical is that the value proposition of our armed forces is what we do to help political leaders achieve national interest and advance them on behalf of the security of the United States.

Petraeus in the first half of:

It was an extraordinary time to be in his commander's initiatives group because the Iraq war was such an intensive national priority, and the surge had at that point had measurable impact, and the question was the pace at which the United States might withdraw forces from Iraq as the surge was winding down.

And it was very much a case of political as well as, uh, military considerations. And the way that General Petraeus used to put it, he used to talk in terms of a Baghdad clock in a Washington clock. The Baghdad clock, the timing of all of that, that was his responsibility to be an expert on. The Washington Clock belonged to the Secretary of Defense and the broader political leadership of the country, and had to do with where the Iraq War fit into overall national priorities.

So that sort of argument that a theater commander needed to be. Technically expert, technically expert, deeply knowledgeable, bought all the military affairs that that alone would not provide a solution to what would be the right thing for the United States to do. But there was a broader political context.

What were the other needs of the country? Frankly, what were our other national security needs globally that contributions to the Warren Iraq were potentially distraction from as important as that war was. And so I think watching General Petraeus try to think about seriously about his responsibilities to provide that military perspective.

But he also, I think, thought of himself as having the responsibility to be more broadly politically aware that making the decisions on the Washington clock weren't his responsibility, but acknowledging that it existed was fundamentally part of his duties.

Dean: Doesn't that experience somewhat undercut your previous comment that our military leadership had not moved beyond the operational and thinking about the political and the strategic?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: Well, I do think it's notable that General Petraeus's career path was not in the norm. Part of what I think prepared him for that very intellectually complex task was the fact that he did a, a PhD at Princeton as part of serving on the faculty here at West Point, and that's by far a minority of the Officer Corps.

So to what extent do we, in a systematic way, acknowledge that we wanna grow officers who have this potential to contribute at that level, because that type of first rate ACS program. And I would argue that added experience of teaching is not the norm.

Dean: How would you tether his ability to think operationally and of course strategically with teaching and scholarship?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: One of the perhaps counterintuitive elements of that, I think there's a direct, so his dissertation looked at military political decision making in the context of the Vietnam War. So there were a lot of issues that he thought about directly that had different manifestations when he was a leader, but I also think that it's a bit of a mindset that suggests that I really need to think about what are the first order questions. So for him it was always what is the big idea on the table? And then the willingness to acknowledge that the expertise that might be relevant to coming up with the best possible approach to addressing that might come in a variety of different forms, and a willingness to sort of bring in different sources of expertise that might challenge his perspective in order to help to make sure we crafted the right way ahead.

Perhaps I'd follow up with a specific example. So one of the things that he did as the theater commander was bring in leading thinkers from think tanks and from academe and then he would say to them what, what was on his mind as they came into theater. And then he would set them loose in Iraq. Then they would come back to him with what they saw.

And that not only educated them in a more in depth way about the situation in Iraq, but also gave him a source. And I think the sort of comfort associated with being willing to be challenged in a profound way is hopefully something that we get out of, of doctoral programs or we get out of high quality graduate education.

Dean: Similar to you, I had a privilege of serving in a special command, joint special operations command, and I was able to do that as the deputy legal advisor. In it, I had had some time teaching and writing as well as had a foot in the operational. And I think when I was turned to for legal advice, I was better prepared to not just think about the advice I was giving on that on a particular incident, but also starting to think about the secondary and tertiary effects of that advice and how that could impact the greater mission, including some of our greater political objectives as, as a nation. And so I, I think your example's right on point about the importance of having some, , intellectual depth and the value that, , that someone with intellectual depth brings to a command in trying to, solve some of the bigger problems and that connection , to that strategic and, and political, atmosphere.

So I just recently had a conversation with a friend who's a scholar, and he has spent time in the Department of Defense as a civilian. From his perspective, oftentimes civilians leadership would be too deferential to military leader. Yet, it's ironic if you talk to military leadership, oftentimes they believe perhaps they're too deferential to the civilian leadership.

Is that the normal tension that we want? Is that healthy? Is that what how you perceive. Our current atmosphere, has that been something that's been ongoing for, you know, since the beginning of our of The Republic?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I think that it could be possible to look at the relative weight on the civilian input to political leaders' decisions as going through cycles a little bit.

I think that coming out of Vietnam, there was a great sense on the part of many in the military that there had been two detailed influence on military advice and military decision making in ways that had fundamentally hampered the war effort. I think there was a bit of a reaction to that, trying to set parameters on the Weinburger Doctrine and the Powell Doctrine.

nse, Weinburger, in the early:

It must be last resort. You must have guaranteed public support in advance that the commission of force must be wholehearted. This was sort of at the germ of that approach, and it really was viewed by its critics as not being fully aware of the fact that the use of military force across the spectrum of conflict and peace as well as war, it's up to the discretion of the political leaders, how to best use that to advance the interests.

So by trying to set a, a list of abstract conditions, you know, a famous critic of that called that approach only the fun wars, William Sapphire and a famous editorial said, you know, the Department of Defense only wants to be called upon when they have a fund war to be fought, where it's for a popular purpose and we're willing to go all in.

And I think the reality is that those of us in the armed forces accept that we are, I think an appropriate attitude is that the political leaders should use the military capabilities the country invests in, in the way that they see best to advance the country's interests and values. And that may be a less than a vital interest. And it might be not waiting till some abstract definition of last resort. And there might be small investments in the use of the military that are not wholehearted with a clear intention of ultimate victory that actually advanced American national interests. So that was that controversy.

mple of a swing was after the:

For example, there was hesitation in the military about getting involved in places like Bosnia. The academic literature on it was kind of polemic. So the phrase out of control pervaded the literature. That perhaps was part of a mindset that somebody like Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld bet brought into office with a explicit notion of reasserting civilian supremacy in the civil military relationship, to the point that some then felt that decision making about the war on Iraq was insufficiently informed by technical and tactical expertise.

tructure that was used in the:

Did he think would be necessary to stabilize Iraq after the invasion? Said something like, on the order of several hundred thousand, which was not the estimate at the time of Secretary Defense Rumsfeld and some of his key lieutenants. That was, you know, an interesting, civil military situation.

re in the invasion of Iraq in:

Dean: You oftentimes hear the army should be apolitical, the military should be apolitical, officer should be apolitical. Do you think that's possible?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I don't actually think that apolitical as possible. I think there's been some great recent scholarship that suggests that teaching even our pre-commissioning officers, that the military is apolitical can induce a mindset that's actually not optimal in our officers. And I'm resting on a very key distinction between apolitical and nonpartisan.

I think absolutely in our system of government, the military must be nonpartisan. There must be no sense on the part of any of the important actors, our political leaders and our military leaders, that the military favors a party or a faction in our domestic politics. But apolitical, I think, is beyond achievement because every decision in a democracy about the military is a political.

How much do we spend on the military versus other important domestic programs? That is a political choice, full of values as well as expertise. Or is it in the best interest? So a question that General Petraeus actually used to get in front of Congress is, has the war on Iraq served the national interest?

I don't think that that is a question for a military leader because I think that calculus can only belong to our political leaders. Like what are the values and interests of the country? And I think they have the responsibility and the authority for making those judgements. How many casualties are in the national interest to accept in the service of a political aim?

That's really not a military technical question. So I think it frustrated some who wanted to hear him say yes or who wanted to hear him say no. But he never would answer that question in a direct manner because I think he believed that it was a political judgment.

Dean: What's the advice we should be giving this generation of officers that are serving or are getting ready to enter the army about how to navigate what is increasingly a very difficult space?

And I think a lot of that's driven by social media. I think a lot of it's driven by hyper politicized environment, but a young officers oftentimes want to have a bit more of a voice in, you know, the political conversation. What's your advice to them as they enter into this profession?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I might take that in two parts.

One might be I think that political awareness is part of the equipment of an Army officer, so I think being cognizant that the armed forces as institutions in our country have political impact is important. In the last two decades of war, for example, there were many cases in which ferry junior officers operated in a decentralized fashion in a theater of war.

And our own doctrine said political factors are primary. Our own counterinsurgency doctrine said the politics are primary, economics are really important. Security is a precondition. So everything that's done in a security realm should be in the ciz of that. So political awareness in the sense that military activities.

Come out of political purposes and are judged to be ultimately successful or or failures in political terms, I think is something that we ought to teach them, as well as the technical and technical competence that most of the Army will spend most of the time trying to infuse in our young officers. And they absolutely need that.

I just refuse to accept that you can only have one or the other.

Dean: You have a recent article I read, the continuing relevance of Morris Janowitz as the Professional Soldier for the Education of Officers, and you have a line in there about Clausewitz. Why did you include that line in your article that you co-wrote with the great Hugh Liebert?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: And I would concur, the Great Hugh Liebert, uh, was an essential partner in that article. We actually borrowed from Carl Von Clausewitz a couple of times in that. I think that, you know, one of the, stories in there maybe that I could just share again, is that Peter Peree in the sort of, one of the introductory chapters to that masterful tone that Michael Howard and Peter Peree did.

That translation of his, classic on War tells the story of Clausewitz receiving a operational level problem from the chief of the Russian general staff, and being asked to apply his great military judgment and wisdom to suggest a solution in a manner that's , attractively bold. He sends it back without an answer and says, I can't possibly tell you what would be in the best interest in this situation without you giving me more of the political context.

What are the political purposes of both sides? And now we might think what is the regional context? But the fact that problem was even sent to Clausewitz, I think reflects a continuing tendency that even though we fundamentally know in some ways it's true that war is a continuation of policy by other means.

In practice, it is so easy to walk away from that. Yeah. And to think that we can think of a tactical solution or even a operational level solution without thinking about how does that contribute to a preferable political end state? How does that serve the political purposes of our country? But I think the reason that we think, going back to Janowitz is useful is that that kind of political awareness is something that he emphasized in his work.

Dean: Now, in the article you also mentioned, I mean, do you think he's building upon Huntington's work or do you think it's, he's, it's an evolution off of Huntington's work, and I guess I should have you describe, but what, what was Huntington basically saying and how's Janowitz built? Or take a different angle off of it.

fact that Samuel Huntington's:

So the solution that Huntington proposed was objective control, which emphasized the formation of a relatively autonomous professional military that had some autonomy in the realm of military technical and tactical expertise, and a legitimately elected political leadership that would select the political purposes. The thing that was always of interest in his work.

But I think more recently I've come to see as a more significant flaw is that it proposes a separation between the two that I don't think can exist and I think our conversation up to this point has talked about how political military considerations are constantly intertwined. Right? The reason that Huntington's work I think is problematic is it could lead to, and Professor Risa Brooks has got a great recent article that I think probes this a sort of simplistic understanding of the relationship between the role of the military officer in political military decision making and the overall decision.

Dean: And I think you're hitting on an important theme, which is resonates with us in terms of educating our future officers on this very topic.

Do you believe from, from that perspective, that we're doing enough in, uh, discussing and educating civil military relations, and do you think that's on the right track? Not just here at West Point, but of course across the rest of the country?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I don't think that we are actually doing it enough, and I think there are again, some comparative studies of the, of how it is done and where it is done across.

Our contemporary armed services suggest that it is not an area of principle focus. So even to the extent that we do it at the pre-commissioning level, it isn't a continuing concern. For example, an army professional military education, perhaps again until the war college. And so there's a perhaps a 20 year gap between when officers are asked to think about the dyna civil military relations and when they are transitioning to become senior and strategic leaders and asked to think about it again.

And in reality, I would argue that it is relevant in between. And I just gave example of junior officers in a counterinsurgency envionment. But I do feel like I should loop back on something else that you asked before about why political awareness in junior officers, and I think I went mostly on the, or apolitical versus nonpartisan.

I think I mostly talked about it's not possible to be apolitical, but on the nonpartisan side, I think that there are a lot of new tensions there and I'm not sure that we are yet completely educat. officers to be able to navigate them in an area of particularly polarized domestic political environment and also pervasive presence of social media perhaps, or I could tell you a story of, yeah.

Of my interaction with a, with a cadet. But you know, the country has been in some degree of political turmoil the last couple years. And so a young person with convictions might feel that they're not, even if they are a cadet at West Point, might feel that they're not living up to their sense of moral obligation if they're not participating. But what I think we need to convey to them is that by not becoming a partisan actor, you are fulfilling a very meaningful role for the country, and that you are playing one small role in some small part, helping the country to retain the sense of the possibility of a military institution that serves the Constitution and serves our political institutions rather than any partisan body.

And that is really of great value. It takes everybody's participation to protect it.

Dean: Yeah. And, that polarization, coupled with the advent of social media, the pervasiveness of social media, we're just ignoring the truth. If we say that is not affecting the military and the apolitical nature of the military and potentially even the ability to encourage our citizens to join our military and work on behalf of the nation.

And it's one of the concerns you hear from the sociologists when it comes to civil military relations is the interaction between the military and civilian society and whether they are or not connected, or you're starting to have the military become a subset separate and distinct who may or may not have an affinity for the rest of civilian society.

And so are you concerned about that? Do you think we have a problem or do you think it's always been like this?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I think that we have new manifestations of long-standing problems. I do think that it is important to convey, I think in terms of the relationship between the American Armed Forces and American society.

I think it's important to preserve the potential for young people across the political spectrum with of varying convictions, to see that they can serve their country in uniform, and that's one of the many reasons why it's so important that the military remain nonpartisan. So one other thing about the soldier in the state is it offers this sort of ideal type called the military mind.

And it proposes that the military mind is essentially conservative. Conservative in the sense that it, it does not believe in the provability of human beings. It believes in their fallibility. It believes that war is gonna be a fundamental component of international affairs, and it is skeptical of political and social change, but we had a, a young scholar in the department, his name was Daryl Driver, he's actually Colonel now, who did a, a empirical study that looked at actual beliefs of actual officers. And one of the conclusions was that there's a whole host of sets of public beliefs that can be compatible with military service.

It isn't necessarily the case that there's any part of our political spectrum that is privileged in terms of embracing that oath to the Constitution. The Constitution is the framework that preserves , our ability to have that array of, of beliefs in our country. So I think that the affirmation of nonpartisan behavior on the part of uniform military is critically important.

Dean: Do you agree that one of the ways that we do create an inclusive and unified military is by having a homogeny in values though? Like for example, the Army has loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage.

These are things we expect of everyone. And so we would have a young person who has a particular view on a topic that in society may be viewed now as almost everything is through a partisan prism. Yet what we would ask them to do is selflessly perhaps, subjugate , their partisan view on that, even though they can of course, will have their personal opinions so that they can help serve with others that are across the ideological spectrum.

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I think that that is not only important, but critical that we are a values-based organization and we have a right to say to future members of our organization to wanna be part of it that to belong to this organization requires your embrace of these values. And I think those values, the ones that you've talked about, to include things that aren't necessarily as prevalent in American society, wri large like obedience. They are necessary to our ability to have the sort of discipline and competence to do our military mission. One of the things that's a little bit related to this has been, I think there has sometimes on the part of service members, perhaps sometimes on the part of, certain elements of society has been to suggest that military values are superior to the values of our broader society.

And I think that that's very dangerous and I don't except that logic. I think there are some values that as an institution, in order to be part of our institution, you have to embrace like, discipline and loyalty and honor. But they are functional values. They're institutional values. They are not necessarily better or worse than other potential sources of value in the broader society.

They're just the ones that we need in order to be effective at serving the American people. And so I think, absolutely, it's a value based institution. I think it has to be in order to be effective.

Dean: And this is a good segue way into now, Colonel Driver and your faculty, and I know that within Department of Social Sciences, we have a social research lab. Can you talk a little bit about the SOSH research lab?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: The SOSH Research Lab, most fundamentally is about lowering the barriers to faculty research to help to create this vibrant, intellectual environment.

One of the things that, and I would credit Dr. Scott Lim Brocker with being the lead on this, one of the projects that they're doing right now I'm really excited about is working with our sister service academies, the Navy, the Air Force, as well as Coast Guard Academy to do a longitudinal survey.

k the permissions went out to:

This project is great in the sense that it offers the possibility that we could do a longitudinal look based on actual data that would give us a picture of how attitudes are evolving, and I think the attitudes going into the course might be useful for understanding, uh, a little bit since they're sort of close to the society from which they came. How attitudes across the country in terms of young people are changing.

And so I, I'm very excited about that project. I'm excited about the fact that they are including a room for a module that can be changed throughout the years, so that within that longitudinal survey, there'll be a module that can be used by different researchers at different times to explore, uh, specific questions.

Dean: So let me go with a few, if you'll humor me, let me fire a few rapid questions at you. These are quick answers. If you could have lunch with any historical person, who would it be?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: Abraham Lincoln, for sure. Abraham Lincoln. Uh,

Dean: What is the best advice you ever received?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: Think about how you're going to be a different person next year than you were this year.

Dean: What's the biggest difference between West Point now from when you graduated?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: So I'm not saying this cuz you're the dean, but I think that it's the, the academic program is so much richer and so much more full of opportunity, honestly, than when I was cadet.

Whether it's studying abroad or whether it's doing research, I think the academic program is much stronger.

Dean: How do we encourage future officers to learn about our government and political system? What's the best way to

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I think we need to make them understand that it is fundamentally part of serving as a military professional to understand the system that you serve and that you're not doing your duty if you don't understand the American government.

Dean: And then finally, this is my pitch for the academic program, we're focusing on civil military relations and looking at it through a lot of the prisms that you described. Of course, I have a legal background, so the authorities. your background as a political scientist in terms of looking at it from the institutions, sociologists, and other ways.

With that in mind, what is something you would like to see come out of this after we spend a year emphasizing to the cadets the importance of civil military relations?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: I think it's a good opportunity to think about how our programs are complimentary to one another. Perhaps forged additional connections across USMA, and then think about what we want those relationships and ties to be with other institutions that are also doing significant and important work on civil multi relations.

So I think that as a start point might be that sort of taking stock.

Dean: Would you think worse of me if I told you this is my retirement job right here as being a podcast interviewer?

Colonel Suzanne Nielsen: Depends on the podcast .

Dean: So thank you, Colonel Nielsen for your time. Thank you all for tuning in, and please stay tuned as, more will be coming out about our annual theme, which is titled Call to Serve Military Leadership and a Democratic Republic.

Thank you.

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About the Podcast

Inside West Point: Ideas That Impact
Join Brigadier General Shane Reeves, Dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, as he takes you behind the scenes to explore the applied research and cross-disciplinary work being done by the Academy's scholars.

From high-energy lasers and artificial intelligence to civil-military relations and ethics, this podcast goes beyond the textbook to give you a deeper understanding of the complex issues shaping the modern battlefield. Hear directly from the experts as they make even the most complex topics accessible to a broad audience. Get inside access to West Point's work and see how it's being applied today.

Tune in for upcoming episodes by following us on your favorite podcast platform and follow us on Instagram (@dean.usma), Facebook (Dean of the Academic Board-West Point), and Twitter (@DeanUSMA) for updates.

Learn more about West Point’s academic program at https://www.westpoint.edu/academics

Disclaimer: This podcast does not imply Federal endorsement.