LtCol Scott McDonald ‘95 graduated from the University Honors Program with a major in International Relations. An Armor Officer, Scott has also completed Marine Corps Attaché tours in Canberra, Australia and Taipei, Taiwan. He is currently a Regional Engagement Planner with III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan. His article, “Phase Zero: How China Exploits It, Why the United States Does Not,” was published in the Summer 2012 Naval War College Review.
Few titles have as immediate a response as “Marine.” In most minds the image conjured does not equate to that evoked by “Honors Program,” yet the association is more apt than most think.
When classmates heard that I had decided to join the Marine Corps, many were curious as to why a hopeful political theorist would take a detour from academia to enter such a profession. In truth, when I signed a contract committing myself to four years of active duty, I did not think I was embarking on a professional career, I was, however, following my interest in political theory to its logical end.
I discovered political theory in my last year of high school and was quickly hooked on the important questions it sought to answer: what is the proper role of government, how should it be structured, and what is its relationship to the polis from which it springs? Though as a naïve freshman I had already committed myself to International Relations (which turned out not to be political theory writ large), I leveraged the UHP curriculum and electives to study political theory by combining minors in philosophy and economics. I then leveraged the UHP thesis program to study the role of consent in establishing legitimacy.
The more I studied the nature of government and the history of experiments with it, the more impressed I became with the spectacular, though imperfect, accomplishment of the Founding Fathers. I concluded the US Constitution was, and remains, the most perfect, most moral governing construct in the history of man. That realization convinced me that I wanted to take my turn defending this document, which was responsible for protecting my liberties, which my studies had shown were critical for man to live as a fully functioning being.
And a document is what I was signing up to defend. The US military is unique in its oath to defend a document. Where others fight for governments and rulers, glory and loot, the US military is sworn to defend a set of ideals embodied in our national charter. That was, and remains, a key motivator propelling me to and through the four year hitch that has turned into a career.
To succeed as the world’s preeminent practitioners of warfare, Marines must be students of people, cultures, and ideas. We must have a knowledge base much broader than the tactical employment of troops and fires so that we can understand the varied environments we operate in. Most importantly, we must be able to integrate large volumes of less than perfect information, assess the situation, develop a solution to the problem presented, and act. And we must do this in some of the most chaotic environments known to man.
In this regard, a UHP enhanced education has served me well. The UHP offered multidisciplinary courses that challenged students to examine difficult questions and develop their own conclusions. Meanwhile, the thesis project allowed me to research a topic in depth in a way that was not offered to most undergraduates when I attended GW. These experiences helped train me to think more effectively and develop the cognitive skills to perform the necessary integration of facts required to understand situations and environments rapidly and deeply.
Since joining the Marine Corps I have circumnavigated the world and lived in foreign countries. Wherever I have traveled, I have engaged the locals and sought to understand their situations and their societies. One interesting characteristic I have noticed in common among those who are most successful across the dozens of countries and cultures I have visited is the ability to properly integrate knowledge, enabling one to understand their world and draw actionable conclusions. In short, not only did a UHP education prepare me for success as a US Marine, the cognitive skills I developed there are the skills that span the human experience as a hallmark of those who succeed.