The Institute for Honor Symposium

Presidential Leadership in Times of WarMarch 6 - 7, 2020

"Labour to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience."

George Washington, "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation"

"The leader of men in warfare can show himself to his followers only through a mask, a mask that he must make for himself, but a mask made in such form as will mark him to men of his time and place as the leader they want and need."

John Keegan, "The Mask of Command"

Barring a diplomatic resolution, 2020 will mark the 19th straight year that the U.S. military has been at war in Central Asia. American citizens are living through America's longest war. Yet somehow it doesn't feel like it. At a time when less than 0.5% of Americans serve in one of the branches of the military and this force fights America's seemingly ever-expanding wars, armed conflicts, counterterrorist operations and interdictions, it is not only valuable but necessary that all citizens engage consistently with the questions of oversight for the military and its leaders (Council on Foreign Relations, April 2018). Since the transition to an all-volunteer military in 1973, many U.S. citizens have become increasingly detached from decision-making about conflicts nominally waged in their defense.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the new 2020 U.S. fiscal year Defense Department budget requested by President Donald Trump has ballooned to $718 billion, an increase of 2% over the previous year's appropriated budget. With so much of America's wealth invested in this area of U.S. national security, how and when Americans should wage war and how these wars should be prosecuted remain some of  the most   pressing issues facing our democracy As the nation enters an uncertain future addressing the complex problems of stateless, violent actors, how the U.S. selects capable leaders at all levels of warfighting —from the Oval Office down to the strategic corporal — should remain an area of prime interest for sustained conversation. 

In his classic work "Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations," Princeton University's philosopher-historian Michael Walzer probed these topics as he posited the critical questions of what makes a war a just one to wage (jus ad bellum) and what makes for just conduct when it is being waged (jus in bello). The speakers for this year's Institute for Honor help us examine these questions about America's   wars across more than two centuries and what ethical and unethical leadership on the battlefield has looked like during the period.

Our three principal lecturers this year are eminently qualified to guide our wide-ranging conversation about military leadership across American history. Our Friday keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling author Michael Beschloss, has been called our "leading presidential historian," teaching millions of Americans about the history of expert leadership through his regular media commentary. Our Saturday morning speakers, Gettysburg College's Civil War historian Peter Carmichael and W&L political scientist Robert Strong, will examine fascinating case studies of military leadership in the 19th and 20th centuries, exploring what Americans can learn from moments of admirable success and catastrophic failure by their military leaders.


Michael Beschloss

Michael Beschloss is an award-winning historian of the presidency and the author of eight books, including the bestsellers "Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789–1989," "The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941–1945", a trilogy on the first year of Lyndon Johnson's presidency and newly released secret tapes and "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy." His most recent book is "Presidents of War: The Epic Story, From 1807 to Modern Times."

Called "the nation's leading presidential historian" by Newsweek, Beschloss serves as the presidential historian for NBC News — the first time any major network has created such a position. Appearing regularly on "Meet the Press," "The Today Show," "The Daily Show," and all NBC network programs, as well as on "The NewsHour" on PBS, he provides expert analysis of the executive branch. In 2005, he won an Emmy for his role in creating and hosting the Discovery Channel series "Decisions That Shook the World." In his keynotes, he imparts his unique wisdom on the presidency, sharing the leadership skills that led to various presidents' successes with corporate and general audiences.

An alumnus of Williams College and Harvard University, Beschloss has been a historian on the staff of the Smithsonian Institution, a senior associate member at Oxford University in England and a senior fellow of the Annenberg Foundation in Washington, D.C. He has received the Williams College Bicentennial Medal, the Order of Lincoln from the State of Illinois, the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the Ambassador Book Prize, the New York State Archives History Award and was named to Time Magazine's list of "Best Twitter Feeds of 2013."

Barton Myers

Barton A. Myers is the Class of 1960 Professor of Ethics and History, associate professor of Civil War history and director of the Institute for Honor at Washington and Lee University. He is the author of the award-winning "Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861–1865" (LSU Press, 2009) and "Rebels against the Confederacy: North Carolina's Unionists" (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014), as well as co-editor with Brian D. McKnight of "The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War" (LSU Press, 2017). Myers received his B.A. from the College of Wooster and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. He teaches a number of popular American military history and public history courses, including his intensive battlefield travel course The Art of Command During the American Civil War. In 2008–2009, he was a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation fellow for his research on violence, aggression and dominance. More recently, he served as a historian in the History Channel's upcoming documentary on the life of President and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant produced by historian Ron Chernow and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Robert Strong

Robert Strong is the William Lyne Wilson Professor in Political Economy at Washington and Lee University and was a Fulbright scholar at University College Dublin for the 2013–14 academic year. In 1988–89 he was an American Political Science Association congressional fellow and worked in the offices of Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sen. Richard Lugar. Strong's research involves national security issues and presidential foreign policy decisions in the modern era. He has authored "Working in the World: Jimmy Carter and the Making of American Foreign Policy" and a second edition of "Decisions and Dilemmas: Case Studies in Presidential Foreign Policy Making Since 1945." He has completed a new book manuscript titled "Character and Consequence: Foreign Policy Decisions of George H. W. Bush."

Peter Carmichael

Peter S. Carmichael is Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. He received his Ph.D. in history from Penn State University in 1996. His academic interests include 19th-century U.S. history, the Civil War and Reconstruction, Southern history, public history and cultural history. Carmichael's most recent book, "The War for the Common Soldier" (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), was part of the Littlefield History of the Civil War Era series. The culmination of nearly 10 years' work, this cultural history of soldiering in Civil War armies explores how soldiers endured the brutal and unpredictable existence of army life during the war years, drawing heavily on close examination of the letters and records left behind by individual soldiers from both North and South. His previous books include "The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion (UNC, 2005)" and "Lee's Young Artillerist: William R. J. Pegram" (University of Virginia Press, 1995). He speaks frequently to general and scholarly audiences and has appeared in the Robert E. Lee documentary for PBS's "American Experience" series and the popular TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?" 

Schedule of Events

The program begins on Friday afternoon and concludes after lunch on Saturday. Participants stay in local inns and come together for a luncheon, a reception and dinner on campus. 

Friday, March 6

3:00 - 3:50 pm Program Registration Early-Fielding Lobby
4:00 pm Program Welcome and Introductions
Lena Hill, Dean of the College, Washington and Lee University
Lee Chapel
4:15 pm Keynote Address: "Presidential Leadership in Times of War"
Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian
Lee Chapel
5:00 - 5:30 pm Book Signing by Michael Beschloss Washington Hall Lobby
5:30 pm Lee House Reception
Hosted by Washington and Lee University President Will Dudley
Lee House
6:30 pm Institute Dinner Great Hall, Science Addition

Saturday, March 7

8:30 - 9:00 am Continental Breakfast Elrod Commons Living Room
9:00 - 9:45 am "A Humanitarian Intervention: Because It's Right and Because We Can"
Robert Strong, William Lyne Wilson Professor in Political Economy, Washington and Lee University
Stackhouse Theater
9:45 - 10:00 am Discussion  
10:00 - 10:30 am Break  
10:30 - 11:15 am "We Cannot Believe Americans Can Do These Things: The Act of Retaliation and Civil War Leadership"
Peter S. Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies, Gettysburg College
Stackhouse Theater
11:15 - 11:30 am Discussion  
11:30 - 11:40 am Break  
11:40 - 12:30 pm Panel Discussion
  • Michael Beschloss
  • Peter Carmichael
  • Robert Strong
  • Lynn Rainville, moderatorDirector of Institutional History
    Washington and Lee University
Stackhouse Theater
12:30 - 1:30 pm Luncheon Great Hall, Science Addition

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Washington and Lee University
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