Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, engaged in a wide-ranging conversation with journalist Renee Montagne for the Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on Conditions of Peace, an annual event sponsored by the Burkle Center.
By Judy Lin for the UCLA Newsroom
Admiral Michael G. Mullen, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, engaged in a wide-ranging conversation with journalist Renee Montagne at UCLA on Nov. 10. Mullen discussed America's enduring battle against terrorism, his strong support for repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and a personal history that began with a 1950s childhood in North Hollywood.
Mullen spoke to a packed audience at the Anderson School of Management's Korn Convocation Hall for the annual Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on Conditions of Peace, organized by UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations.
Montagne, who co-hosts National Public Radio's popular "Morning Edition" news show and reports extensively about America's military presence in Afghanistan, asked Mullen what Americans are to make of conflicting progress reports from that country — news stories, she said, "about one step forward, and one backward."
"We have had a significant effect," Mullen said, "but there's still plenty of work to be done." He added: "Nobody recognizes more clearly than I do that we've had 10 years of war … tough war with a tough enemy."
He also described some of America's delicate dealings with military leadership in Pakistan — "the epicenter of terrorism in the world" — as well as his strong hope that Congress will move beyond partisanship to ratify the new nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia.
Mullen added that he welcomed this opportunity to address the UCLA community. "I think it is important that we have a discussion about these things in our country," he said. "I value debate."
Montagne noted that Mullen is on record for supporting repeal of the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bans gays from serving openly in the armed forces. Having spent his entire career in the military, Mullen said that he is proud to be a part of "an institution that values integrity … and yet we ask people to come and join us, and work every day as a living and sacrificing member of this great military, and lie every day about who they are."
Mullen also talked about his efforts — shared by his wife, Deborah — to provide America's military veterans with adequate benefits, from quality health care to affordable higher education. The GI bill that helps many veterans attend UCLA and other colleges and universities "is not inexpensive" for the government to fund, he said, "but I think it's pennies on the dollar" when it comes to compensating veterans for their serving their country — "a debt that cannot be repaid."
Closer to home, Montagne asked Mullen about his L.A. childhood as the son of entertainment-industry parents. His father, Jack Mullen, was a publicist for Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Carol Burnett and other big names in Hollywood, and his mother, Jane, was an assistant to Jimmy Durante.
Movie stars notwithstanding, Mullen's family lived a modest "Ozzie and Harriet" life in North Hollywood, he said. A graduate of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Mullen recalled that his "hankering to see the world," coupled with his father's advice that "If you want a good education, you'll need to find someone to pay for it," led him to college at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
And while "Dad taught me early on about the importance of being able to communicate," Mullen said, his parents' greater influence was the way they treated others.
"My father and mother cared an awful lot about people," Mullen said, "without which none of us can succeed."