- The Abongo Abroad: Military-Sponsored Travel in Ghana, the United States, and the World, 1959–1992 by John V. Clune
In The Abongo Abroad: Military Sponsored Travel in Ghana, the United States and the World, 1959-1992, John V. Clune examines different facets of military educational exchange between Ghana and the United States during the Cold War. He explores the ideology behind U.S. security planners' investment in international military education, but also the experiences of Ghanaian soldiers and their families in both the United States and in United Nations peace-keeping missions in the Sinai and Lebanon. Clune finds that the ideology behind international military education, intertwined as it became with broader modernization theory, ran on with remarkable continuity past the supposed decline of these developmental policies after the late 1960s.
In 1963, Kennedy-era modernizers gave pre-existing programs in military educational exchange a new ideological justification with an Informational Program that entwined U.S.-based military technical training with the belief that exposure to U.S. communities imparted lessons in modernity and "American values" to soldiers that held long-term benefit for U.S. foreign policy goals. Clune finds a surprising consistency in the State Department's commitment the program, despite the significant shifts in foreign policy that attended each new administration.
Some of the specifics of international military education shifted over time; in 1975, the U.S. military training was separated from the larger Military Assistance Program and renamed International Military Education and Training (IMET). Yet Clune convincingly demonstrates the remarkable plasticity of the ideology behind U.S.-based military education; as attitudes towards foreign aid and involvement in the Global South shifted, so did the rhetoric around IMET, while the value of IMET itself was rarely challenged.
Congress occasionally reassessed the need for such programs, but when questioned, the answers remained unchanging: visiting military officers "obtained an appreciation for the 'American way of life' that made them less likely to abuse human rights" and more likely to support democratic governance (140). This conviction was continuously articulated despite the fact that graduates of U.S.-based training, such as Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong in Ghana, went on to lead military coups upon their return home. [End Page 1454]
Examining Ghana's relationship to the United States clarifies the centrality of international military education for U.S. foreign policy towards many newly decolonized countries during this time period. The U.S. did not provide extensive military aid to Ghana but instead limited aid to grants for Ghanaian officers receiving professional education in the United States. That this policy continued reasonably unchallenged for thirty years demonstrates the persistence of the faith that "individual contact with ordinary Americans could inspire visitors to remake their societies" (164). The comparatively low price of the program compared to other forms of military aid didn't hurt its longevity, either.
This book compellingly works to interweave an exploration of the ideology of U.S. security planners with the experiences of Ghanaian soldiers and their families. Clune argues that in both the United States and as part of UN peacekeeping missions, travel experiences encouraged Ghanaian soldiers and their families to adopt a global identity that in some cases came to hold greater prominence in their minds than their national identity. Like other diasporic communities, these officers used international travel to benefit themselves economically, whether through saving their pay to purchase land in Ghana, or buying commodities (such as cars or refrigerators) which were not available in Ghana. Soldiers also took advantage of the respite that international travel afforded during moments of intense political turmoil within Ghana.
With his methodological approach, Clune works to include both U.S. and Ghanaian perspectives. For the Ghanaian perspective, Clune draws on materials from the Ghana Armed Forces' collections, primarily the Ghana Armed Forces News, supplemented by memoirs and oral histories from six former members of the Ghanaian army who studied in the United States (roughly 600 studied in the U.S. during...