- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a good response from a West Point cadet. Like many, she concludes with the gotcha comment about General Petraeus. She should have read this blog yesterday. More importantly, I wish she had engaged on some of the issues I raised, such as why West Pointers often are regarded in the Army as cynical.
And here is a thoughtful comment from a cadet who asks that I note that this is his opinion, not that of the Corps of Cadets, the USMA or the Army. I am appalled by his anecdote about the basketball game at American University, which is indeed only a few miles from my house. I have some issues with many of his other points. But let him speak:
Sir, I found your article very interesting and found myself in deep contemplation. I also read the responses to your articles and your responses back. I would like to take a few moments of your time to give you another perspective from a cadet who has not only attended Pennsylvania State University but also the Military Academy Prep School or USMAPS, as well as being the son of two army officers who are both ROTC graduates but also War College Graduates.
First, I would like to challenge the cadet who is leaving and agreed with you that the academics are community college level. The cadet in question has obviously never been to a state school or any other school for that matter. In every class I took as a freshman, at Penn State, in my first semester, the class was taught by a TA and most of them only had a bachelor’s degree and were working on a masters. Also, the instructors who come here not only get a master’s degree but they get it from Columbia University in the field of study to which they will teach. Also, I would like to avoid ad hominum as best as possible but the cadet who is leaving after two years is either leaving for one of a few reasons: failure of academics, physical standards or Honor and Respect standards, unable to handle the stress free, lived a life style which does not reflect well upon themselves or the United States(drinking, drugs, or stupidity), came to get two free years and a good school to transfer from or they do not want to lead troops whether in the civilian world or in combat. Either way would you really want someone who doesn’t want to be there to lead your troops, the one’s you pay for with your taxes, into combat.
Second, the stories that instructors or some veteran students tell are extremely prevalent to our development as officers and citizens. They not only inspire us to better our selves but also humble. What you can learn from a vet now can completely change someone’s outlook on life and how you function as a member of society.
Third, I think you draw a lot of hostility because many people don’t appreciate what veterans have done, did or will do. Yes, we are fighting a war that many people don’t approve of, we know that, but don’t take it out on cadets or veterans. They are only following legal orders. One example of this actually occurred in your neck of the woods. During the American Univ., Army basketball game this spring cadets, fans and players alike were heckled after the game. After putting up a very tough stand against American, we were heckled , cursed, spit on, and taunted. I have never been so appalled in my life. Kids my age, some of which I knew, booed, taunted, and harassed us all the way out the door. All of this over a basketball game? A good basketball game at that? Yes, I know that begs the question but you must consider the way the cadets felt after that. We ask ourselves why we are doing this. And to give you an answer sir, it’s because we love this country and everything it stands for. Now I know that may sound cheesy and brainwashed but there is no other reason. I do this job because what my instructors, parents, friends, family and others have done allows those students, code pink, the Westboro Baptist church and many other organizations that oppose us to say their peace. Although I may not agree with their ideas, I agree with the idea of them having the freedom of speech.
Fourth, As an army Brat (dependent) of two Army Officers who commissioned through ROTC I can tell you that you get the same ratio of bad officers out of ROTC. Many a tax dollar has been wasted on people who are divided over the most stupid things. One example I can think of is when my mother went to Airborne school. While waiting to board the plane to take her first jump two male 2nd Lt.s from Ohio State harassed her. They knew she was a Penn State grad. and razzed her accordingly but also they harassed her because she was a woman. A woman at airborne school seemed to be a big problem to them because they thought women shouldn’t have been in the army at all. And these were graduates of a large public civilian school. Also my father, an Engineer officer like my mother, graduated from RPI. And while attending his officer basic course was constantly harassed by West Pointers. They talked of “Back at school” and “The long gray line” this and that. They built up West Point to be heaven but then my father quickly pointed out that his engineering degrees were accredited and theirs were not (West Point is now an accredited school).
Fifth, I would like to challenge you point sir, on the British Military Academy “Sandhurst”. Yes, the Brits do have a different system. Their officers attend 4 years of university before taking a full year of military development at Sandhurst. So you are really comparing apples and oranges because they get four years of college plus Sandhurst paid for, by the government. So I don’t think you can really compare the two.
Sixth, I don’t think you can compare the education and cost analysis between West Point and other schools. You must first ask the question of school, How much is the tuition and cost of living, how much are the books, how much are the lab fees, how much is food at the local mart? Also you must ask about the major and its department at that school? Is the major they are choosing a specialty of the school or are they just attending the school for other reasons such as sports, parties or members of the opposite gender? For example, when visiting one of my best friends at American University who is a AROTC cadet, I asked one of his ROTC buddies what his major was and what type of ROTC scholarship he was on. His response was he was an Art major. Now sir, I know this may be a very dry question but why would an Art student go to American? Or why would my buddy be a physics major at a school that is a specialty in International Affairs and business? And to go along with that both of them are carrying full scholarships to a school that has a tuition of $15,479 per semester with a $1,000 charge per credit hour more than 17. That’s over $33,000 a year without books, lab fee’s, food, living expenses, which anyone who knows anything about DC knows you pay an exorbitatint amount to live there.
Seventh, going along with the point of Changing our opinions. I find your point dead on in the most case regarding the Academy. The War Collages is a different story. The stereotypical cadet at West Point is a conservative, white male, no one can deny that. Which validates your argument that our opinions are not challenged a lot but that can also be said of the ROTC cadet. Schools like American which are very actively Liberal and opionated have a single opinion in which the cadets are not challenged because they are either outcast for not agreeing and there for conform, or they, like us are not challenged because they agree with what the student body has to say.
The academy however works very hard to diversify. We have all kinds of functions that include presentations of dance, art, literature, immersion, and many other aspects including the cadet favorite, FOOD. I cannot think of a single week or day where I have not heard about a party of some kind where there would be food tasting, dance, art , etc from cadets or civilians from other countries presenting and hosting. We may not have the complete immersion like some schools because there is not much diverse culture in Highland Falls, NY. There is not a whole lot of anything but the academy now offers almost every cadet a chance to go abroad to study at other schools in other countries. Whether these immersions are for a week or for a whole semester the academy still offers the opportunity. Another thing is, all of the corps is not American. A lot of cadets are foreign and their governments pay to send them to West Point. In my company alone we have a cadet from Chad and another from Lithuania. The academy works with what it is given and does the best that it can. You can’t make people apply to come here or come and stay if they don’t feel comfortable.
Finally, regarding your mention of Gen. Petraus. Yes, I’m sure you know now that he is an academy grad. and instructor. But your response to one question said that he found much more worth at Princeton because of the diversity. Sir, I ask you can you really compare a PHD course load and classes with that of a Bachelor’s? Sure the concepts for the area of study are the same but can a school with a graduate school be strictly compared with a four year only school? Not to discredit any schools who are only four year or have advanced level options.
I really think that your article had relevance but I think there are too many questions to call it valid because there are too many unanswered question. I could continue with this and would love to but I am a cadet and as such have other work to do. I appreciate your opinion and as a fellow democrat I can see some of the validity behind your logic. That being said most of your article I think begs the question and I don’t think there is enough evidence to support either as a definite right or wrong.”
For this cadet and all those inviting me to spend a day, week, month, or year at West Point, here is an article I wrote about the place 12 years ago. It was indeed a crucible of leadership for Col. Hallums. I wonder if there is any evidence that West Point produces better leaders than other institutions.