Is there any part of the Military that has a better slogan? While I know West Point jealously guards this motto, it really should be the motto for the entire Army. I mean, it isn’t just the officers who need to live to this standard. An Army of One. Be All That You Can Be. Too much focus on the individual, not on why you are doing what you do. The Army recruiting posters should use this. The Marines have it right. The Few, the Proud, the Marines. We are an exclusive club, we are good, and, if you show us you have what it takes, we’ll accept you. But who in this modern world can talk of Honor with a straight face? With our country so divided over Iraq, who talks of Patriotism not as a sling in a political battle, but with the quiet reverence due to a set of ideals that we strive to attain. What is Duty, and how does it differ from Country. Why does it come first?
I recently read a book call Absolutely American, by David Lipski. David is a reporter for Rolling Stone. I remember reading his article when it first came out. Seems he took a house in Highland Falls and stayed with the Call of 2002 for the three years (Yearling, Cow, Firstie) Until they graduated. For the past several nights I have had trouble falling asleep as the memories it awoke kept running through my head. I graduated from The United States Military Academy at West Point, class of 1993.
Digression: If you ever see someone wearing a shirt that says USMA, you are looking at someone affiliated with my Alma Mater. The funny thing is most people will read it as USMC. The Marine Corps is gets a lot of great Advertising from the Army. when I was at the recruiting station in Boston when my brother was enlisting, a kid told me he was joining the Marines because he identified with what he saw in Washington DC, them guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and so on. I told him that was the Old Guard, 3rd Regiment, United States Army. I recently Heard that the Army was returning back to wearing Army Blue as the Everyday uniform as well as the Formal. About time. But people will just keep think that Blue means Marines. Oh well. Back to the Main Thought.
Lipsky makes his shares of mistakes, but they are minor. He gets the jargon right, captures how we talked, as it was only 5 years between my graduation and the start of his research. He didn’t discuss academics at all, which is too bad, as it is the major activity at West Point, but maybe he thought that it was too similar to any other college. Too bad that, as I suspect that is not the case. There is a certain degree of academic freedom elsewhere that you just don’t have at USMA. If a student at Harvard writes an inflammatory satire claiming that your teacher is having affairs with both the men and women in his class, the first Amendment and attitude of the instructors fully protects you. This is not libel, as it isn’t published. At West Point, you get written up, punished, and possibly expelled. When I was a cadet, A couple guys did a spoof on the R.E.M. song Losing My Religion called Losing My Femininity and dedicated it to the Women’s Power Lifting Team. A segment I remember:
That’s me in the corner
That’s Me on the Squat-Rack
Losing my Femininity.
The officer in charge of the team, LTC Christopher, wrote them all up. When my class protested to our English Teacher ( a Military Police Officer, CPT P—Damn my memory is shaky.) He invited LTC Christopher to the class. He came in mad and basically bullied us into silence. I understand his desire to protect the people working for him, but there was no chance to have a dialog. At USMA, probably even more than in the Regular Army, when a superior says some thing is so, the is no argument about it.
I once got written up for running the screen save program at a 2 second interval. I had been poking around in our Unix systems and ran a program (probably named something the like xsc). It responded with a usage message (must be run with -s=X where X is a number between 1 and 10000 or something) and I re-ran it like this xsc -s=2. It ran and returned and I though nothing of it until I got called into my Tac’s office. I had been written up by my Networking instructor. My tac didn’t even understand the quill. I went down and explained myself to my P and that was the end of it. He accepted my word (West Point Honor code) that I was not trying to play a joke or anything, and I stopped poking around.
There are two problems here. The first is that a program like a screensaver should not be runnable against the X windows session unless you own the session. If it is supposed to be run regardless of who is logged in, it should require root privileges. Poor security design. But the second is that a school should not shut down the inquisitiveness of it’s students. I’m sure stuff like this happens at many colleges, but it is the force of discipline at West Point that makes it so fearsome.
The memories keep coming, almost overwhelming now. West Point was an intense four year, more so than any that came before, and only rivaled by some of my later experiences in the Army. I was in no way an model Cadet, but I was not a complete dirt bag. I came to believe in what we were there to do, and did my job. I was and still am a fierce individualist, and that worked against me at USMA. I think it is normal for someone as a professional programmer. I was not drawn inside the camaraderie of our Company as closely as some. Where others played Football or joined the drill team, I joined the Band. Music had been a huge part of my life and I wanted to hold on to it. But it was considered a second tier activity, a way to “Get Over” and avoid drill and ceremony and do something dorky. I did a lot of things like that: medieval studies, Jewish Chapel Choir, and so on. Yes, I identified with Cadet George Rash to a degree. But I had four years on the high school wrestling team, and many years working for Jim Young (Thanks Dad!) to get me physically and mentally tough.
I think West Point and the officer Corp in general would be better served by sending Cadets out to regular Army units as junior enlisted before they they make the commitment Junior Year. I was a drill cadet, and got fired up by the opportunity, but I think I would have been really well served by a six month or one year stint as a line infantry soldier. I realize Camp Buckner is tradition and all, but it would be a hell of a lot better if we went to AIT (follows after Basic Training) at Benning and Knox, then shipped to various posts around the country and be a “Joe” for the remainder of the year. North Eastern University has a Co-Op program, and it doesn’t seem to hurt their admissions process. Why can’t West Point graduate people in five years? One added benefit is that people would drop at the end of the year that really didn’t want to serve in the Army. At the end of four years, you get promoted to E-4. If you want to stay in the Army, you can keep that rank. Knock a year off of what you get for college. When you graduate West Point, you have already earned one year toward retirement. There is no reason ROTC shouldn’t/couldn’t do this as well. If you did it at the end of Plebe year, the Cadets would have a year at WP vested as motivation to come back. And, of course, the officers in their unit jacking them up all the harder if they decided to quit. But everyone would know what IT was about. Maybe they could make an exception for the prior service cadets, or let them retain their old rank out there in the Army.
Duty is strange word and concept. We do our duty as an attempt to pay back the debt we owe. Like original sin, we have a debt just by being born American. This is an interesting concept. What debt do we have? To the men of the Armed Forces that defended our freedoms in the past? To the Aboriginal Americans who died from smallpox and wars with the Europeans? To the African tribesman that were kidnapped and shipped to the agricultural hell of the cotton plantation? This is what you get as an American: the opportunity for a public education, good roads to drive on, a police and fire department that work to keep you safe, a legal system that allows you to challenge it, an economic system that allows you to move up in the world, and a medical system that keeps you healthy. Yes, these are unequally distributed. The higher your social standing, the better the community you can live in, and the better health care you can afford. Many Americans have much fewer opportunities. Perhaps we have a debt to them as well. Not to pull them upwards, but to make sure that the opportunities, the pursuit of happiness, are available to them as well.
With slavery, we destroyed the social structures of the Africans when they were brought to America. While many other ethnic groups have come here, and have been treated badly (I heard something on NPR this morning about Chinese Workers in America) they have, for them most part, come willingly. At a minimum, we owe a debt to the African American community to help repair the social devastation we created.
I think we also have a duty to the people of Iraq to find the best possible solution to the crisis there. I won’t get into whether the invasion was right or wrong. The past is prologue. We now stand at the start of the next page of Iraqi history. How can we minimize damage and maximize opportunity for the average Iraqi? Does an American presence in Iraq deter more violence than it incites? I wish I knew the answer to this question. Is the debt we are incurring in trying to support Iraq detracting from our ability to do our Duty elsewhere?