Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Reader Responses | Jacob Hornberger vs. the Brass | Jacob Hornberger’s VMI Valedictory Addresss 
The following emails are responses to Jacob Hornberger’s series “Obedience to Orders.” Also see ”Hornberger vs. the Brass.”
I can’t tell you how inspiring your essays – which target the bovine instinct that infests the federal empire as well as the minds and habits of its beneficiaries and dependents (“Obedience to Orders” and Jacob Hornberger vs. the Brass”) – have been to my wife and to me. Your passionate defense of pristine libertarian principles has brought into high relief the vast gulf that separates lovers of liberty untrammeled from those who refuse to grant to this all-important concept the primacy of place it deserves – and at one time held – in the hearts of Americans. Your opponents not only refuse to acknowledge the vicious pedigree of their ideas but also the underlying bankruptcy of their viewpoint and its inevitable effect of impoverishing their own lives – rendering them as half-formed, pillowy souls that lack an essential core of diamond-hard human integrity.
In contrast to your living analysis, your opponents have propped up a cartoon-like image of what they think it means to be an American citizen or, more particularly, a soldier. It is an image composed of the cheap slogans, sound bites, and action shots that are standard ingredients in the typical government-sponsored television commercial – a product intended to influence the poorly educated, credulous viewers who are poured out of government schools. This cheap substitute of what it means to be an American is then used to create – ass backwards – the basis of their moral system. Sadly, their adherence to this chimera reveals them as two-dimensional caricatures in a three-dimensional world. They offer up conformity and obedience instead of active thought and a questioning spirit. They offer as their exemplar the grunting assent of the unthinking, stampeding herd – always the lackey of tyranny – in opposition to the skeptical consideration of a free mind. In consequence, they resort to the usual means of disreputable dispute: they invoke dishonest (invalid) arguments to evade the painful topics you raise; they ignore the central issue; they misrepresent your words; they introduce ad hominem attacks; they sink to name-calling to intimidate you.
The reader is left asking why they cling so tightly to error and why they use these tactics to – in effect – define themselves. I believe that they do it because they have come to accept – and even flourish in – a moral cesspool. They have surrendered their capacity to distinguish right from wrong and have delegated this important task to others – even if these “others” are nothing but spineless politicians who will do literally anything to remain in the seat of power, buying the votes of one citizen with funds stolen from another. These husks of people will do and say what they are told, which is the central point of your essay: their willingness to obey. And to keep themselves from being reminded of their Faustian bargain, they will resent and lash out at anyone or anything that reminds them of this inexcusable accommodation with tyranny. That is why they cling to their errors. That is why they use personal attacks, empty concepts, and appeals to authority – to generate fear. And they do this because it works – on people like themselves.
L.L. and M.K.
This is in response to an article by Hornberger on Torture and West Point officers vice VMI officers.
I am a graduate of VMI, class or 1969, retired Infantry officer, and now military analyst working for the Joint Warfighting Center in Suffolk, Virginia. I read the article by Hornberger with disbelief that a graduate of VMI could both castigate the United States Military Academy and imply that the U.S. government has a policy and practice of torturing detainees or POWs. It is sad that someone who perhaps wore academic stars at VMI could stoop to the level of falsehood and rant that he achieved in his article. Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once stated that the bigger the lie and more often repeated the more people would believe it. Not one “fact” to prove any assertion was presented in the article. Not one shred of evidence was offered to support the thesis. The old Soviet propaganda ministry would be proud. If Hornberger hurries, he could replace the Iraqi Minister of Information in Baghdad before the final capitulation.
The real reason for the recent outburst of hatred directed to Mr. Hornberger is that he proved that the people who founded the U.S. did not support a standing military. The Founders viewed a standing military as a direct threat to freedom. Since Mr. Hornbergers critics could not refute his arguments, they tried to discredit him with personal attacks.
Many people believe that Americans are free because they are protected by military might. Even more ridiculous, they believe that the U.S. is a free country. They believe that freedom is tons of laws, regulations, and taxes. They believe that freedom is obedience and conformity. They believe that it is freedom to enact drug laws, gun laws, and and tons of other anti-freedom laws, and arrest millions of honest, decent people. They believe that it is good to drop thousands of bombs on people and their property. They believe that it is good to murder innocent people in order to avenge the deaths of innocent people. They believe all this nonsense because that is what they were taught in government mandated “education”. They are “good” citizens because they do not question authority.
When someone points out the obvious truth that freedom is the opposite of control, authority, and mandates, the marching morons get very upset. They prefer to shoot the messenger rather than face the facts.
Please print my name and email address just in case some defender of the U.S Police Warfare Welfare State wants to contact me. I would especially like to hear from the Lt. Col. who supports the drug war. He considers himself to be a defender of freedom but does not allow people to choose their own food, drink, and medicine. What a joke!
Richard G. Eramian (Rick) firstname.lastname@example.org
That’s right, a new word for the director. Hornburger is what I call the article that I read.
I unfortunately read too long of an article recently and let me say that I didn’t even find it factual. Give up the West Point vs VMI issue. There is no clear difference in the types and quality of officers from either one. Both bad and good come from both…..and your feeling that WP officers tend to be more “rule minded” is based on what? Your own thoughts. Don’t forget, 10 % of each WP class comes straight from the USMAPS program….prior service soldiers and some high schoolers who do not need a political appointment to get in to WP. By the way, I would have taken a swig of the bourbon, and moved on, and I would support the torture of suspected terrorists…even if I had a VMI superior, I would take care of the prisoners myself. Why should we be so focused on the “rules” of how to deal with terrorists…lets just bend the rules a little at the same time we bend the prisoners a little.
This commentary was posted to StrikeTheRoot.com
I can identify with this column by Jacob Hornberger. Like him, I received my commission through Army ROTC. I was shocked by the low quality of most West Point lieutenants. Many were immature and acted like they were free for the first time in four years, and often hung out at the Officers’ Club or a bar and got drunk. They seemed to know very little about basic military tactics such as patrolling. I did work with some fine West Point officers, and ROTC definitely has its share of duds, but I think ROTC officers are much more well-rounded, mature, technically and tactically proficient, and more like citizen-soldiers. I was also surprised to learn that many West Pointers planned to get out of the Army as soon as their service obligation (5 years) was up. When I’d ask why they went to West Point, they’d say, “for the great education.” Give me a break!
Bad article Jacob. You whine about and officer who did his job by reporting a senior who took a foolish risk having booze. Then you revel at throwing garbage while the irresponsible senior whines about facing up to rules he well knew. You condone damaging the career of the tactical officer while supporting the foolish senior. Shame on you. Spare us this trash on the pages of FFF! And who needs your ego trip on comparing VMI to WP? I say we’re all better off without either form of trained order-taker. How about promoting independent thinkers who use logic, and honor their freely taken commitments and agreements? What kind of ethics is this? You accept rules then assume the right to break them when convenient, and trash the poor enforcer. I call this ‘modern ethics’,, born in the ‘do your own thing’ days of the 60′s. The flip side is that anyone who complains is taunted as ‘judgemental, intolerant, etc.’. The tactical officer is a good example. Think about it.I’m getting to know you better Jacob (ties in with my prior concerns). This reveals your true colors and it looks bad. Bad for FFF and L. Smacks of a preacher who makes his own rules (Jesse Jackson comes to mind). The Prima Donna style of ‘I know better’ preaching. Yuk. Your recent sarcastic article fits right in. Jacob, you can reject me as a jerk, or take this to heart. FFF and you have done a lot of good work. It’s a shame to see you descend into this ‘Obedience’ trash. I suggest you apologize to FFF and it’s readers. — D.R.
I wasn’t surprised to read that you were valedictorian of your class at VMI, though I didn’t know it before reading your column. You’re absilutely right that there is a profound difference between the spiritual ( and sometimes direct) descendants of Old Blue Light’s boys and the products of the federal officer mills. VMI produced Stonewall Jackson. West Point produced Bedbug Billy Sherman. That says quite a bit in itself. Thanks for a good column. — E.R.
Excellent piece about VMI! I hope to write something that will dovetail nicely with your piece for Lew Rockwell. Will your article be archived on your site so that I may refer to it and other readers may access the piece? — R.W.
Your analysis of the moral deficiency of many service academy grads is right on the mark. And I speak from experience, being a 1969 grad from USNA. Though I am grateful for the doors that were opened for me by virtueof my time there, I detested the attitude and what I thought was immaturity of the place. I could bore you with many examples but suffice to say that I got through it by laying low for four years, preferring not to be associated with that kind of thinking (or lack of) and then getting on with trying to return to some normalcy after my graduation. In my eight years of commissioned service, I did not wear my class ring and did not tout my alma mater. Not many of my fellow officers or enlisted under my charge ever knew that I was USNA. Those who did find out often expressed their surprise, finding me to be too much of a regular guy to be an academy grad. I might say that, while my USNA credentials were undistinguished middle-of-the-pack (just as I wished them to be), I was the top Lieutenant of twenty-eight in my last duty squadron. I have vowed not to support the academy, the alumni association, or return to the Yard until things change there. Thank you for validating my convictions. I know that there is a natural animous toward service academy grads by non-service academy peers because there has been an obvious bias in their favor concerning fitness reports and promotions. The bias is real, so this is understandable. Often though, academy grads were just plain not very likeable in their own right. I sense that your perception goes beyond the personal dislikeand sees the real dangers that are fostered by the moral deficiencies fostered in the service academy environment. Glad to know that VMI does things differently. I hope USNA will change someday, but I suspect it will not.
I found the Hornberger article low class drivel. First of all, no one has a right to assume that the “obvious reaction” of officers in the Pentagon, to a scene of U.S. troops caring for an enemy P.O.W., would be negative. Since this war’s stated purpose is liberating Iraq, I would imagine the Pentagon’s reaction was that it was good public relations.
Secondly, this stupid comparison of West Point to VMI is infantile. Is Hornberger saying that all of the other service academies produce fascist bullies. That is a pretty serious charge considering the only evidence is the reference to some statements allegedly made by some GIs about who they would rather serve with. Get a life Hornberger, and while you’re at it try and find something meaningful to write about!
Such an intellectually thin and childish article is hardly worthy of someone who graduated from the same school as George C. Marshall. By the way, your article on the “Infamy of FDR” was ridiculous. Complaining that the embargo violated the property rights of American Citizens, in light of the awful brutality of the Japanese regime is a sure sign of a second or third class mind. What if we had waited for the Germans and Japs to get nuclear weapons? Do you really think we would have any freedom today? I suppose the Manhattan Project violated something too. In disgust— T.B.
I just read your article Obedience to Orders at the Future of Freedom web site (http://www.fff.org/comment/com0303u.asp) linked from LewRockwell.com.I promised myself I wouldn’t respond, but here I go breaking that one. We are in agreement on the fundamental point that mistreatment of prisoners has no place in the world, much less prisoners in our nation’s “care”. Human rights are God-given and do not diminish simply with change of venue.Which is simply another way of repeating that law and morality don’t always line up. Character determines which we honor when they’re in conflict. Then there’s the VMI vs USMA (and with it the other service academies) discussion. I will not argue against VMI officers being higher-caliber than West Pointers (or even annapolites or zoomies). I also agree that a state institution, with its political appointment process, will attract a different type of person (a generally more politically connected person) than VMI. I won’t even argue against the absence of VMI officers in the future potential misconduct cases, (whether because of the type of person or simply statistics). The only point of disagreement comes with the assertion that academies are more successful in inculcating unswerving obedience to orders as compared to VMI.Everything you describe about VMI classes’ development of resistance to administration, or their own identity or whatever is also exhibited at least the Air Force Academy (the only one about which I can speak from experience), and I believe the other two schools as well. The same conscience above orders, disobedience in the face of unlawful orders or even lawful but senseless orders and so on. The memories and web sites with exemplar stories are unofficial, and so also not “widely publicized”. I’ll spare you my own war stories.Part of the Academy experience I tried to capture in my yearbook note: “I learned a lot, but not what was taught”. I felt most of the things I learned were by seeing examples of what not to do. Or, I saw how a bureaucracy behaved up close, which was important for an Air Force career, even though it was not “right” in my eyes. That’s part of the reason I’m no longer in the Air Force. Perhaps ironically from some of those lessons learned in the Zoo’s attempt to train career officers. Perhaps my personal experience blinds me to the general application of your assessment that USAFA numbs the mind better than VMI. If it’s true, I think it falls back on who’s admitted, and not on the military institution’s inculcation strategies. I really think the stronger argument is in the admission practices of the institutions. As much as USAFA “changed” people, I think it’s more accurate to say it refines people. It can only refine what it attracts. What it produces is related to what it accepts. At risk of self-condemnation, I think it does attract some raw material that makes for a poor product indeed. We differ on reasons, but not too much conclusions. I would hope Iraqi women and PoWs would be out of any military care as soon as possible, regardless of commissioning source. The sooner the military has nothing to do with Iraq, the sooner the damage of having gone there in the first place can be put behind us. Thanks for your web site. I have it on my favorites list, but don’t visit as often as I should. I do appreciate the time it takes to articulate solid arguments in favor of liberty against the incessant and often mindless noise in favor of the growing state.Forgive the length and muddledness. Have a wonderful week!
Just a comment about Mr Hornberger’s comparison between VMI and Academy grads: I don’t know any VMI grads, but as a ’78 grad of the Air Force Academy, I can’t really dispute his characterization of the military academies. While I don’t think many cadets are admitted to any of the academies because of political connections, I do think that academy cadets value the importance of political connections more than most. Wish I’d heard of VMI 30 years ago.–
I enjoyed your article “Obedience to Orders” that I read on the FFF Web site and have had similar thoughts over the years. Having graduated from Texas A&M and spending almost 10 years in the Air Force serving with numerous Air Force Academy graduates, I have had opportunity to make those observations. It just seems that graduates from the military academies on active duty are seeking opportunities for themselves, whereas graduates from A&M, VMI, VPI and the Citadel are there to serve their countries.BTW, I was in the class of 1972 from A&M and my freshman roommate was D.D. from Laredo. Keep up the good work and good luck with FFF.–
Below is my response to a friend who sent me your article and asked if I had noted the VMI-U.S. Military Academy contrast in my time in the Army (1966-1968). I would be very interested in any observations you might have about what I have to say about Pat Conroy and The Citadel. (It’s not exactly a military matter, but in the winter of 67-68 I coached the 8th Army Support Command basketball team to a split in our 2-game series against the Republic of Korea national team coached by former VMI center, Lt. J.G.) What a great article! Thanks for sending it to me. I really knew or heard nothing of either VMI or The Citadel products in my time in the Army. I do know that West Pointers were generally regarded as the worst sort of arrogant careerists, known as “ring-knockers” because of their habit of calling your attention to their West Point ring by “absent-mindedly” rattling it against a desk top when conversing with you. The only one I ever consciously encountered was the lieutenant who presided, most sadistically, but I must say, somewhat humorously, over our bayonet training at ROTC summer camp at Fort Bragg. The main contrast in the officer corps that we noted was between the 2-year ROTC types like me and the careerists, whom everyone contemptuously called “lifers.” Like the enlisted draftees, we were mainly just a cross-section of civilian America, generally impervious to the military brainwashing. We were much more likely to disobey what we considered a bad order because we didn’t see it affecting our futures. The strong sense of honor that Hornberger describes being inculcated at VMI reminds me quite a great deal of Davidson as it was when I went there, but is certainly no longer. The VMI picture he paints is in stark contrast, however, with the picture that Pat Conroy paints of The Citadel in “Lords of Discipline” (book or movie). The Post, by the way, had a most admiring profile of Gonzaga High School, up the street from me here, excerpted from Conroy’s latest book, “Our Losing Season,” so Conroy is not just a muckraker unwilling to give credit where it is due.–D.M.
In response to your article “Obedience to Orders”, may I offer some advice for your future articles. I’m fully aware of your right of free speech, and by all means, continue to do so. I’ve laid my life on the line for the last 19 years as an active Infantryman so that misguided folks like you can speak freely. However, leave the “obedience to orders” to the Soldiers and leaders, that haven’t quit with only 8 years of service, no matter what their commissioning source, or reason to lay their life on the line. Your experience in Army leadership only includes 8 years of reserve service culminating in resigning in what, 1980. Thank you very much for quitting and not having a misguided impact on my Soldiers. I have never met an Infantry officer, active or retired, that brags about his college achievements and lack of military experience so well as you. Stick to what you actually know Sir. It sure isn’t the Army. — A Sergeant
After reading your article, I cannot help but be shocked by your lack of supporting evidence and what seems like a childish argument even to my 22 year old mind. I am very interested in how you determined that the warmongering Generals in the pentagon had this conversation about treatment of prisoners. After looking at your bio, it seems that you never spent any time with senior officials, at the pentagon, or working with anything above a tactical level. And yet you base your entire article on the fictitious torturing of Iraqi soldiers. Don’t you think that if even one instance of abuse had taken place, the press imbedded and roaming in Iraq would have reported it in an instant? The press always has a way of getting out stories they want to, no matter what censors or restrictions are placed on them. Secondly, soldiers would not allow this to happen. You obviously have been away from real troops too long. Soldiers today are a diverse reflection of society. They are good people who want to do the right thing, unlike when you were serving with countless criminals and drug addicts forced into the Army because of the draft. Personally, my Step Brother is serving as an MP with the 3rd ID and is working at a sight with large numbers of enemy prisoners of war. He would never allow improper treatment of these prisoners and neither would any of his fellow soldiers.
You then spend a great deal of time talking about how great VMI officers are and how other Academy officers are poor officers. Yet, you base this off of your opinion and one NCO’s in your article. You say that there has never been a cheating scandal at VMI. Could that be because it has never been reported? Could you have spoken out against a brother rat? Here at West Point, we have the fortitude to speak out when someone has done something wrong so that it can be corrected. That is exactly what happened in these “scandals.” A grievous wrong was corrected; similar to the CDT who had the alcohol in his room from your article. The TAC did the right thing and your “Corps” rebelled. I do not know what kind of units you served with, but this makes an ineffective unit not ineffective leader! According to your argument, soldiers could rise up against orders to treat prisoners humanly and torture them because that is what they feel is right? How can you justify units rebelling? You also suggest that all cadets at West Point are affluent and politically connected. I am hard pressed to find one person that fits your ignorant criteria. Your attacks on the Nation’s Academies seem immature and lack any facts.
Lastly, you say that the president should “put both Iraqi prisoners of war and Iraqi women into the care and custody of VMI officers rather than West Point or Air Force Academy officers.” Well, what about the treatment of your own cadets? It is widely known that hazing is not only acceptable, but also encouraged at VMI. My friend who went to VMI for a year left after her first year because of the treatment she received at VMI. The things that she described to me would never be allowed at West Point or in any American Prisoner of War Camp, and could easily be defined as torture. I am sure you can provide numerous instances of hazing that would support my point. Officers from VMI would then be more likely to allow poor treatment of EPW’s.
It disturbs me that you would publicly speak out against the troops that protect your write to publish such articles. These same troops are fighting to extend the same universal rights to the 24 million Iraqis who have been savagely oppressed for the more than 20 years that Sadam has been in power. What kind of person does not want more people to have the same freedoms that they exercise on a regular basis? Please enjoy the blanket of freedom provided by my brethren in arms. — USMA ’03
I’m writing in reference to your article “Obedience to Orders” by Jacob G. Hornberger, March 24, 2003
I cannot believe you publish such low level, biased, and un-researched articles. It is apparent that the author of this article has no idea what the modern day environment is like at West Point. The West Point curriculum of physical fitness, academia, and military education in Leadership and tactics makes it the best commissioning source in the world.
Cadets attending West Point are not only smarter than VMI cadets (proven by the rigorous admission standards of choosing only those that are well rounded, achieve higher SAT scores, and process interpersonal skills evaluated through interviews), but are also more physically fit, and tactically sound.
Only a small percentage of cadets at VMI actually enter the military, while all West Pointers and service academy graduates do enter the service.
The people that actually read this article (which is devoid of a single logical argument) might think it was written by someone that graduated from middle school. Obviously his VMI did little to emphasize the finer points of persuasive writing. Even a West Point graduate is required to take literature and composition, advanced composition, and philosophy – which includes logic!
Perhaps if the author had taken some of these classes from a finer institute he could produce more mature work.
Please kindly pass this on to the author of said article and ask him: “The next time you turn on the History Channel, or even CNN for that matter, who do you see? Is it a VMI officer, or a West Pointer?” As far a leadership is concerned, all you have to do is read a history book to see the products of West Point. I think we hold our own quite nicely. — John
I am writing in response to your recent commentary “Obedience to Orders” published on 24 March, 2003 on The Future of Freedom Foundation web page. I found several parts of your argument to be seriously flawed and ill formed. The leap you make from the self-serving hypothetical “Pentagon reaction to GI humanity” to your distinction between West Pointers and VMI graduates is vague. I fail to see the connection. If you are trying to establish a relationship between bureaucratic atrocities and blind submission to authority, your factual support needs work. Your statements are contrived from a biased opinion meant not only to justify your own ego but also to demean those graduates from a well-established institution who would serve as your brothers in arms, thereby heightening the esteem of your alumni. You defeat your own argument in the open ignorance you would use to create it. Your central claim “West Pointers were, by and large, a lower-caliber type of officer than the VMI men” leaves me questioning your expertise on the subject in light of the required knowledge that such a generalization would demand of its author.
You mentioned, “What distinguishes the VMI officer from the graduates of the academies is that VMI grads will inevitably place their conscience above orders, even if that means disobeying an unlawful or immoral order and even if it means the sacrifice of their military careers.” Are you so well aware of our curriculum in military philosophy and science that you are prepared to judge the application of that knowledge? I can personally account for several courses I’ve taken as a West Pointer that instruct us on the Rules of Land Warfare and the nature of Officership. West Pointers are well guided to disobey any order provided that it is an unlawful one.
You also made a class reference in your distinction between West Pointers and VMI graduates. You stated “In order to get into the professional military academies, one needs the recommendation of a member of Congress. Thus, that type of selection process is inevitably going to have a skew that favors those individuals who come from families that curry favor with politicians.” The first sentence is indisputable. Yes, you need a congressional recommendation to be admitted to West Point. There are some exceptions, but that is not the point. The second sentence is the one that raises questions. Personally, I come from a small town in East Texas where my father is a trash man and my mother works as a dispatcher for the local police department. We have no political friends or family members and I received no outside help in gaining admittance to West Point. My mother and father’s work ethic that they instilled in me was what got me in. My only chance to go to college was to receive a full scholarship. I am not alone. I can name many others here at the Academy who I can undoubtedly say got in on merit alone. I am not so naïve to believe that all my fellow classmates got in based on what they achieved in high school or the regular army, but you are obviously so ignorant to believe that you need political connections to get in.
I couldn’t help but notice that you took the liberty of mentioning the instances of sexual misconduct that have occurred at the academies. Yes, the academies have had some horrible problems regarding male/female interaction. Is it to be considered a normal occurrence? Certainly not. Problems arise everywhere, and West Point and the Air Force Academy are no exception. But I’m willing to bet that other institutions do not go to the lengths that the academies go to in order to safeguard against such occurrences. We must also not fail to mention that ours is a unique and difficult subculture of society. Does this excuse the horrible nature of the instances, not at all. Rape and sexual misconduct are not to be tolerated in any context whatsoever. You said, “There hasn’t been a serial raping scandal and cover-up at VMI.” A gross overlook on your part, no doubt a symptom of your blind and undying support for your alumni. Only a few years ago Jerry B. Webb II, the highest-ranking cadet at VMI, was dismissed for trying to coerce several female cadets into having sex with him. But of course, as you said, these things do not happen at VMI. To be perfectly honest, your argument made me laugh if nothing else. If I had not been to VMI to play rugby against some of the cadets there, I might take your argument as a bad reflection on what VMI produces. You do them an injustice in speaking at all. I recommend that you retire as an author and take up something more suitable to your manipulating, deceitful, and ignorant nature or perhaps you could find solace in some sort of pastime, like golf. I earnestly hope that you were writing this somewhat tongue-in-cheek in order to stir up some sort of spirited rivalry between VMI and other academies. If not, I really pity you. — USMA ’03
I would like to comment on Mr. Hornberger’s March 24, 2003 “commentary” on VMI vs West Point, officers. I think what upset me the most about this article is how little Mr. Hornberger knows about being a cadet at West Point. His assumption that “that type of selection process is inevitably going to have a skew that favors those individuals who come from families that curry favor with politicians.” is completely unfounded and in fact, quite humorous. That may have been the way it was when he was going to college btu that sure is not the way it is now. If that were so, the number of minorities would not be as high as it is and most of the cadets would not even be here. I myself do not come from a family that “curry favor with politicans” as I am a Hispanic female from the eatside of Houston with no political ties to anyone that could have gotten me into West Point. My fatehr is a police Lt and my mother is a teacher, hardly the makings of a high society, affluent political family in my opinion. I worked hard in high school to get good grades, was an athelete and worked in the community–that’s what got me into West Point. I took the medical test, the physical aptititude test, and wrote the essays for this school and prayed it was enough to get me in. The funny thing is, nowadays, the politicians have panels that decide who they give their nomination too. I had to apply to get the nomination, send in essays, grades, activities, almost like applying to college jst for the chance that I would get a nomination from a politician who probably could care less about who got the nomination in the first place. The reason we get nominations is so there is an equal representation of the nation in each class.
As for his comments about West Point cadets not knowing the LOAC and not following them, that is also absurd. Not only do we take classes on the LOAC but we re not taught to simply be robots who do what we are told. We also hve minds of our own and know the difference between wrong and right.
As for his classmates disrespecting an officer for kicking out the cadet who had alcohol in the barracks, anyone who attends a military school for four years know the rules by then. For a senior to have alcohol in the barracks is not only stupid but against the rules and should be punsihed severely. To disrepect that officer must have felt so empowering to the 20 somethings who wanted to act like babies and protest the cadet getting kicked out. Quite on the contrary, they all should have been reprimanded. The fact that he thinks it should have been overlooked worries me because it seems VMI failed at its purpose- to build officers. I certainly wouldn’t want an officer over me to disrespect his superior in front of me. those VMI cadets should have been proud thatthe officer with held the standard and did the right thing. That cadet was not ready to be an officer and I am thankful he did not get the opportunity to go to Vietnam and possily cost others their lives simply because he wanted to break the rules and have a drink.
In conclusion, I think Mr. Hornberger needs to research his “facts’ and opinions before making a fool of himself by reporting things that aren’t true inhis “commentary.” But I guess he can get away with it since he is the president of this organization. I am ashamed he is from Texas. — Anonymous
I just had the displeasure of reading your article comparing the traits of VMI Officers and West Point Officers. As a 1st classman graduating from West Point in 62 and a butt days, I am rather appalled by your contentions. It just so happens that my two best friends in the world are 1st classmen at VMI right now. We went to high school together and I’ve visited VMI many times. I was also offered a 4 year Marine Corps scholarship to VMI prior to attending the Academy. You’d be amazed how easily one gains access to barracks if your uniform is virtually identical to that of VMI. The same applies to West Point, as my friends have visited me at the Academy. Have you ever visited West Point Sir?
I’ve visited VMI perhaps nine times and had numerous encounters with VMI graduates, officers, and cadets. I will submit, that I think they are some of the finest people I’ve ever know…by and large. Of course, I can only assume that you’ve had a run in with an Academy graduate who was less than top notch, as there are bums in every group. However, there’s really no way for me to tell, seeing how your article is full of speculation and vague accusations which you have backed up by highly suspect evidence. Please allow me to fill in the holes for you.
In reference to the “type” of individuals that come to West Point, there are many; however, I believe that the majority of them have no other desire than to serve their country. That’ s my reason, and the reason of many other cadets here, many of whom come from lower middle class families and have no political connections or affiliation. Some VMI graduates, about 30 percent if my memory serves me rightly, also decide to serve their county in uniform–their service is greatly appreciated.
Nonetheless, the service of West Pointers also deserves its rightful place in history. Our graduates constitute more medal of honor winners than from any other institution of higher education in the nation. Additionally, West Pointers have served in the Oval Office, built the Panama Canal, walked in space, and commanded/fought in the Armies that liberated Europe Japan, and Kuwait. West Pointers also commanded both sides (North and South) in 40 of the 44 major battles of the Civil War. The inscription over Jackson Arch, “Never take council of your fears,” was written by none other than General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson–West Point class of 1846.
As to your references to sexual misconduct, I cannot speak for the Air Force Academy, as I know as little about them as you know about West Point; however, I can tell you that you are incorrect on your VMI history. VMI’s Honor Court President was dismissed just 4 years ago for threatening female rats that he would bring them up on Honor Charges if they did not give him sexual favors. I don’t judge all VMI graduates by this incident, and I hope you dont judge all Academy graduates by the recent situations at USAFA. You can find this and many other interesting stories of harassment in Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women by Laura Fairchild Brodie. I’ve read this book; have you ever read any books about West Point? If not, I recommend The Long Grey Line by Rick Atkinson and To the Point by George Pappas.
I agree that West Point is not perfect. I’d like to see plebe year be a little bit harder and I’d like the food in the mess hall to be a little bit tastier. My friends at the Institute tell me the same thing about VMI. I also respect the severity with which honor violations are handled at VMI. Nonetheless, I think that if you’d take the time to research past your biases and interact with some West Pointers you might just be surprised.
I am not yet an officer, but I can assure you that cadets at the Academy are everything but blindly obedient. We think that many of the rules we are under are dumb as dirt and just last Christmas we had a little “step off” of our own. In the face of orders commanding us not to, thousands of cadets smoked cigars after the Christmas dinner while the administration went mad. Just like we were expected to do, we obeyed tradition rather than poorly thought out orders. Also like we expected, we lost our privileges for a number of weeks (the entire first class)! I could give you other stories, but I have intramurals in a few minutes. As to the example of the TAC at VMI, I honestly think that he was doing his duty. I’ve broken a number of rules in my years at West Point, but I expect and have paid the consequences when caught. A functioning military can work no other way.
As to your comments about our President, I’d like to avoid that debate. As a soldier I support my president, our troops, and their officers. I know that my friends at VMI feel the same way. One of them will receive his commission in June, and like me, he’s ready to fight wherever his country sends him. That’s what we do. I look forward to your reply. — USMA ’03
I just read the diatribe dated 24 March reference West Point versus VMI officers. I could spend a great deal of time pointing out the article’s inadequacies (especially that disgusting straw man you set up in the first three paragraphs), but I will stick to one point in particular: your complete lack of knowledge regarding what being an officer is all about. I will never disparage VMI; in fact, I once thought of going there myself, but I “self-selected” to not pay the well over $10,000 a year tuition and instead try to gain admission to West Point. Your qualifications to judge what an officer should be is lacking. You never spent anytime on active duty (according to your bio), which is particularly conspicuous due to your graduation date of 1972. I have served with officers from all manners of commissioning sources, and I will tell you that all are outstanding programs that produce great officers and some duds. You spent time in the Reserves which, while a great institution and important to national defense, is NOT the active Army. You thinly disguised hatred of the military is confusing considering the way you bandy about your college as a badge of honor. By the way, your example of VMI’s superior environment and how it treated misconduct is rather odd. You argue that the cadet’s misconduct should have been overlooked, that he was almost done. How would Marshall react to your story of not upholding the standard? Though he certainly shared your view of cutting down on bureaucracy and nonsense, I sincerely doubt that he would overlook a gross violation by that cadet who should have known better. Or, as Patton said, “If you can’t get them to salute when they should…& wear the clothes you tell them to wear, how are you going to get them to die for their country?” Though Patton was referring to his troops, the same applies to officers. If they cannot follow orders, how can they give orders? — CPT Infantry
I was really impressed with the asinine nature of your diatribe on West Point officers and the current conflict in Iraq in “Obedience to Orders.”
Besides the baseless grounds that we are torturing POW’s in Iraqi, I’m surprised by the wide sweeping nature of your comments on graduates from Academies. Correct me if I’m wrong (after all I am a soon to be a West Point graduate), but has VMI ever had a graduate become President, circle the moon, or build a major engineering project such as the Panama Canal? Last time I checked the hallowed roll of VMI–it was an affirmative and resounding no. If VMI is so superior to Academy graduates, why hasn’t the country acknowledged their superior integrity and voted them into the highest level of public office? Maybe it’s because your esteemed institution, in reality, isn’t so esteemed as you would have it.
I’m surprised at how outraged I am at your ungrounded, clearly erroneous generalizations of all Academy graduates. I have never emailed someone for an unarticulate, obscene expression of free speech.
I’m sure you have done tons of survey work to back up your wide sweeping comments. After all, as the valedictorian of your VMI class, you know that arguments should be based on objective fact.
I found another aspect of your article amazing. You ramble and rant about how much better character is developed at VMI. You then that the Corps “silenced” a Tactical Officer for enforcing the rules of no alcohol in the barracks. Where is the integrity in that? I don’t see how letting the good order and discipline of a unit decay by allowing seniors to break the rules and drink in the barracks shows the integrity of VMI’s graduates. Isn’t merely “peer obedience” another form of following orders?
I look forward to reading your reply. I’m sure it will be less filled with rhetoric and, hopefully, more so with facts.
I will address your Iraqi comments in future emails.
Thank you for your time. — USMA ’03
Valedictorian or not — your facts and conceptual understanding of current world events and politics are skewed and distorted. You have only succeeded in demonstrating your tremendous ignorance through this article. Think you need to come down off that holy soap box you stand on and back down to reality with the rest of us. Your article is an embarrassment to yourself as well as to the Institute. Think it best in the future, when you attempt to impose your ignorant views on others that you leave all reference to VMI out. — VMI ’91
I couldn’t agree with you more Sir. VMI really does produce better Army Reserve Officers than West Point does. However, West Point produces far better regular active duty officers than your farce of an academy does. I see that you got your law degree from the University of Texas. It baffles me how a man that could earn such a degree can write such an ignorant and self serving article. I hope you at least cleared your conscience and got that weighty chip off of your shoulder.
Surviving VMI is really tough from what I hear. However, I argue that living with the post-VMI inferiority complex creates emotional dissonance that makes the 4 years at VMI pale in comparison. On a positive note, your “article” will be forwarded around the Corps here at USMA and will provide 4,000 cadets with some comedic relief in this time of heavy hearts and crisis. Good day Sir. — USMA ’03
I have to say that the article that I found, Obedience to Orders, has a lot to do with the difference of “following orders” and “doing what’s right” – I believe that the Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson movie, A Few Good Men, portrays this in the two Marines who are dismissed from the Marine Corps for “following orders”.
I just wanted to say that I THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading the article, and it puts on display what so many of us here experience during our cadetships but do not even realize that it happens. I also desire to submit this article for publication in the cadet newspaper (The Cadet), and I would like to know what I need to do in order to receive the permission of you and/or The Future of Freedom Foundation. Thank you for your time. — VMI ’04
I met some great VMI graduates, when I was in the army.
Apparently, Mr. Hornberger believes that he knows something about West Point. I disagree. He undoubtedly knows more about VMI than I do, but his assessment of USMA is completely wrong. He should have kept it to himself or spent the energy to find out the truth before publishing his article, which taints all VMI grads and all Libertarians in an unfavorable light.
First, how many West Point graduates did he meet in the Army Reserves? I was in the NY Army National Guard for 6 years after my active service, and I only met one other West Point graduate serving in the national guard.
Of course, things may have been different if Mr. Hornberger was in the reserves or national guard during Vietnam. This was before my time, but I understand the quality of all of the officers in the reserve and national guard units was appalling. Weren’t these units often considered non-deployable and used as safe havens by those who wished to avoid an assignment to Vietnam? I have heard of NCO’s not wanting to serve under West Pointers, but it was usually those who bridled under any supervision. Most NCO’s that I know acknowledge that USMA graduates are competent and courageous officers, who learn quickly and keep their head in tough spots.
Second, Mr. Hornberger’s assertion that West Pointers are taught “…blind obedience to its rules, regulations, and orders…” couldn’t be further from the truth. Rules are not absolutes, but are meant to be broken. Instead, it is “Duty, Honor, Country” that is instilled at West Point as our rallying point, that “…reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be….” Obedience of lawful orders is important to good order and discipline, but the laws of war require that illegal orders not be followed, even at sacrifice of career and fortune.
Third, who ever heard of expulsion for having a bottle of liquor found in your room? Mr. Hornberger writes that at VMI “…one of the administration’s tactical officers found some liquor in the room of a first-classman (senior), and he placed him on report, which meant immediate expulsion despite the fact that the cadet was close to graduation after spending four years at VMI.” At West Point the cadet would be walking area tours during graduation week until the leather on his shoes wore thin, but expulsion? Why?
However, if that is the rule VMI lives by, then I say … “Look to him who overlooks offenses in one which he causes to be punished in another and compare him to the inflexible soldier who does his duty faithfully not withstanding it occassionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be emulated and venerated; the conduct of the other detested as a satire upon soldiership and honor.” Worth’s Battalion Orders (or my 20+ year rendering of them).
It was the firstie, knowing the punishment that would be meted out if he was caught, who brought the penalty on himself by having the bottle of liquor in his room. Natural consequences of his action, I say. He should have given his only defense of “no excuse” and accepted the punishment. Must be a different culture at VMI that overlooks offenses in firsties nearing graduation that it would cause to be punished in underclassmen. Tell me again why the student body threw a tantrum rather than appealing the decision for dismissal (as the only fitting punishment?) in some rational, mature manner.
Fourth, I doubt that any international laws are being violated by the detention and interrogation of the Al Qaeda terrorists. Articles that I have read indicate that they are being treated as humanely as possible. This is supported by interviews given by those detainees who have been recently released. So, really, the entire premise of the article is suspect. I remember reading that they even had Muslim chaplins visiting the detainees. — USMA ’82
Mr. Hornberger’s envy of West Point graduates shines through loud and clear. He provides anecdotal evidence to support his claim that VMI is superior to West Point. He has to reach back to the civil war for his examples. What research has he done on officer education at the academies? None. His views of superiority are not surprising. I see it all the time in southwest Virginia where I have lived for the past 13 years.
Mr. Hornberger is clearly caught in a time warp. Everything he knows about the academy and VMI are from another era. He claims that the academies teach blind obedience. That is definitely untrue. In my 4 years at West Point (1976-1980), I was taught to disobey any order that was illegal or immoral. They made it clear to us that every order we issue must be our own. Never should we blindly follow the orders of superiors.
He also claims that West Pointers are only interested in their careers, not serving their country. How many West Pointers does he know? I transferred to the reserves after 9 years of active duty. Now, in my 23rd year of service I am preparing to go to war. He quit the service of his country after 8 years. I will never be a General. But I will serve my country until I am no longer able. West Point instilled in me a sense of lifetime service.
Mr. Hornberger”s real bias shows through in his characterization of the Generals in the Pentagon. He claims that the must be cursing the soldiers for their generosity to the Iraqi civilians. On the contrary. I have just left the Joint Staff where I have served under great leaders who know true compassion for their fellow man. While some of them are academy graduates, it is not like the military of Mr. Hornberger’s mind. Today’s general officers ranks are not dominated by service academy graduates.
Finally, I would like to address Mr. Hornberger’s assertion that West Point attracts students from families with political connections. I know this to be untrue because I have been the West Point admissions officer for southwest Virginia for the past 11 years. This includes much of the area around VMI. I also provide support to the ROTC Cadet Recruiting Command. In those 11 years, I have never had a single candidate selected because they had connections to their Congressman. In fact, most members of Congress use a selection board to make their nomination decisions to ensure impartiality. Many of the students who apply to West Point also apply to VMI or other ROTC programs, an act that I strongly encourage. So Mr. Hornberger’s assertion that the schools attract a different kind of student is totally untrue. They often attract the exact same students.
The bottom line is that today’s military is a mix of officers from all commissioning sources. There are great leaders from each, and each has their share of poor leaders. I have seen VMI graduates who I would follow anywhere. I have also seen VMI graduates that could not effectively lead a boy scout troop. The poor leaders are usually weeded out by their 8th year of service, which is when Mr. Hornberger left the service. A coincidence? — USMA ’80
Just struggled my way through the morass that was Mr Hornberger’s piece on POW mistreatment and the disparity in quality between service academy graduates and those of VMI. After taking it all in, my only reaction is that, considering he was the class valedictorian, I would STRONGLY recommend Mr. Hornberger and his classmates immediately petition VMI for a full and complete refund of their tuition. You’d need submit a single piece of evidence, that being Mr. Hornberger’s musings. After exposure to that, I doubt you’d find a jury in America who didn’t agree the entire class was robbed blind during their stay at VMI. Amazing…so all the world’s problems can be solved by VMI graduates. Tell me, do you all get capes when you graduate too? — USMA ’92
No doubt, Mr. Hornberger, that you are proud of VMI. It is a good school. However, George S. Patton and several other VMI students saw that it was not West Point. Considering the number of general officers, and of five-star general officers from the two, I would have to disagree with your belief, however struthious it might be.
There’s a reason people call VMI the “West Point of Virginia.” In the 20 years I spent on active duty, not as a Reservist part time soldier, and as the Battalion S3 Operations Officer for the Engineer School Brigade, I saw and briefed every Engineer officer, both in the Basic and Advanced Courses. It was extremely easy for me and my fellow staff officers to peg students as being West Pointers, ROTC grads, or OCS officers. But VMI never stood out from the other ROTC grads. — Doug
In my opinion your articles on VMI vs the 3 big fed officer mills is correct. The only service academy that compares favorably with VMI is the Coast Guard Academy whose students are self selected. I’ve never heard of a cheating scandal at New London, or VMI, or the Citidel. I don’t think the political angle is the only factor, but I do think it is the major factor that explains the type of person coming out of the 6 institutions.
I’ve no exposure to VMI grads, but have known grads from Annapolis, West Point, and Colorado Springs. My experience has been they compare poorly with ROTC grads, and I think you have expressed the major reason. — Richard
In response to Mr. Hornberger’s second article on VMI and the service academies, I simply want to clear up one fact. Within the article, he does not cease to criticize the fact that members of Congress have a stake in the appointment process to the service academies. If he would do his research a bit better, he may find the reason right in front of his nose – a matter of common sense, really. It is a simple matter of demographics. What is one way to ensure that a bit of every region in the nation is represented?? How can it be counted upon that the service academies and their cadets are representative of a cross section of the nation’s population?? The answer is to let Congressmen and women select candidates from their respective districts. What better way is there to equally distribute appointments across the nation?? That’s why if you name me a state or a region I can tell you a good friend that I have from that area from USMA. It is also why I have had roommates from Connecticut, Georgia, California, Texas, and New York, with more states to follow.
No, it does not mean only wealthy families with connections will get their youth appointed. I am from a middle of the road public school, with a middle income family who does not know anyone from congress or know anyone who knows anyone that could pull favors.
Just wanted to make these facts known to set the record straight. I am finding the biggest problem with articles on your site is that they are, flat out, poorly researched. Because of this, people have a tendency not to take such articles seriously. — USMA ’04
I respect your opinion on the issue of the dichotomy between the United States Military Academy and VMI, but I had one problem with your argument. You say your self that West Pointers, including myself, are quick to find fault in the VMI senior that broke the rules and drank in school and that is true. We have a no toleration clause in our honor code that makes sure we police our own ranks. You also say that the VMI students condemned the officer for not letting it slide. By this logic, perhaps the reason that there have been no “reported” cases of large scale cheating or sex scandals at VMI is due to the fact that VMI students are willing to let such things slide. If they are willing to tolerate breaking one rule what is to say they will not tolerate breaking others even those outlined in the Geneva Convention. Thank you for considering my point — CDT PFC
First of all I would like to congratulate you for having the intestinal fortitude to go back and publicly rescind some of your statements. That alone is more than so many of the protestors today will ever do, namely the horrible professor at Columbia who wished “a million Mogadishus” on the armed forces. For this fact, and for the fact that you have served in the armed forces, you have my respect. However, I beg to differ on your observations about West Point and VMI. I’m currently wearing the gray for the first year at the academy, and while I can’t say I love this place all the time, there is no other school I’d rather be attending. I’m eighteen, and I realize that I don’t have the world experience that you or many of your readers have to form opinions, but from my limited observations, it is clear to me that your statements aren’t quite accurate.
First of all, the scandals at the academies: there is a clear reason why VMI does not have nearly as many. The first female class at West Point was 1980, the first female class at VMI was 2000 (or 2001, I’m not sure on this). Nonetheless, simple statistics show that VMI introduced women at a much later date when attitudes have changed greatly since those of 1976. I am in no way attempting to excuse the perpetrators of these attacks, but I’m stating the clear and simple facts.
Secondly, the graduates. I’m going to make an educated guess and say that you’re from the South. You highlight Lee and Jackson as heroes, and name Sheridan and Grant as villains. As a lifelong resident of New York, I can say that Grant is the hero of the underdog here, and Jackson and even occasionally Lee are named as traitors in American history classes. This dichotomy can be applied to most controversial graduates of the academy. Is their adherence to honor and protection of their own such a bad thing? Conversely, is the alleged VMI grad’s willingness to bend the rules such a good thing? Each case must be treated separately, it is poor logic and indeed poor form to generalize officers according to their education.
Thirdly, the atmosphere of the schools: West Point certainly is not a miasma bent on instilling young minds with an unwavering loyalty to authority. Even as a JROTC cadet I was taught that only a lawful order should be obeyed, and even then, it’s implications should be weighed carefully before the order is executed. I am a firm believer in loyalty to a cause greater than oneself, but also a firm believer in intellectualism. Mine may be ‘but to do or die’, but its also ‘to reason why’ while I’m at it. This atmosphere naturally reverberates through the Corps of Cadets, our leaders must think long and hard before issuing an order or statement, they know that if their logic is even slightly flawed, they will receive more than enough feedback. Cadets are still humans, we joke around, we break rules, we glorify the rebel and hold the ‘tool’ in infamy. I think that leadership and character are 98% formed by the time a cadet gets to Beast, the last 2% are developed by the academy. This institution, with all of its menacing gray walls, frightening authority and imposing history, can still not break the bonds between cadets, between individuals, between the leader and those being lead, between a man and his morals.
And lastly, I disagree with the entire premise of your argument. I’ve got an American flag sitting on my desk right now, I’ll bet a shiny buffalo nickel that you’ve got one sitting somewhere in your office too. And I’ll bet that USMA grad and the VMI grad both fighting over in the desert right now get the same feeling of pride when they see it raised every morning. What I’m trying to say is, we’re all Americans here, we were Americans before we got to our respective schools, and we’re all Americans in the same officer corps. A school can’t change the moral fiber of a person, it can’t dictate how he’ll act when the time comes to decide to disobey an unjust order. You can’t generalize and say that grads from your school are much more likely to do the right thing, just as much as I can’t generalize and say that grads from my school have a better sense of honor and duty. It’s the principle of the thing, I won’t attack you for saying that West Point grads strive only to become generals, or for some of the other falsehoods that were printed, I prefer to discuss the broad ideas. With that said, I hope I’ve impacted your opinion of the Long Gray Line in some way, or maybe just pointed out some truisms that span academies and institutes. Thank you very much for your time. — CDT J.R.
One of your responders held up Thomas Jackson as the model of the VMI product. History records that he was in fact a product of the US Military Academy, graduating, through hard work that overcame the deficiencies of his academic preparation, well above the middle of his class. I cite the following, readily available on the internet, to illustrate the minimal research required to get basic facts straight.
“1842 June-1846 June (Full text letters from this period) Jackson attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. Jackson was not the first choice for his congressional district’s appointment, but the top applicant withdrew from the academy after only one day. Jackson graduated in June 1846, standing 17th out of 59 graduates.”
Now, for the real reason that I wrote. I found your article to be full of mis-information and half-truths, not to mention based entirely on dubious opinion and ignorance of the curriculum – moral, academic, and professional – of the Military Academy, the procedures for nomination and appointment, and the history of the vast majority of its graduates.
Firstly, West Point cadets “self-select” as fully as do those to VMI or any other school. The Congressional appointment process is real, but no sane Representative or Senator would even think of over-riding the recommendation of the admissions office at the Academy to send someone who was not physically, mentally, morally, and academically qualified. If so, the fault lies with the Congressman and not with the Academy. That is why Congressmen nominate and the Academy determines which of the nominees are qualified for actual appointment. Most applicants contact the Academy long before they even think of how to get the requisite Congressional nomination. Secondly, we are not all elites. My mother worked in a cotton mill in Georgia, sewing the ends of threads together so that they could be transferred from little bobbins to big spools prior to the weaving process. My father, a veteran of Navy enlisted service in WWII and the Korean War, was a machinist in that same cotton mill. I decided I wanted to go to West Point, applied, was classified as a qualified alternate, and was one of the several potential entrants sent to my Congressman’s office for his decision. His other nominee that year, was from similar circumstances in a town 30 miles away. The Congressman, Rep. Jack Flynt, didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, but he did know that I was an Eagle Scout, a STAR student, a three-year varsity letterman, and a cadet captain in our high-school ROTC program. The vast majority of my classmates from all around the country had similar profiles. That is a matter of record that you can check out.
As for the matter of the alcohol in the barracks, you should probably ask yourself what would your beloved Stonewall Jackson have done had he been the officer who found the drinking senior. While I cannot say with certainty, there is enough evidence in the historical records of Jackson to suggest that he hated drink and drinkers, regarded drunkeness of any kind as weakness of character, and probably would have done exactly what the tactical officer you raked over the coals did. Certainly, Jackson was known as a hard task-master and disciplinarian. But then, he was a West Pointer, wasn’t he?
Major General John M. Schofield, a West Pointer from the 19th Century, once wrote a definition of discipline that contradicts what you purport to be the norm for West Pointers. Dismayed at the rigid attitudes and harsh practices of his day, he wrote, “The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instructions and to give commands in such a manner and in such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but and intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself; while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward other, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.” That definition, now part of the “Memory Work” required of Officer Candidates in OCS and for Plebes at West Point, embodies the philosophical basis of the kind of discipline that West Point Cadets learn. It is echoed in the Army’s core values. Cadets learn to exercise self discipline, to expect it from others, to set the example. They do not learn the moral relativism that leads to accepting and tolerating willful disobedience to known rules because the miscreant was “under pressure”. Pressure mitigates punishment; it does not excuse misconduct.
Now how about George Marshall? There is a VMI graduate that we can all admire, and do. How many incompetent or morally weak people did he sack summarily in his career? How did he come to select, personally, Dwight Eisenhower (USMA ’15) first to serve with him at the Infantry School between the wars and then to rise from LTC to SACEUR in the space of mere months? I hope that it was because he learned at VMI to look for talent, discipline, and dedication in subordinates that he must trust to execute difficult tasks. Certainly it was not because he looked for the most rebellious, flagrant flouter of rules that he could find among the graduates of his own alma mater or from his own state. Nor did he look for purely conventional thinkers or robotic obeyers of every rule in the “book” Eisenhower was neither, and Marshall was a big enough man to know character when he saw it. He used others of similar quality–Bradley, McNair, “Lightning” Joe Collins, Patton–where he needed leaders, now based on where they went to school. I cannot let the honor scandal remarks pass. All I will say is that sometimes bad things happen, and that the character of an institution is revealed more by how it handles them than by the failures themselves. West Point has handled them publicly (including the one in 1950 that wiped out the football team) and justly. A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do. Those are the rules. We believe in them, and we expect those who would be one of us to believe in them, too. The Cadet Prayer asks our maker to help us to ” . . .seek the harder right instead of the easier wrong . . . never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.”
VMI has produced some great leaders. So has West Point. Both have produced some villains, too, but I would never characterize VMI by the un-representative few of it products when the overwhelming majority have provide good and honorable service to the nation. You know, I was a cadet and a teacher at West Point, and I never attended a class nor taught one on how to advance my career in the Army. I did attend lots of them on doing the right thing, setting the example, seeking to understand the context and spirit of regulations and laws and orders, and taking responsibility for my actions, what Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello are all about–the kind of stuff that makes you introspective and makes you clarify your motives and courses of action before undertaking them. Oh, yes, and that supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States thing was really big, too. . Not parts of it. All of it. And that it’s even more important than obeying the orders of the officers appointed over me–which is also in that oath.
That’s the kind of stuff we learned (and still learn) at West Point.
The thing that bothers me most about this commentary is its speculative conclusions about the outcome of future investigations, base on . . . what? No evidence, no specific event, no incident, no alleged crime. The logic, or lack of it, in your commentary bothers me greatly. I find the writing superficial, unsupported by facts or logical analogies, and vapidly empty of knowledge of any real West Pointers or of West Point. Or even of the United States Army. By the way, how did a VMI valedictorian graduating in 1972 end up with a Reserve commission instead of a Regular Army commission? We were going into classes pretty deeply with RA commissions in those days, well below the distinguished military graduates. You cite no anecdotal, active duty observations of either West Pointers or VMI graduates to support your conclusions? What gives? Now, you’ll probably just file this under “another Woopster sounds off” in your mental filing cabinet. I hope not. I am not just defending West Point. In an odd, back-handed sort of way, I am also complimenting VMI. Based on my observations of other VMI graduates over the course of 27 years’ active duty, I expected more of your commentary. Unlike one of your respondents, I was surprised that you were a valedictorian. — Colonel (Retired), USMA ’74
I enjoyed your article. What a firestorm of response! I sense that there is some truth to your assertions, however. Generalizations can be dangerous, of course. My own view is that moral men and women typically find military service to be in opposition to their free exercise of conscience. As Thoreau and Einstein have pointed out so clearly, each person has a conscience, and moral decisions cannot be made via proxy. I have enjoyed your writings and FFF for quite some time. I was not aware that you were a VMI grad. I am pleased, but not surprised. — VMI ’67
That apparent dichotomy was in my thoughts even prior to becoming a cadet. When Colonel Preston spoke about VMI producing “fair specimens of citizen-soldiers” I think he meant just that. Unlike West Point tasked with producing professional officers, VMI from the beginning was committed to the “citizen soldier” concept as you well know. I believe defense of the commonwealth and even the republic, rather than conquest of empire and military welfare, was the intent. Willing and unquestioning leaders of professional troops are not the intended product of the VMI education. Men of character, reason, intellectual independence and courage who know how, when and why to lead in peace and war were. I am one of those who believes that the original VMI system was and is superior. Too bad (in my judgment) that we American citizens have been lured away from our original “republican” system in the direction of a Bismarckian state which forgot Washington’s wisdom regarding entangling alliances. And too bad a system designed to produce male citizen soldiers has been skewed to include women. The original reason and the original system needed no “improvement.” –Richard Cheatham, VMI ’70
Mr. Hornberger asks, in a recent essay, why are congresscritters involved in selecting people to attend the Service Academies? The original reason was to prevent the Federal Government from building up an Army that could be used against the States. It was assumed that Senators, who were appointed by State Legislatures, would look to the interests of their states and prevent the emergence of an elite, Federally-oriented Army. It was also supposed to keep the Army more democratic, by allowing Senators to bring in a wide range of types of people.
Best laid plans, again.
Col. (Ret.) USAF Miami University ROTC 1953
I found your articles on the differences between officers educated at VMI and officers educated at USMA to be very useful and insightful. Two of my best friends are VMI graduates (Class of 1984) and former officers, so I believe that I have a good reference by which to judge your comments. I served for six years as an enlisted man in the reserves and National Guard, was a cadet at North Georgia College for two years and attended OCS. I did not take a commission because a medical problem (I’m deaf in my right ear) limited my commissioning options. I have experienced West Pointers in action, and have found them to be, on average, as you described them. Also, I found the corps of cadets at North Georgia College to be cut, apparently, from the same mold as that of West Point. I won’t burden you with examples (except for one), but will say that many of the officers commissioned out of NGC were not the sort of men I would want to have served under.
The one example I had mentioned involved this: I was a cadet sergeant in my company, and as an upperclassman, I was entitled to certain privileges regarding extra amenities in my room. Specifically, I kept a model of an M3 halftrack on my dresser. The tactical officer never expressed any disapproval of my model, and generally I received merits for the appearance of my room. That year, in any case, I did not receive any demerits for room inspections. The company commander, however, did not like me on a personal basis (he and I had gone to high school together, so we had a history), and he directed the first sergeant to compel me to remove the halftrack, insisting that it did not conform to the Blue Book. On the morning that the first sergeant made his appearance, I quickly understood what was happening, so I asked him what the real problem was. He stuck by the Blue Book story. I then reminded him that I was not a problem regarding room inspections, that the tactical officer once had even commented positively on my model halftrack, and I then asked him, in so many words, if he really wanted to mess with success. After all, his job evaluation depended on the company scoring well in room inspections. He understood what I was getting at, and so he relented. I kept my end of the bargain regarding room inspections. But I was very disappointed that the company commander would use his position to exercise his personal vendettas. It wasn’t the first time I had noticed such pettiness on the part of cadet officers and NCOs, but for some reason that was the last straw for me. My attitude went into the toilet and I became a discipline problem. Eventually, I got myself busted down to cadet private and then earned myself a round of tours, which I worked off by cleaning the retreat cannon and doing things for the tactical officer and the Regular Army sergeant-major in the armory. After that term ended, I left North Georgia College and transferred to another school. After I earned my BA, I attended OCS, as I had mentioned earlier.
Accordingly, I completely understand the decision of the VMI corps of cadets to take out their wrath on the tactical officer. Blockheaded behavior such as his creates many more problems than it solves, and in general it demonstrates a lack of understanding one’s fellow men. I am highly amused that you have received so many e-mails from West Pointers regarding that incident, in which they demonstrate their profound inability to understand what was really important. But surprised I am not. It seems that blockheads never learn their lesson. — J.K.
Hooray for the article by Horriberger about war crimes and POW torture. I WAS a long time member of the American Legion until they started running articles promoting the torture of POWs. I wrote them a letter of resignation expressing my disgust with them and their stand on this issue. Our own US government is probably guilty of more war crimes, and crimes against humanity than any other government in all of world history and I am disgusted at our present administration’s policies in this regard.
I just read your article about VMI officers and couldn’t help but disagree on a few points. Below is what my initial thoughts were when reading your article.
I am in my second year at the U.S. Military Academy and I just read your article. I am glad to see that you also favor treating prisoners of war humanely and there are some things that worth doing just because they are right. I am not going to debate about how the Pentagon feels on the situation because I feel that they too would share our feelings, but I have no proof and they may want us to “cork those canteens.”
My strong opposition is in reference to Congressional Nomination. I see what you are saying about being completely self-selected at VMI, but does that negate the fact that I was self-selected. I chose to come here on my own, just as it would have been had I gone to VMI. Every West Point candidate is self-selected; they simply go through one more selection process, a Congressman. I resent your statement about being from a family that “curries favor with politicians.” I did not even know what my Congressman looked like until I saw him in person. None of my family knew him personally. I was not competing with a stacked deck. I cannot speak for all districts, but in my district my representative takes his nominations very seriously and does not “skew in favor of” friends of the family. All it took on my behalf was persistence…writing a few letters to his office and talking to the right people on his staff. There was an initial selection process where his staff reviewed candidates’ résumés and selected who they thought was qualified. A few weeks later, there was an interview process. My congressman assembled a panel of ten people comprised of his head staffers, military personal, and graduates. They all asked me questions about why I want to go to West Point, what I would do if I did not get in, and why I was qualified. From that, they made their recommendations and the Representative made his final decision. I do not see how this skews favor at all. In my opinion, this process merely weeds out those who are not qualified or who should not be representing America and leading her young men into combat.
In regards to academy graduates and government officials being involved in acts of misconduct during our war on terrorism, most officers in those positions are from the academies. I do not have any rock hard evidence, but how many VMI officers are planning the large operations in Afghanistan and Iraq? I’m not saying that academy grads are better than VMI grads, but probability says that they will face those situations and charges more often than VMI grads merely due to their position. Neither can I say that West Point has brainwashed its cadets into blind obedience. (Did you hear anything about Christmas Dinner this year?) Cadets and graduates think for themselves and offer their suggestions, but once an order is issued, that’s final. Commanders want their subordinates to give their input. “Two heads are better than one.” You can oppose your superior one-on-one and behind closed doors all you want, but once he issues an order, it becomes your order.
Sometimes the military does need (or rather want) “blind obedience” and good officers should not concede or compromise their values. However, I strongly detest that academy grads are who compromise their values. Some people enter the academies wondering how they will salute when they are a general, but most come here wondering if they will even stay more then their obligation. I think part of the problem with our military is that we have not had any major wars lately. We have become a diplomatic Army that is reluctant to make hard calls and lose soldiers. Look at CNN; we can easily count the number of casualties we’ve had. We have forgotten too much from what soldiers do. They are in the business of killing and being killed. If we had finished something like WWII, things might be different. But WWII was over 60 years ago.
Regulations should not be overlooked. That’s what happened at Air Force. When you overlook something for a Firstie, can you overlook it for a Cow (3rd classman). What if it is two days before graduation….or the beginning of his last semester. It’s all up to the TAC’s discretion, but where do you draw they line? That’s why we have regulations and standards. So there is no discrepancy from one person to the next. I understand that with this specific VMI cadet, he was about to be in Vietnam fighting for his life, but is alcohol an answer? He’s about to be leading a few 19 and 20 year old kids into the jungle so they can kill people. I should hope that his ability to deal with his problems is stronger than that Jack Daniels he’s been hiding. What the TAC did was the right thing. He may have sacrificed his career for a bottle of Jack, but it was the right thing and he had the moral courage to stand up and enforce the standard. It is a lot easier to enforce rules on subordinates than your peers. What would happen if the same situation had occurred in the field and the you (or the TAC) were a PL and the cadet was a Team Leader in your platoon? Would you have reprimanded him or “overlooked” the situation because you were sucking in some flooded rice paddy?
I am most aghast by your remarks about torturing POWs. First of all, we never signed the Geneva Convention, although we abide by it the more than any of the countries who did sign it. Second, the so-called POWs in Cuba are not POWs. In order to attain “Prisoner of War” status, you must be fighting in a legitimate force, recognized by you government. The Taliban is legit. Al-Qaeda is not. They are a band of militants with AK-47s and RPGs. Even if we had signed the Geneva Convention, we would not be obligated to provide any treatment to them. Yet we still provide them with food, water, and better medical attention than they have ever had. Who cares about a phone call home? One reason we do not open our military posts to the public is security. Why should a POW camp be any different? I would submit that it should have tighter security.
Lastly, I am quite confused by your last remark (Finally, once the president’s war is over and U.S. military rule takes over in Iraq, the president should do all he can to put both Iraqi prisoners of war and Iraqi women into the care and custody of VMI officers rather than West Point or Air Force Academy officers. It’s the least the president could for the Iraqi people in post-war, occupied Iraq.). I am curious about your reasoning and explanation about why Iraqi POWs would be better off in a VMI officer’s hands than in an West Pointer’s or Air Force officer’s. Please understand that I agree with you about how an officer should act, but I must disagree with your analysis of West Point officers and their conduct. Thank you for your time, Sir. — USMA ’05
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