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Monday, April 20, 2009

Why We Should Get Rid of West Point

Tom Ricks makes an interesting argument in this piece, however, there are a few points I would like to make. The idea that ROTC produces officers less cynical of the military is unsubstantiated. What does he have to back this statement up? A few personal accounts? Both produce officers; the Army creates cynical officers. The Army creates cynical officers when it doesn't promote based on merit and performance, rather on time-in-grade. The Army creates cynical officers when generals who royally mess up in combat are subsequently promoted to the highest levels of command (e.g. Casey, Odierno, Chiarelli). The Army creates cynical officers when University of Phoenix Online educated officers are put in charge of young quasi-Ivy League educated officers. I could go on and on.

Ricks makes a good point when he says:
Although West Point's history and social science departments provided much intellectual firepower in rethinking the U.S. approach to Iraq, most of West Point's faculty lacks doctorates. Why not send young people to more rigorous institutions on full scholarships, and then, upon graduation, give them a military education at a short-term military school?
I agree that there should be more Ph.D. level professors at the academies, but operational tempo prevents this. Unless the officer corps is expanded to allow for officers to get a Ph.D. after company command and not just a master's degree, it will not happen. Also, given the brain drain on the officer corps, how many officers would even get into Ph.D. programs? Also, imagine if the Army let hundreds of the junior officers who left to go to graduate school back in and paid for their Ph.D.s? Then you would truly have a thinking man's officer corps (early bad combat experiences combined with an education; they would ensure nothing like the Iraq debacle occurred again).

I also think that there should be more civilian professors at the academies. This would help bridge the divide between the civilian population and the military. This would bring the Cal-Berkeley hippie political science professor to West Point thereby encouraging debate. Young cadets would have to deal with conflicting viewpoints, not that all are of a conservative bent, and harsh questioning the way they will as lieutenants when dealing with the media.

Ricks did not mention is that West Point was founded as an engineering school. Cadets are still required to take advanced calculus and engineering classes - something many college students do not do. The academies need to modernize in that respect - Army Officers in general do not need advanced calculus and engineering in their day-to-day jobs. In another related issue, the Ivies also need to let ROTC back on campus.

Finally, enough with Petraeus' doctorate. Got it. Duly noted. What about the quality of the rest of the officer corps? As long as mustang officers keep being commissioned with crappy degrees, I would take a West Point grad over an officer educated online any day of the week.

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