Monday, February 25, 2008

Historically Speaking...

I’m choosing to begin the discovery process of this blog with some basic facts about West Point, including its history and mission statement. Long before becoming an academy, West Point was used for military purposes. Strategically placed on the west bank of the Hudson River in New York, West Point proved its value as a military fortress during the Revolutionary War. It was founded as a military academy in 1802 by legislation bearing President Thomas Jefferson’s signature. The school’s primary academic focus was engineering, and West Point graduates are credited with most of the construction of American railways, bridges, and roads during the first half of the nineteenth century. The United States Military Academy gained recognition for graduate leadership during the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars. Its list of alumni includes such names as Robert E. Lee, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ulysses S. Grant. Following the Civil War, the school’s curriculum was expanded beyond engineering, and during the World Wars of the early nineteen-hundreds, both enrollment and facilities at West Point were expanded. In more recent years, West Point’s core of cadets has grown to include women, as well as a higher population of minorities, and its academics span a broad variety of subjects (A Brief History of the Academy).
West Point is grounded in a long, deep history that reaches back for centuries. Upon learning about this history, the reasons behind the military traditions of the school are more clear. The reasoning behind many of West Point's practices seems to be that "it's always been done this way." It's no secret that traditions are hard to break, and I guess that this fact applies to West Point as much as it does anywhere else. However, it is POSSIBLE to bend, mold, and break traditions. The question then becomes, SHOULD they be broken? Many people would argue that we are currently fighting a very non-traditional war, and therefore traditional military tactics will not work. Is this the case? Should West Point begin to alter their traditions? Even if these traditions are, in a way, historical landmarks?
Upon reading all of this information on West Point’s website, I noticed a repetion of the words “duty,” “honor,” and “country.” These words appear in the United States Military Academy logo, on the top of every page, and variously throughout the website’s text. These three words define West Point’s mission. In its entirety the United States Military academy’s mission reads as follows:
“To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army” (USMA Mission). For the next few blogs, I’m going to further explore this mission statement. I wish to examine it through the eyes of current West Point cadets; do they think it’s too broad? Too narrow? Do they think it’s an achievable goal? How do the cadets’ opinions of the mission statement compare with the academy’s opinions as expressed on its website? The United States Military Academy is rich which history and tradition, but is that history and tradition enough to hold up a mission statement? This is the ultimate question that will be addressed in my following blogs.

"A Brief History of the Academy." The United States Military Academy at West Point. 2001. US Army. 25 Feb 2008 .

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Asking "Why?"

I like to understand things. When something is broken, I want to know how it happened. When someone’s angry, I want to know why. When I don’t know something, I ask. The topic of this blog is the United States Military Academy (also referred to as West Point), and during this writing process I will ask and answer the question of why. Why does West Point do things the way it does? Why does it follow traditional training methods when America is fighting a very non-traditional war? Why is so much emphasis placed on uniforms and room organization? For the next several months I plan to further my understanding of the United States Military Academy with the help of a variety of sources, including interviews with attending cadets, and web resources.
A native New Englander, I grew up in a democratic household with a family of self-described liberals. Although my grandfathers served in the Army and Navy, none of my relatives have been involved with the military in recent years. As a household, we do not support the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, and are fully behind bringing our troops home. Personally, I have a great respect for the men and women of our nation who make the selfless decision to enlist in the military, and deeply admire their courage. Those who are accepted to West Point attend the school for four years, graduate as an officer in the Army, and then spend a minimum of five years in active duty. Getting in to West Point is not easy. With an acceptance rate of 14% ("The United States Military Academy"), those who are selected for admission are at the top of their games both physically and academically. However, with the possibility of a nine year commitment, attending the school cannot be taken lightly. I’m under the impression that those who endure the tedious application process and challenging enrollment must have a strong motivation to do so. Therefore, it is my goal in this blog to discover what that motivation is, and use this information to determine why the United States Military Academy does things the way it does.

"United States Military Academy." The Princeton Review. The Princeton Review. 19 Feb 2008 .