Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another Look

In my ongoing quest to discover the ins and outs of the United States Military Academy, I think that it is extremely important to continue to look into stories of the individual. No two cadets will have the exact same reasons for attending West Point, and therefore it is necessary to look into a variety of motivations. I have begun this process with an initial interview of an attending West Point cadet in a previous blog, but I hope to continue investigating the driving factors of others who are currently at, or have been present at the academy.
During my research, I have discovered an amazingly helpful resource. Absolutely American is a detailed account of West Point written by Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, who was granted full access to the United States Military Academy. Due to his reputation at Rolling Stone as a “young-person specialist,” Lipsky was assigned to West Point in 1998 and followed a specific company of the school for the full four years they were in attendance. His book caught my attention because it appears that at the beginning of his research, he had the exact same questions as I do. In the preface of Absolutely American Lipsky writes “What kinds of people still wanted such a regimented life? Why would cadets willingly put themselves through it? Didn’t they realize the way they were living was out of date? Those were the questions I set out to answer” (xiv). Therefore, for the next blog or two, I intend to use Lipsky’s book in order to help me answer some of my own questions.
Within the first chapter of his book, Lipsky identifies two cadets who attended West Point for very different reasons. One of them will be described in this blog. First Captain Rob Shaw described his early schooling experiences as a time when fun overruled responsibility. After dropping out of college, he enlisted in the Army and was soon recommended to West Point as a prior-service candidate. According to Shaw, at West Point “you’re treated as a man” and “you’re doing tough, challenging, dangerous things, for a good reason. It’s just an awesome feeling” (qtd. in Lipsky 12). Even though for Shaw, the military was not an initial plan, he was able to find strong purpose and meaning in its goals and methods.
The testimony given by First Captain Rob Shaw in Lipsky’s book Absolutely American is interesting to me because it proves that one does not need to be born with a military mindset. I’ve always been under the impression that a person must feel a sense of meaning with the military before becoming involved, and I find it remarkable that I’ve been wrong. Now, there’s a good chance that I am completely misinterpreting Captain Shaw’s words. However, for the first time I am currently able to imagine a way in which the military gives purpose, not just direction, to someone’s life, which is in my opinion, something they should be proud of.


Lipsky, David. Absolutely American. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003

No comments: