Copyright John T. Reed 2014

In his farewell address to the Corps of Cadets in 1962, five-star general Douglas MacArthur, West Point class of 1903, said,

Your job is to win our wars.

That, it seems to me, is the mission of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point).

But that is results oriented. If you adopt a result as a mission, and do not accomplish it, you are in trouble. Government employees, like military personnel, and other liberals, do not like being in trouble, or held accountable. So they behave, and talk, in a process-oriented way not a results-oriented way.

So here is the totally process-oriented and devoid of any mention results actual stated mission of the U.S. Military Academy.

The United States Military Academy's mission is 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.

I think the plain English translation of that is that the mission of the U.S. Military Academy is the perpetuate its existence in more or less its present form.

But if you really want to know that the people who run West Point think its it real mission, listen to what it leaders of the moment say they are doing there. I did that last night at the San Francisco Bay Area Founders Day dinner an annual event held around the world to commemorate the founding of West Point in March 1802. The new Superintendent (top guy at West Point) was the featured speaker.

The current guy is lieutenant General Robert Caslen. He is not the normal supe. Prior supes I believe were taken from the ranks of former West Point professors. This guy graduated in 1975 from West Point, but never was brought back as a professor. Rather he came back to West Point as a tactical officer (Tac) then as Commandant of Cadets and now as supe.

Tactical officers are disciplinarians. They are the guys who give you demerits for having dust on the top of your locker. One night when I was a cadet, all the tacs snuck around the barracks in the middle of the night lifting up our covers to see if we were sleeping “in uniform,” that is, in the nude or wearing cadet pajamas. They all seemed to be martinets to me although some of my classmates did it and they happen not to be guys I thought of as martinets when we were cadets. Caslen has the white sidewall haircut that martinets use to distinguish themselves from the other officers who have very short hair by regulation. Army people now yell “huah!” a lot. The martinets are “More huah than youa” and one of the ways they demonstrate and advertise that is by being “even shorter haired than thou.”

The Commandant is the boss of the tacs and therefore the head martinet at West Point. Who else was one of these martinets? When I was a cadet, Al “I’m in charge here is the White House” Haig was the first regimental tac (boss of half the tacs).

To be a professor, you have to have at least a masters degree. Virtually all the young, military officers who teach at West Point go to grad school after West Point while on active duty then go straight to West Point for two or three years and teach.

Caslen has masters degrees from LIU and Kansas State. The LIU masters is probably an MBA. Long Island University professors came to West Point and taught that class at night to West Point officers stationed at West Point. I don’t know about the Kansas State degree but the fact that its subject is unspecified in his bio, as is the LIU degree, suggests to me that it is a similar deal. Some night school masters degree offered to career military officers at or near some base where they are there long enough to complete the course.

Civilian college heads—typically called “president”—are almost invariably drawn from the ranks of college professors. Making a former tac-Commandant the supe of West Point—is equivalent to promoting a civilian college campus police officer-chief or assistant coach-head coach of a college athletic team to the college presidency. I’m am guessing he really stands out at the meetings of college presidents and not in a positive way.

Why would the Army deviate from past practice and make a former tac-Commandant the supe? Maybe they got fed up with former West Point professors with fancy degrees having trouble behaving themselves. There is of course David Petraeus who graduated from West Point in 1973, then got a masters in public administration and a PhD in international relations from Princeton, before having sex under his CIA director desk at CIA headquarters. Petraeus is married to the daughter of the supe when he was a cadet. But she was not the woman under the desk. That would be Paula Broadwell, West Point class of 1995, holder of a master degree in public administration from Harvard. She is also married but her husband was not under the desk either.

Then there is General Caslen’s predecessor as supe—General David Huntoon. He graduated from West Point in 1973 and got a masters in International Relations from Georgetown. It is quite unusual for a new supe to have graduated from West Point before a prior supe. Perhaps the Pentagon figured they need someone who was closer to being done with sowing his wild oats. Huntoon was suspected of an affair with a subordinate, but an Army investigation said he was cleared of that. He was however criticized in an IG report. During his supe-dom, a sergeant at West Point was caught photographing women secretly in a bathroom and the men’s rugby team, probably the most successful athletic team at West Point recently, was disbanded temporarily for forwarding emails that were derogatory to women. Huntoon was allowed to retire from the Army without any punishment other than a letter of concern in his file after he left the supe job.

Caslen spoke about some recent military accomplishments by West Pointers, mainly winning bravery medals. Caslen himself has no bravery medals. He has many medals, but they are all what I call attendance and good bureaucrat medals. He has a CIB which I used to respect, they they gave them out for not much in Operation Desert Storm. Caslen was in Desert Storm.

But the main theme of Caslen’s talk was what a great college it was compared to the civilian colleges with whom it competes for high school seniors. I got a sense that West Point is more about trying to beat Princeton and, athletically, Navy, than it is about trying to beat the Taliban or al Qaeda. Perhaps the most pathetic moment of the night was when Caslen spent a long time telling us how successful all sorts of non-football Army athletic teams have been against Navy recently, culminating in pointing out that the champion intramural football team at Navy came to West Point to play our intramural football champion and “Army” won.

Exciting news and very persuasive evidence that Army is better than Navy, he said sarcastically. But can the cadet intramural football team win on the road? I guess we find out this year.

Caslen then said, unequivocally and through clenched teeth that Army football WILL defeat Navy. He seemed to think if he said it with enough force and enough times, that it would come true, like a small child making a wish. I have written a half dozen or so books on football coaching. The theatrical conviction with which an administrator of the team in question says they will win is irrelevant to the actual probability of victory.

Caslen assured us that the recently hired coach Jeff Monken is a great catch and the right man for the job. Reminds me of Zsa Zsa Gabor saying “Zis time, dahling, it’s for real” on the occasion of the sixth of her nine marriages, or was it the seventh?

It also reminds me of all the other supes in the last twenty years who said the same thing about the coach that they each hired. There is no longitudinal responsibility for Army net defeating Navy or much of anyone else. The supe changes every three years. The incoming supe fires the outgoing supe’s failed coach then hires his replacement swearing this guy is THE ONE. Then the new coach fails and his supe rotates out and the new supe comes in and fires the prior supe’s coach and hires his new coach whom he assures us is THE ONE, and so on endlessly.

Monken may succeed, but on paper he looks the same as the prior guys.

I have now been to many of these briefings by big shots from West Point. They all love to talk about process—all the stuff they are doing to prepare the cadets to be officers.

I’ll bet the same briefings giving in the late 1940s had a totally different content. I’ll bet they spoke of how many countries were liberated in World War II, how many people were liberated, how many battles were won and enemies defeated and killed and captured and the relatively few casualties and captured Americans. In other words, they talked about results. Why? The had some to talk about. The mission of the U.S. Military Academy is to win our wars and they won our wars.

But the guys representing West Point since around 1950 talk process instead. Why? Because they have lots of process. They are career bureaucrats. They do not talk about results—other than academic results like winning Rhodes scholarships—because they have none. Rhodes scholarships are more process.

Actually, I think Rhodes Scholarships may be the root of all evil in this regard. West Point ranks fourth among American colleges for winning Rhodes Scholarships—behind Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. What did I say above about West Point being more interested in defeating Princeton than the Taliban?

Rhodes Scholarships in America started in 1904. But Army did not compete for them until 1923. All the more amazing that they managed to still be fourth overall. Why did they not compete until 1923? They were not qualified because West Point was not an accredited college. It was a military school. They quickly became accredited, so they could win Rhodes Scholarships. Why does West Point have so many? I don’t know. But knowing West Point, I suspect they are gaming the system somehow. Who was superintendent of West Point from 1919 to 1922 when they had to jump through hoops to become accredited? Ironically, Douglas MacArthur, the guy who said West Point’s mission was to win our wars. I’m guessing he was pissed that he was not able to get a Rhodes Scholarship. He graduated from West Point in 1903.

The problem is West Point has lost its way, probably starting with their decision to seek civilian accreditation in order that cadets could compete for Rhodes Scholarships. West Point’s job is to win our wars and unless Caslen or any other representative of West Point has victories to report, they need to confine their speeches to explaining how they are correcting their utter failure to do their job for the last 64 years.

John T. Reed