April 17, 2021

"On Friday, West Point officials said in a statement that the [second-chance] program had 'not met its intended purpose' of increasing the self-reporting of honor code violations and reducing cadets’ tolerance for them...."

"'The tenets of honorable living remain immutable, and the outcomes of our leader development system remain the same, to graduate Army officers that live honorably, lead honorably and demonstrate excellence,' General Williams said in a statement. 'West Point must be the gold standard for developing Army officers. We demand nothing less than impeccable character from our graduates.'... Tim Bakken, a professor of law at West Point, said the involvement of so many athletes in a cheating scandal was a recurring theme at the academy and he called for greater scrutiny of the issue and more transparency on the part of the institution’s leaders. 'We have to ask the question of whether there is something about the culture of athletics that is at odds with the academy’s mission with regard to honor,' he said... Echoing Professor Bakken, C. Richard Nelson, a 1960 West Point graduate... noted that the 1976 scandal, like last year’s and another in 1951, was concentrated among athletes at the academy, in that case the football team. Mr. Nelson said that in his day, there was 'no slack' given and that 'any violation meant separation' — the academy’s term for expulsion. He also said he could see how the second-chance program that was being discontinued, known as the Willful Admission Process, might have fallen short of its goals. 'You’re asking an awful lot of these young people to turn somebody else in,' he said."

From "West Point Scraps Second-Chance Program After Major Cheating Scandal/Some graduates criticized the program as too lenient after the U.S. Military Academy disclosed its biggest academic scandal in decades" (NYT). 

I'd like to see the NYT go more deeply into the question of athletics and cheating — something more than quoting 2 professors on the subject. The question that arose in my mind — and I have no idea of the race of the various accused cheaters — is whether an honor code is a manifestation of white supremacy. The NYT has been weaving Critical Race Theory throughout so many of its articles that we ought to take note of its failure to include that dimension.

FROM THE EMAIL: Robin writes: 

A cadet will not lie, steal, nor cheat, not tolerate those who do (unless they're upper class men, and then there's nothing you can do about it). 

That ending parenthetical was not in the formal code that all must regularly recite, but it was, as they say now, "my lived experience." 

Asked the "Honor Representative" a question about something our "First Sergeant" had said. He violated the confidence, told the guy about it, and soon the guy was chewing me out as our whole squad stood at attention against a hallway wall. He said he was going to make sure I got sent on the upcoming "punishment hike." Soon faced a "Captain's Board," which was in a dark room with a bright light in my face, where the voices behind the crossed swords on the table asked no questions, just pronouncing punishments. A hike up and down a ski-slope with a heavy pack on a hot Sunday afternoon in July was no fun. The kicker was the "First Sergeant" then loudly proclaiming to us all as we again stood at attention in the hall that he'd had nothing to do with it. That was the moment the decision to resign was sealed. Three weeks after asking to resign, I finally saw a real officer just before being processed out. 

When the 1976 scandal broke it was no surprise. When they let them off the hook, it was no surprise. What we have now is the fruit of that poisonous tree. 

Oh, and I eventually rose through the USAF enlisted ranks to Technical Sergeant before getting commissioned in 1987 (which was very hard to do, with a resignation from West point on the record). Retired as a Captain in 1996. Still have *huge* level of distrust of West Point graduates. These people are supposed to be the most honorable we have. God help us if they are!

AND: Jem writes: 

I presume your assertion near the end of your post was meant to be facetious; it would be profoundly racist to presume that members of designated minority groups are inherently less capable of behaving honorably. I don’t believe you are actually the racist that your comment portrays you to be, and hope your email will not be filled with the ravings of too many such people. 

You are attributing to me a statement that I did not make and you misconstrue the purpose behind my question. I am holding believers in Critical Race Theory to a responsibility to face up to it in uncomfortable situations. I see in that NYT article an avoidance of the issue. If one believes white supremacy is systemic, then one must think through how the honor system and the second-chance program contain white supremacy. I do not personally espouse Critical Race Theory. I observe how it is applied and evaded by its proponents.

My own military experience began in late August, 1984 when I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve as part of activating an ROTC scholarship. I never attended or taught at any of the military academies and retired from service at the end of 2012, shifting my employment to supporting the US Government as a contractor, full-time; over the better part of forty years, I have worked with military officers from all the services and virtually every commissioning source (academies, ROTC, direct commissioning programs and officer candidate/training schools). Academy graduates are, as a group, no better and no worse than those from other commissioning sources (just more expensive for the taxpayers). Their personal and professional qualities are distributed no differently from those from other sources and range from marginal to exceptional. 

To me, honor codes are simply a way to remind young people (I was 17 when I enlisted, with my parents’ permission—the accused West Point cadets were mostly 18 or 19 when they cheated on the exam) that managing state-directed violence and having authority over the lives of others entrusted to do so are solemn duties, not to be entered upon lightly. As my parents’ generation (I was but an infant at the time) saw in the actions of Calley and Medina, poor character from those in leadership roles can have catastrophic consequences. I am agnostic about whether these cadets can become acceptable officers—those who return and seek commissions should be closely watched for signs that their recourse to dishonorable conduct does not remain an option they’ll entertain under stress. The academies field sports teams, and sporting competition is an excellent way to train teamwork, self-management and other positive traits, but success in those endeavors can never be the primary goal (ends in themselves); they are but a means to produce high-quality officers to lead our volunteer military.

AND: Ozymandias writes: 

The article was a rewrite, so the Times’s interest in the subjects you raised may be negligible. I’d have been particularly interested to hear from cadets, both in and out of athletics, on those issues, but they would be as unlikely to want to comment as the Times would be to go out and actually . . . you know . . . report on the matter, the character of our future military leaders being strictly infra dig.  

Conceptually, however, CRT and honor codes don’t seem to mix. As I understand it, CRT posits that all relationships in society are defined by racial power differentials between the parties to the relationship. Presumably, military officers, like police, are regarded by proponents of CRT as manifestations of the hierarchical relationships at the heart of so-called white supremacy, and part of the means by which it is maintained. 

Theoretically, an honor code would initially seem to be desirable from the standpoint of CRT proponents, insofar as it required agents of the “white-supremacist power structure” to disclose their own misconduct, thereby revealing—in the words of the Monty-Python medieval peasant woman—"the violence inherent in the system.” (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”). 

CRT proponents however, would never acknowledge the concept of “honor” in any relationship. On the contrary, “honor” and an “honor code” would be condemned as further manifestations of the misdirection by which the subjugation of the oppressed is maintained. 

The oppression would be particularly acute for so-called “BIPOC” cadet athletes at West Point, especially those forced to take time from their studies for uncompensated participation in athletics to keep athletic scholarships, subjecting them to even greater pressure to cheat in order to maintain their academic standing. 

Or something like that.