On the Corruption of the Military Academies

A recent West Point graduate, still serving in the U.S. Army, shocked admirers of the venerable American military academy with his candidly pro-Communist views. How could such an institution, founded on “duty, honor, country,” produce such a student?

A junior Army officer who states his anti-American opinions so openly may seem novel, but we should quell our surprise. After all, his views are indistinguishable from many of his peers at other distinguished universities.  The craziness so common at other American college campuses is now demonstrated to have infected even our military service academies. We should not be surprised, but we are right to be outraged.

I have some experience here. I taught at the United States Air Force Academy from 1996 until 1999, and in addition I’ve taught at other civilian universities.

The Red Cadet scandal hurls a major national pillar—one that has manfully held out against much of the progressive revolution in politics—against the leading advocate of progressivism today, the universities. At stake is the question of the practical purpose of higher education and the ethos necessary to support it. Thus, the real focus of the recent condemnation of disciplinary standards by a former West Point faculty member and graduate was, in fact, the decline of the institution he had known, and not the repellent, even subversive views of a recent graduate. In his estimation, the academy has fallen away from its purpose.

The military, with its service academies—West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy—have understood this purpose mostly implicitly:  military officers must be loyal to the country. That’s why soldiers swear an oath to the Constitution. Alumni of other colleges may pledge financial support to their alma mater but no such serious and legally binding oath is expected of them.  

To state the issue in dramatic terms: Does a distinguished general and scholar such as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster belong more to the traditions of West Point and the military, or to those of the progressive academic world?

Yet, civilian universities today all too often require de facto oaths to the latest tenets of progressivism, from politically correct language (by which pronoun would you like to be addressed?) to suppression of robust debate. Graduates of these institutions may as well be goose-stepping in ever-tightening mental circles—a herd of independent minds, as it were. Whether in promising careers, personal fulfillment, or graduate school placement, the focus of these schools is on individual professional achievement. Even a the dubious focus on “leadership” at some institutions betrays a thoughtlessness about whom is being led and to what purpose.

Countering both formal and informal pressure from society at large, the service academies take great pains to produce men (and now women) with the character required to be officers. These institutions are vocational schools (until recently, they were engineering schools), but the vocation they train students to fulfill is not one meant merely to fulfill those students in their personal calling, it is a vocation that demands service to the nation. That requires qualities ignored, defined differently, or even defined contrarily by civilian institutions.

Loyalty or patriotism was ready enough to come by in the days when flag burning was universally condemned and people stood for the National Anthem without spectacle. But this new political world of increasing social divisions makes it more difficult to find and adds more pressure to the already demanding lives of cadets. After all, isn’t it possible that the Red Cadet embraced the official ethic of “service before self”  so fanatically that he  embraced communism as its natural fulfillment?  Might he have rejected  his duty toward a nation conceived in liberty in favor of his bizarre  understanding of service?

An instructor sees the root of this confusion when cadets mistake studying in groups with forbidden plagiarism. More ominously, cadets think they are being devoted to their buddies by overlooking inherently wrong behavior—such as copying a roommate’s solution to a tough mathematical equation. At least as bad, cadet approvals or condemnations in the student-run justice system may occur for reasons of personal favor or spite.

There have also been spectacular instances of the leadership’s surrender of the military ethos to progressive forces—take the removal of the “Bring me men” exhortation above a major ramp at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the midst of a sexual assault cover-up scandal.

Is it impossible to be inclusive without denying manliness? Advocates of inclusiveness should never take from those who preceded them. Whatever the relative wisdom of permitting women and gays in the military, addition need not require subtraction (though it may produce division).

What makes the military and its undergraduate education curriculum distinctive from the civilian world is the soldier’s ethic of duty, which Thomas Ricks describes vividly in Making the Corps.) As far as I know, cadet attendance at home football games is still compulsory. Cadets sit together in their units. These are rituals, not simply entertainment. Once, a student who pled illness and studied in her room was expelled. She wasn’t expelled for not attending the football game but for lying for her personal advantage.

Perhaps an argument could be made for less severe discipline, especially when one considers that expulsion following one’s sophomore year requires the cadet to reimburse the government for the cost of her education (easily a six-figure amount) or enter the military as an enlisted person. Such debilitating consequences should cause anyone to hesitate applying such extreme discipline. Military decisions may well be harsh, even brutal, and yet still be just. Officers need to learn to take responsibility. The honor code requires not only prohibitions on cheating but also a policy of not tolerating those who do. The latter part of the code seems spottily to be applied.

align=”right” In one sense the military academies with all their virtues are an anomaly in a democracy, but in a more compelling sense they are a necessity in a democracy. Thus in these trying times, the need for cadets to be properly instructed in the principles of American democracy is more pressing than ever.

I once caught a cadet in a flagrant plagiarism case, and it took some effort to see it to its successful end. What horrified me most about her attitude was her insistence she had confessed her plagiarism in a footnote and because if she were truthful in the commission of her crime she could not be charged with an honor code violation. (The footnote she claimed was in the paper did not exist, which compounds the violation of honor, but the idea that she thought it should exonerate her was astonishing to me.) Other professors had bad experiences with the same student, while others supported her. Once justice had been served, a preposterous cover story spread among the cadets, one repeated to me by a cadet who had not known I played a role in her dismissal.

Thus, due to privacy requirements, her misconduct could not be used as an example to instruct her former peers. Would it not be better for such a person to be offered a modest dis-honorarium to leave the academy, once she confessed her crime?  Instead, it became easier for me and others just to give suspected plagiarizers poor grades and maybe send their non-commissioned supervisors a harsh note. In other words, the corruption of the honor code long predated the recent Red Cadet controversy.

Contrast such honor requirements plus six or seven academic courses per semester (with lots of multiple-choice testing), military training and classes, and a highly regimented life with the lax ways and loose lifestyle of an undergraduate in California. But assuming cadets survive their first-year doolie (from doulos or slave) ordeal, they not only have an all-expenses paid education but a most precious opportunity to enjoy the finest friends one could possibly know. This struck me about my military teaching colleagues, the finest I’ve ever had. I regret that I never fully appreciated how the ethic of  “service before self” worked while I taught at the Air Force Academy.

In one sense the military academies with all their virtues are an anomaly in a democracy, but in a more compelling sense they are a necessity in a democracy. Thus in these trying times, the need for cadets to be properly instructed in the principles of American democracy is more pressing than ever.


About Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi, Ph.D., is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. He has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members, and a special assistant for Clarence Thomas when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Masugi is co-author, editor, or co-editor of 10 books on American politics. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor; James Madison College of Michigan State University; the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University; and Princeton University.

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61 responses to “On the Corruption of the Military Academies”

  1. Not for nothin’, but well back in the day, I seem to recall a lot of West Point grads taking up arms against the US gubmint during the Civil War… Lee, both Johnstons, Leonidas Polk, Early, Pemberton, Beauregard, Buckner… even the incompetent Bragg.

    • US govt that was against the constitution. The oath is to the constitution…not the gov’t. Notable difference

      • I’m an American. What you said has zero affect on rational adults while it seems to send magical thinking liberals into a tizzy

      • LOL. But (I hope) needless to say, “gubmint” is ironic, not an error of iggerance.

        And, yes, “iggerance” is ironic, too!

      • Nah. At times can be used for the same effect. Pipe down grammar boy.

      • Quite. And “there”, “they’re” and “their” mean the same thing, too. A homophone is, natch, a communication device sold in the West Village.


      • look at me…I’m so smart….it serves you well I’m sure….now F off back to irrelevant land of magical thinking liberals

      • I don’t come from any such place; everyone who disagrees with you on one point is not thereby proven a “liberal,” something that could readily have been discerned from a mere glance at a few of my posts, which are not hidden. Trolls and wacko libtards here tend to hide their posting history, and “liberals” by and large do not post that Trump is the greatest president of their lifetime.

      • Oh. So what makes you think you’re not a liberal. You magically think like them. You think you’re smarter then others yet don’t don’t understand real life. Unfortunately , your mamma and teachers all told you lies and you believed them.

      • Your full-on dumbitude is your issue, and your issue alone; calling people names that clearly do not apply to them will not make you one bit more perceptive… or interesting. Bye.

      • to drink liberal tears. There will never be gun confiscation in the US…I guess the libs can die trying

      • There’s room for interpretation here. The constitution is the skeleton of the govt that derives from it. This is self-referential so that we’re always led back to the constitution as the template for deciding issues. So in saying “the govt,” you can be understood to be indirectly saying “the constitution.”

        And yet … and yet … the govt certainly IS different from the constitution. The one is guiding principles (the blueprint), the other practical application, theoretically of that blueprint and with thoughtful consideration of those guiding principles.

        This is why SCOTUS is supposed to comprise only the best legal minds – to tease apart differences and meanings. Sadly, we end up with Kagans and Sotomayors on the bench, doing their best to undo the constitution by interpreting it in ways no Founder would ever have remotely considered.

        In any case, you are 100% right that the oath is to the constitution – the principles – and should be. I’m just pointing out a complication I’ve not seen noted before. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

      • sure…but at some point there will be a clarification of why the Amendments were listed in that order…mess with the bull you get the horns…it’ll be far worse than 1789

    • Alta:
      You trivialize the entire War Between the States. Trying to compare this bum recently with the “Communism Will Win” in his hat and the Academy grads of the pre-war Army prior to and following 1861 shows that you have little understanding of the period. These men went with their states which was very common in that era and your poor if nonexistent understanding is showing.

      • Yes, like Andrew Johnson, Sam Houston, Montgomery Meigs (along with untold other southern Unionists) went out with their states, right? CSA all… right?

        “Poor if nonexistent understanding,” my arse. Yeesh.

      • Poor if nonexistent understanding is exactly right. You give no credit to the honorable men, only naming the less-than-honorable. You demand perfection of lowly human beings, some of whom were caught in the vise of principle-vs-reality which always faces humans when hard decisions must be made. You exhibit zero appreciation for the complexities of the age of the Civil War. With your oversimplifications and blase attitude, I bet you voted for Hillary.

      • Read some of my other comments and say that.

        In fact, I voted for the late Gus Hall (ne Arvo Kustaa Halberg), CPUSA. “From each according to his ability…”, bla bla. Everyone who doesn’t share your pro-CSA fervor is perforce a leftbot, if not a Marxist. And you talk about OTHERS engaging in oversimplication? Wow… if ever there was someone who would do well to examine his own assumptions, you da one.

      • If you voted for Gus Hall, you do not belong in any discussion of America. Communist Gus wanted America trashed. The best favor he ever did the world was dying.

        I have no CSA fervor; I do think honesty and principle should bear on these discussions.

      • Alta:
        I see you’re another smartass lefty who speaks from his fourth quarter point of contact.

      • Try again, schmuck.

        This everyone-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-leftie stuff is getting old, and boring. How shallow can people be? Here… read the top post in the thread after this article:


        Here… you don’t even have to click the link.

        “Altalena • 4 days ago

        He is the greatest president of my lifetime, and I’m an Ike baby.

        What the brilliant Dr. Hanson has previously called his “animal cunning” has
        served him amazingly well. He fights, but he picks his battles and
        adversaries astoundingly well. If he stoops at times, he generally does
        so to bash people and organizations which have done their level best to
        drag him into the mud first. He moves on, unscathed. Heck, I thought
        he was dead after he knocked Carly Fiorina’s looks… and I was happy to
        have been dead wrong on the point.

        He danced around the RINO Senate logjam to executive-order new health-insurance options, as
        Obamacare stumbles to its inevitable and ignominious demise. I disagree
        with him about the Kurds, but no one is perfect.

        In some ways I wish he had run against Obama in 2012. He would have effortlessly
        eviscerated Candy Crowley, instead of going deer-in-the-headlights as
        Romney did when that appalling slattern shamelessly twisted the
        historical record and tilted the playing field.”




        Share ›

    • I’m not sure where this came from out of the article, but it also misses the point. Gen Robert E. Lee was asked by Lincoln to serve as the Commander of the US Army right before the Civil War. He resigned his commission with the comment that he could not fight against his home state of Virginia. It is a most moving letter.

      Lee was an Officer and a Gentleman in the greatest sense of the word.

      • Lee was a great man in many ways, and I have objected to the notion of his statue being taken down (in a way that I would not object so vehemently to removal of Taney’s or even Calhoun’s). There were many generals in the CSA who acted out of conscience and were otherwise admirable human beings. (Buckner had lent Grant money when the latter was down-and-out in St. Louis some years before). But they still took up arms against the government.

    • Those men of honor, like Lee, took their oath very seriously. When Lee could no longer live that oath, he submitted his resignation. In taking the oath to the CSA he renounced all other oaths and lived by that the rest of his life. That is what Honor is. Making an oath do not mean forever. It means openly admitting what you believe and live by it.

      • I see. So oaths can be renounced at will, or whim. So much for that “solemn promise” stuff.

        “Making an oath do not mean forever. It means openly admitting what you believe and live by it.”


      • You clearly have no concept of honor or what taking an oath means. An oath is a commitment to follow a set of standards required under that oath. Honor is not just following those standards, it is publially and legally ending that oath and publicly

      • English language, please. WTF are you on about? Honor is… yes, violating an oath. Excellent analysis… just brilliant.


      • Good point. I don’t have the time to waste any longer. If you do not know the difference between breaking and oath and renouncing an oath, that is your problem.

      • Oh, *I* get it. You have to comply with the requisites of the Oath-Renouncing Code set forth at 22158 USCA 148(a)ii(2)N. How could I have forgotten that? Boy. if only Nidal Hassan had complied with the magic oath-renouncing formula, he could’ve killed his fellow soldiers with great… yes, *honor*, as per your formulation.

        Keep on, this gets better and better…

      • Thanks for the substantive and enlightening input… a drive-by “your stupit, plus DUM.” Good to go that route when you have no counter-argument, but just get angry. See ya!

      • If you were born in the US, served in the military, married a French citizen, moved to France, and became a citizen of France, where do your obligations lie? Of course you can change your oaths and allegiances. WHA???

    • It was a different time. People looked at themselves as Virginians, New Yorkers, etc. In fact the correct thing to say prior to the Civil War was “the United States of America are” not is. And as I recall, those WP graduates resigned their commissions in the US Army before taking up arms for their states.

      • Seems to me that they fought for The Army Of The Confederate States Of America, not The Disparate Army Of Georgia or The Discrete Army Of Arkansas. Of what was Jeff Davis the President? Mississppi? Varina?

      • No, but the Army then (on both sides) was made up of sub-armies connected to their states. Lee was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

      • Any army worth its salt (and both sides were) has divisions or their equivalent. But Jeff Davis was Commander-in-Chief of the CSA, and Lee was named General-In-Chief in 1865.

      • Reveille, reveille. In today’s armed forces we don’t have divisions based on states. As I said before the civil war the correct English was “the United States of America ARE.” Today that is incorrect. We use the singular, “the United States of America is.’

      • I don’t think that’s entirely true, though I’m sure Calhoun would have said that. Andrew Jackson did not:

        “To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation.”


      • Before the civil war, your quote was an opinion. After the Civil War it became a fact. My comment about ‘the United States of America are” was true before the Civil War.

        As a graduate of USNA, I find this article to be extremely depressing. Stephen Decatur was someone we admired and quoted.

      • I gave you chapter and verse, *from a US President.* I appreciate that you attended USNA, but admirable as that may be, that doesn’t make your assertion correct in the main. The states’-rights faction probably would have been most careful to use the plural, but the unionists? I think not

      • Actually you quoted one person and didn’t bother to research it.

        ” Language Log has documented this in great detail. In the 18th and much of the 19th centuries United States was treated as plural, but in the latter half of the 19th century the singular usage became more common. Today, the singular usage is the only accepted usage, except for the case of a few fixed phrases. In fact, “in 1902 article in the Washington Post reported that Foster’s work (which evidently was reprinted as a pamphlet) had persuaded the House of Representative’s Committee on Revision of the Laws to rule that the United States should be treated as singular, not plural.”

        As you can see your conjecture is just wrong and it was in 1902 was officially changed to singular. My assertion was correct in the main. Your assertion was simply wrong.


      • From your link:

        “The many histories are careful to distinguish between the Colonies and the States, but they have failed to impress the distinction, the immense and radical distinction, between the States and the United States. Early in the period of the Revolution there was, as just noted, a feeble incipiency of a Union in the Articles of Confederation, proposed in 1777 and ratified in March, 1781. For about a decade the states, under the technical name, “The United States of America,” were a Confederacy; but *** when the Constitution was adopted the United States was. “They” gave place to “it.” And as Mr. Fiske in his latest book, “Civil Government in the United States,” has noted, the change from the plural to the singular was vital, though it has taken a War of Rebellion to make the difference unmistakable*** …”

        (emphasis provided)

  2. Duty, Honor, Country. The mission of the US Academies has not changed over the 45 years since I attended. There were honor offenses then as there are now. But having been back to Mother B in recent years, the concept has not changed. For point of note, West Point has an Honor Code that you cannot Lie, Cheat, or Steal, or accept anyone who does. The Naval Academy Code is that you will not Lie, Cheat, or Steal. If you know of someone who did, you are not responsible for turning them in. You can ignore, you can council, or you can turn them in.

    The professors may not fully understand or appreciate the concept and there are some “loopholes”. You can break a regulation and that is not an honor violation. But you cannot lie about it. If you sign out to the library and go over the wall, it is a violation. If you sign out to the library, go to the library, then go over the wall, that’s a different story.

    It’s not 100% foolproof, but I would stand proudly beside any graduate of one of the Academies or one of the Military Schools (The Citadel) that has and lives by this concept.

    Go NAVY, beat army. USNA72

    • Back in the time of Vietnam there was an officer who wrote about the meaning of the Military Honor Code and how different it was from what was expected in corporate and political life. He was disgusted by men like General Westmorland who he saw as compromising that code, yet how difficult it would be not to make those compromises.

      Today that bridge seems to be crossed. Since the Air Force General who called out Clinton as pond scum and was forced to retire for doing so, the military has been turned into a politicized bureaucracy complete with ideology officers to ensure diversity rules over all else. It started under Clinton and was accelerated by Obama. How many of today’s officers worry more about diversity than duty to country?

    • I predated you at the Academy by 5 years. I don’t remember us calling it an honor code, but rather an honor concept. But it was a long time ago. Go Navy, Beat Army!

      • You are correct. I was trying to keep it simple. The Concept allows for a Midshipman to make a personnal decision about knowledge of an honor violation. I was aware of a Plebe signing out to lacrosse practice and going to his home instead. Busted in his room and scared the crap out him when i confronted the situation. But we save a good person and a lot of training and money that otherwise would have been lost. A stupid error fixed.

        The Honor Code does not allow for that option.

        If you were in ’68, that would have put you in with Oliver North, Charles Bolden, and James Webb. Interesting combination.. Webb was my first OIC plebe summer as my Company Officer

  3. Apart from any discussion of honor and obligations at the military academies, I would like to offer what came to mind while reading Masugi’s comments-

    The Oath of Enlistment (for enlisted):

    “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

    The Oath of Office (for officers):

    “I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the _____ (Military Branch) of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”

    I am grateful that during my military career I was able to take both oaths. Implicit in each is that I was prepared to give my life in said defense. At no time either at the civilian colleges and universities that I attended or in the employment with any corporation during my life was I ever required to swear an oath equal in weight or consequence to either of these, much less swear an oath at all.

    Ultimately, what separates the civilian from the military is as basic as a rock fight.

  4. Thanks, all, especially you vets, for your comments. I had included comments about the Civil War and monuments issues but decided to stick to the central challenge to the military academies. I will have more to say about other controversies–religion at the Academies, other Progressive temptations regarding the military–at other times.

  5. “A recent West Point graduate, still serving in the U.S. Army, shocked admirers of the venerable American military academy with his candidly pro-Communist views.”

    Undoubtably true, but it’s more a statement on the willful ignorance of those who have been sleep-walking through life for the past many decades. And shame on them.

  6. Ken:

    It is not just the Service Academies for young officers-to-be. You should read some of the tripe on offer at the Advanced Military Schools; the Naval War College for one is filled with leftist / globalists / apologists for the disastrous foreign and military policy of the Great and Powerful Obama.

    • thanks, yes, the Prog universities corrupt the academies, a point I could have underscored.

  7. Women, homosexual perverts, and minorities will eventually bring our military down. Just wait and watch.

  8. The first places the communists go for are the service academies and the secret police.That is how they took Portugal and Ethiopia. Obama is a communist.