Last Friday, American Greatness contributing editor, Ken Masugi joined AG contributing editor, Seth Leibsohn to discuss the ongoing troubles at America’s military academies. Professor Masugi has experience teaching both at the United States Air Force Academy and, during the Vietnam War, on the USS Enterprise. You may listen to the audio below or read the transcript that follows.
Seth Liebsohn: Welcome back to the Seth and Chris show. I am Seth Liebsohn. Delighted to welcome back and old friend, an old colleague to the show, Professor Ken Masugi. He has a new piece up, entitled, “On the Corruption of the Military Academies,” published over at American Greatness, amgreatness.com. The touchpoint, the starting point of this piece is over the story . . . we’ve talked about it here—the West point graduate, who is still in the U.S. Army, candidly showing his pro-communist views complete with exhibiting a T-Shirt of Che Guevara. Dr. Masugi, welcome back to the show.
Ken Masugi: Hey. Great to be with you.
Seth Liebsohn: Thank you for doing this, and thanks for spending some of your Friday evening with us. Thanks for writing this piece. It brought out a lot out front, on the purpose of military academies, and what’s happened to the civilian academies. I’ll let you go ahead and state your thesis, for a few moments if you will. And then, I want to push on a few things.
Ken Masugi: Well, one way to get into this, is that the universities, the ordinary civilian ones, are one of the most corrupting forces in American life today, for a whole host of reasons. Even the most respected universities can only guarantee to their graduates that they will come out without any moral compass whatsoever, will have left wing views, and generally will have been deprived of what might be a truly fine education, especially at a private school at considerable funds. Now, the military academies used to be just engineering schools. Basically, they learned something about military discipline and about how to make things …
Seth Liebsohn: Right.
Ken Masugi: . . . and destroy things.
Seth Liebsohn: Right.
Ken Masugi: But, gradually they become more like liberal arts colleges in the courses they offer, and of course they go to the best civilian universities that teach these subjects. Some people might come out fine, still. Others you wonder about. I was among a number of civilian professors who taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy. I could see some of the corruption, and also some of the great things that I learned from being associated with the military, not having served myself—although I was in this curious teaching position once, on the USS Enterprise, during the Vietnam war.
Seth Liebsohn: Chris Buskirk and I have talked a lot about this issue. Do you remember a book, must be almost 20 years old now, maybe not quite that, but almost, by Michael Barone, Hard America, Soft America.
Ken Masugi: Yeah. I do recall looking at it. Sure.
Seth Liebsohn: He was talking about, you know, hard America is, you know, the America of accountability, the America of training under live fire. You think the military—winners and losers. Soft America. It’s our entertainment system. It’s our entertainment culture. It’s our civilian education system. Trophies for showing up. That kind of thing; just in broad strokes. One of the things that has shocked us is, what we have seen, is which one is changing the other. Hard America isn’t changing Soft America. Soft America seems to be changing Hard America. The military academies are a good example. Your story, a good example.
I first noticed this in a big way after the Fort Hood shooting. You remember Major Nidal Hasan, the terrorist. The next day on, “The Today Show,” the chief of staff of the Army, General Casey, was asked about it, obviously. His answer blew me away. He said, “As horrific as this tragedy was, if we lose diversity in the military, that would be worse.” I thought to myself, “Diversity is now in the military, more important than forced protection, loss of life, or terrorism.” That’s what he said.
Ken Masugi: Well yeah, that was absurd, but you have to know that the military are under a lot of pressure, especially if it’s a hostile regime, like Obama’s.
Seth Liebsohn: Well, of course during that period of time, which was I think it was the first year of the Obama administration, 2009. Someone had to have given General Casey these kinds of views. I had heard for years that there is now this tremendous politicization of the officer and general class coming out of these military academies.
Ken Masugi: I mean, you simply can’t say anything critical about women in the military, even though there might be a study that concludes that there’s some problems with integration. People can kind of trim around the edges of the difficulties of say, gays in the military, or even women, and not really get to the heart of the problem. And then a lot of … Of course cadets come in with a lot of this, from their own, excuse me, their own education. Not all of that can be washed out, as the devotion to duty drives out your own selfish views.
Seth Liebsohn: In your piece, Dr. Masugi, you write about the oath people take when they go into the military academies. There’s an oath that’s happening de facto, you write about, over the latest tenants of progressivism, that are probably held just as strong, if not in some cases stronger in the civilian universities.
Ken Masugi: Oh sure. I mean, there is a diversity viewpoint. I certainly knew that in teaching in the political science department. That was 20 years ago. Certainly, that can all be reconciled, whether you’re a Democrat, or a Republican. That can be reconciled, as long as you observe the norms of the academy and so forth. We’re not talking about a simple free speech issue. I mean, maybe this kid just wanted to shock people by espousing bizarre views, and wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, and other really terrible activity. Maybe deep down he’s really a good, loyal soldier.
That’s not the issue. The issue is, whether you’re going to have an officer corps, not just this one kid, but an officer corps, that’s really devoted to the protection of the constitution, and really devoted to duty, as opposed to, simply the private enjoyment of rights. All the student privileges that, say a California undergrad kid would enjoy.
Seth Liebsohn: Right. That’s right, but … I guess what I’m driving at here, is that you’re not seeing Harvard recruiting very many people from West Point. What you’re seeing is West Point recruiting from Harvard, and Stanford, and from the civilian universities to teach the civilian ethos, the civilian ethic, and not just really the civilian ethos, or the civilian ethic, but you know, this postmodern, or progressive ethos, and progressive ethic. This is a problem that’s going to get worse, when it’s only flowing in one direction it seems to me.
Ken Masugi: Sure. You could see that even when I was teaching there, because they’d hire civilian professors with views that weren’t necessarily … You would think are not quite in line with . . .
Seth Liebsohn: Not consonant with the mission.
Ken Masugi: There’s that and … plus, the military people get a poor political science education that is really disorienting as well. For example, teaching international relations can be all about models, and not about the defense of America, or a real rigorous foreign policy course …
Seth Liebsohn: Right.
Ken Masugi: . . . that integrates their students’ knowledge of the military, and the officers knowledge of the military together with rigorous academic work in foreign policy.
Seth Liebsohn: Right. I mean, I worry about, when I read that someone is a scholar warrior, I worry about where the scholarship comes from, what the scholarship is. They said this about David Petraeus, and I worried about it. I saw some of the things he was doing and saying, especially in Afghanistan. It seemed like something you would get from a professor of international relations at Harvard.
On the other hand, you get scholar warriors like … I don’t know if you’ve noticed this new governor in Missouri, Eric Greitens, just a wonderful, great, great scholar and warrior and governor. We’re going to a break. Do you have time for a few more minutes on the other side of this break?
Ken Masugi: Delighted.
Seth Liebsohn: Be right back with Ken Masugi. I see my good friend Don, a graduate of one of these academies, also calling in. We’ll get right to him with a question for Ken. I’m Seth Liebsohn. 602-508-0960. We’ll be right back.
Welcome back to the Seth and Chris how. I am Seth Liebsohn. We are talking to Professor Ken Masugi about his piece on the corruption of the military academies. It’s also about the civilian academies as well. It’s up over at American Greatness. Professor, thanks for staying with us. I have a call from a friend of mine, who has experience himself in these academies, being the graduate of one. Don, welcome to the show. You’re on with Ken Masugi.
Don: Hi Seth.
Seth Liebsohn: Hi.
Don: How are you?
Ken Masugi: Hi Don.
Don: Professor, how are you? Fine. I have to push back just a little bit on your article and what I’m hearing on the show. I think that there’s some easy points your trying to score with the fact that we had a graduate of a military academy being shown wearing a communist shirt, and about communism. I just remind you that, being a communist is actually not against the uniform code of military justice. Certainly espousing any political views while in uniform is, but the military does not say, simply because you’re a communist, you’re not authorized, or allowed to serve this country.
I would have to say that, in my opinion, the evolution of the education at the academies, has served this nation incredibly well. We are currently asking people one year out of college to do things like, deal directly with the village elders in Afghanistan, in a war zone. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the graduates of these academies don’t spend 20 years in the military, but go into corporate non-profit education world as well. I would just have to ask you if you think that this is such a corrupt thing, that it’s being so corrupted, what is your answer? What’s the fix?
Ken Masugi: Well, that’s a great question. One thing that I think the academy can do, the military academies can do is just have more respect for what they’re doing, and for the discipline that’s needed to be successful second lieutenants. Often, I think there’s a kind of inferiority complex, and I think people defer a lot to civilian innovations, I mean, intellectually and so forth. I think that can be very dangerous.
In other words, the one thing that academy graduates, and you can see this in the Trump White House for example … If I would ask a cadet, “Give me a five minute report on a certain subject.” Regardless of the content of the report, that report would be done in four minutes, and 59 seconds, and then the cadet would say, “Thank you. Are there questions?” Right? Whereas, if you ask a civilian class to give such a report, it could be two minutes, it could be 10 minutes. And so there’s this directness. That, I think is a very good trait.
Now, you can always mistake that, and overlook the content. You could mistake such efficiency for real depth of understanding, and so forth. One of the problems of the system is that it encourages a lot of corner cutting, and possibly even cheating. I mean, there are these scandals that occur from time to time. And then, the other thing I would say is that, the civilian authority, who have control over, at least influence over these military academies, has to be very sensitive to the peculiar ethos of these academies.
One particular example … I hate to go on, is that academy cadets are religious people. And that, often I found, in my time teaching there (this is about 20 years ago) these cadets felt, in a sense beset, or kind of isolated, because of their religious views. For example, they didn’t care for indulging in alcoholic beverages … I mean, they weren’t wimps about it, or anything, but they felt kind of isolated. And so, I think the reaction on the part of some of the leadership, was to kind of provide a safe space, so to speak for them.
And then, this got interpreted in the media as well, that there’s religious oppression in the academies. That’s something I couldn’t go into in the article, but … there are certain sensitivities here that really need to be dealt with. I mean, these are 18, 19, 20 year old students after all, whom you’re expecting to take on the burdens of military life.
Don: I just ask you … I do believe that looking at outcomes is important, and if you’re going to judge the education provided by the military academies, I’d ask you to look at what the … And maybe tell your readers what negative outcomes you’re seeing from second lieutenants in the field. I would also encourage you, that … First, thank you for your work at the academies, 20 years ago, but if you haven’t been lately, I would encourage you to visit and see exactly what the academic rigors are, what the honor code is. The cheating that you’re mentioning is beyond infinitesimally small, and when found, is dealt with directly by the cadets themselves, not by the military.
Ken Masugi: Great. Great.
Don: I think that some of your opinions, while maybe valid based on your experience 20 years ago, might benefit from a little refreshing of some visits to any of these academies.
Ken Masugi: I would welcome such correction. I would really welcome such correction. The West Point, the former West Point professor and graduate, who wrote the original article, seemed to think things had really deteriorated from his time at West Point. Well, actually 20 years before. Given the deterioration of standards in schools generally … I mean, I had to take that, as sort of a default position in these things, but I would be delighted to be refuted on this. I really would.
Seth Liebsohn: Now, it does turn out in this specific case, that this second lieutenant I guess, has other problems as well, for which he could easily be disciplined for under the military code of conduct.
Don: It is currently under investigation by his chain of command.
Seth Liebsohn: Right. Some of the things he’s posted on his Twitter account for example, that look like they do go against something known as article 88 of the uniform code.
Ken Masugi: Yeah. Sure. I’m sure there are all sorts of things that could trip up a lot of people …
Seth Liebsohn: Yeah.
Ken Masugi: As long as justice is not arbitrary, I would be greatly comforted in this.
Seth Liebsohn: Good gentlemen. I appreciate it very much. Dr. Masugi, as always, let’s be in touch again real soon Ken. Let’s not make it so long between visits. Yes?
Ken Masugi: Oh. Okay. That sounds fine with me.
Seth Liebsohn: All right professor. Thank you very much. When we come back, speaking of military and the culture, gonna talk to Mike Sabo, who had a piece up about Donald Trump’s call, and the controversy over it. Is that the right word for it, to the grieving widow of a fallen solider. I’m Seth Liebsohn. We’ll be right back.