...the honor code broke down before our eyes as staff and faculty jobs at West Point began filling with officers returning from Vietnam. Some had covered their uniforms with bogus medals and made their careers with lies - inflating body counts, ignoring drug abuse, turning a blind eye to racial discrimination, and worst of all, telling everyone above them in the chain of command that we were winning a war they knew we were losing. The lies became embedded in the curriculum of the academy, and finally in its moral DNA.
By the time we were seniors, honor court verdicts could be fixed, and there was organized cheating in some units. A few years later, nearly an entire West Point class was implicated in cheating on an engineering exam; the breakdown was complete.
The mistake the Army made then is the same mistake it is making now: how can you educate a group of handpicked students at one of the best universities in the world and then treat them as if they are too stupid to know when they have been told a lie?
I've seen the results firsthand. I have met many lieutenants who have served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, practically back to back. While everyone in a combat zone is risking his or her life, these junior officers are the ones leading foot patrols and convoys several times a day. Recruiting enough privates for the endless combat rotations is a problem the Army may gamble its way out of with enough money and a struggling economy. But nothing can compensate for losing the combat-hardened junior officers.
In the fall of 2003 I was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq, and its West Point lieutenants were among the most gung-ho soldiers I have ever encountered, yet most were already talking about getting out of the Army. I talked late into one night with a muscular first lieutenant with a shaved head and a no-nonsense manner who had stacks of Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker and The Atlantic under his bunk. He had served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and he was disgusted with what he had seen in Iraq by December 2003.
"I feel like politicians have created a difficult situation for us," he told me. "I know I'm going to be coming back here about a year from now. I want to get married. I want to have a life. But I feel like if I get out when my commitment is up, who's going to be coming here in my place? I feel this obligation to see it through, but everybody over here knows we're just targets. Sooner or later, your luck's going to run out."...
...The problem the Army created in Vietnam has never really been solved. If you keep faith with soldiers and tell them the truth even when it threatens their beliefs, you run the risk of losing them. But if you peddle cleverly manipulated talking points to people who trust you not to lie, you won't merely lose them, you'll break their hearts.
Perhaps this is a problem calling for Private Jonah?
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