I beg you to indulge me one more time about West Point.
(Yes… I know I have been bragging a lot about our daughter, but stay with me one more time. There are lessons to be learned.)
During the weekend leading up to R-Day at West Point, Sandy and I took Chaney on a river cruise up and down the Hudson. Apparently there were a few other families of incoming cadets who figured they would do the same thing.
As soon as we boarded the paddle wheeler, the new cadets started recognizing the “cut of each other’s jib.” Soon enough, five of the new cadets had met and were getting to know one another.
There was, of course, Chaney, a solid football player from Mississippi, another football player from Alabama, a wrestler from Hawaii, and a female cheerleader from Iowa.
In addition to the gender diversity between them (Chaney and the cheerleader were female), there was also racial diversity… Alabama was black, Iowa was white, Mississippi was white and Hawaii, like Chaney, was mixed race, half white… half asian.
There was also geographic diversity among these kids, a small subset from the 1200 who would be swearing in the next day came from all over the country.
Then there were the similarities…
They were all ridiculously good looking… I mean uncomfortably, amazingly, central-casting good looking.
They were also mind bogglingly polite. The cadets came up to Sandy and me and introduced themselves calling us sir and ma’am. (Yes… for those of you who were wondering, all had a firm handshake.)
Also, they were all patriots. They saw their upcoming military service as a commitment that needs to be filled to our country.
Mind you… these kids are just that… kids.
What they didn’t see amongst themselves at all were differences in race or gender. Those differences were irrelevant to these new comrades in arms. All they could see were new brothers and sisters.
(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)
At 0800 we were all mustered in Eisenhower Hall. The new cadets sat nervously between their parents as a COL approached the microphone. He welcomed us all to West Point and instructed the new cadets they had 60 seconds to say goodbye to their parents. They were then ushered out of the hall and onto their 47-month “experience” in leadership. The parents were left to mill around West Point during the day and attempt to catch glimpses of their children being processed into West Point.
All of their backgrounds, their histories, their individual cultures were now being supplanted by a new culture, one that unites all of the corps of cadets. They are Americans first… make no mistake about that… (well, except for the foreign military cadets who are also being trained)…but, second to that, is a unique culture that binds them all into a single tribe, regardless of the tribe from which they originally came.
At 1530 the parents were organized back into Eisenhower Hall. This time we had the distinct pleasure of being addressed by Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, Superintendent of the USMA. Lt. Gen. Williams, himself a West Point graduate, said something very, very important:
“Your children are here because they are patriots, because they have a passion to defend the Constitution of the United States. We will teach them how to fight… but, more importantly, we will teach them how to win. The United States will not tolerate a military that loses.”
He also went on to explain the unique diversity of the incoming cadets. Of the 1200 or so admitted cadets, 285 were female. Then, of course, there was the breakdown of whites, blacks, asians, hispanics. (Interestingly…. this incoming class has the largest hispanic population in West Point’s history.)
That all being said, the diversity, while “interesting,” is essentially insignificant. The corps of cadets gathers its strength first through the common culture of excellence and leadership of character. That culture is strengthened and buttressed by the tangential cultures from which it draws.
The cadet from Newport Beach may have very little in common with the cadet from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma… Up-bringing, and perhaps race, are completely different, yet through the crucible of West Point, they will become brothers and sisters in arms. Their perspectives will become part of the whole… and, as such, their strengths will become the force multiplier.
This is what our nation does best.
We must never forget that. Europe has spent a millennia maintaining a balkanized approach to inclusion. They fought thousands of minor real estate skirmishes and two world wars because of it.
We rejected that notion after the Civil War, and we must continue to forcefully reject it.
Of concern… existential concern… is our dangerous flirtation with tribalism based on community membership. Our individual backgrounds give color to the tapestry… but each thread must be uniquely and unequivocally American.