Monday, January 23, 2006

Military musings

You may have heard about this movie Annapolis. It's a pretty, little dramatization of life at the Naval Academy in, wait for it, Annapolis, MD. I admit, I have not yet seen this movie, I don't even think that it's out yet. But the ad got me thinking...

Military academies are an interesting blend of two very opposite worlds. On one hand, a military training base. Discipline, obedience, rank, and order at paramount to the success of this base. Men and women are brought together, brokendown, and built back up as the ideal soldier. Those who do not conform to the ideal are made to feel their inadequacy. It's a society built on doing exactly what you are told, doing it better than the guy next to you, and rising to rank where you can then issue the orders. Sounds a lot like the modern business environment of ass-kissing and promotion, but the key difference is that ingenuity and initiative to make the old way better is rewarded in the business world, whereas it's angrily dismissed in the military world. The status quo is the order of every day. And it appears pretty damn efficient. Someone gets told to do something, they do it, and it's done. Except when Congress gets involved, then things just get all mucked up.

On the flipside of the military academy experience - the university model. Students of the military academies are just that, students. They take courses in math, science, public policy, and the liberal arts. In this college system, students are taught to challenge that which they are told, to form their own opinions, and defend them loudly for the sake of good argument. Obviously, as a graduate of this system, I'm more familiar with it than the military model. For the most part in these schools, non-military classes are taught by civilian professors.

So here's the thing - does one compliment the other? They seem at odds with each other. Does the student know when to turn one instinct on and the other one off? If one takes a stronger hold in the student, how does that affect the other aspect? Does a really great soldier need to know how to analyze Chaucer, and does a really great literary mind need to know how to take or give an order? Is a military education meant to foster the independent thinking soldier, or just a more civilized soldier? Are the officers produced that much better? What's the benefit of a well-rounded soldier when all their country needs them to do is fire where told, secure hills where told, and investigate threats where told?

Of course, there's the little problem of military leadership. When you're in a system that relies on obedience to rise through the ranks, at what level does the "Respond with own thought now" instinct come back to the soldier? Is it when the lives of others are put in their hands? Does the study of political theory help with this responsibility? I've studied a ridiculous amount of political theory, and none of it could tell me how to place someone else's life on the line. Maybe I didn't play close enough attention.

I've a few academy guys who are, for the most part, the independent thinking guys. I think this was a bit of a disadvantage for them. They question everything and I think have found the academy life that much more difficult. I've known one rank and file, recruiting poster soldier, he's done very well and has nothing but contempt for those troublesome thinkers in his class. He also has nothing good to say about the liberal arts classed he's forced to take as part of his well rounded military education.

I've know one academy girl, but she was kicked out for not portraying the "morals of a modern soldier." She was kind of a slut and that was against the rules, so off she went.

It's a life that I'll probably never understand (military academies, not slut-hood. Not that I claim any real expertise in that area either.), and one I don't think I'd be welcomed into either. "Why" is just too engrained in my vocabulary, I think.

Sidenote - these very dedicated people defend my sorry, skeptical butt every day. So thank you.


Rachel said...

I'm curious as to whether the annual St. Johns/Naval Academy croquet game will get any screen time.

Other than that I'm fairly confident this movie is going to blow.

mark said...

i too have contemplated this question before! i really can't imagine going into a military academy, but from what i've read and heard, it seems that most future cadets are called to it in the same way many of us are called to be artists, or teachers, or priests. maybe it's a natural selection type thing...selected to lead,fight,protect whatever. and those that have the right combination of intelligence and strength are destined to be the leaders and be responsible for their charges. personally, of course, i have no interest in any of it, but am grateful that there are those who do. life and society has a way of balancing itself out.

p.s. i had an extended conversation with said "academy girl" (assuming it's the same one)about her experience at Annapolis. even though she crashed and burned, the stories are really quite fascinating, but yeah, i really can't help but want to know from these people why they CHOOSE to go through all that? it has to be a calling!