Saturday, 03 April, 2004
Military schools teach violence?
We were walking from the Mess Hall to the rifle range yesterday after lunch with a group of other alumni and their wives. One of the alumni was telling his wife that he wanted to make a small donation to the school and she replied "I don't want to support violence." The ensuing discussion revealed that she had a very odd view of the military in general and the Marine Military Academy in particular. The most revealing comment was "You can call it what you like, but I know what it really is. They're training kids to be violent." I exercised the better part of valor and didn't engage further. But it got me to thinking.
Perhaps the most important thing she got wrong was the role of the military training at the school. Yes, the school is built on the traditions of the United States Marine Corps and operated in large parts by retired Marine Corps officers and Drill Instructors. But the "military training" focuses mostly on decorum, self-discipline, respect for authority, timeliness, and other such values that have traditionally been held in high regard by the Armed Services. Cadets learn to march, to salute cadet officers and staff, to say "Yes, sir" and "No, sir", and to treat others with dignity and respect. Those customs form the structure that's required in order to accomplish the real work of the school: to prepare future leaders for their next steps in life. In this case, those next steps are going to college and making their way in the big bad world.
The cadets are of course exposed to violence of some sort or another. Both boxing and judo are offered as after school activities. But those sports, especially judo, teach the measured use of violence in appropriate situations. They teach a little bit about military tactics to those cadets who choose to play paintball, but that's not really part of the standard training. In any case, cadets aren't exposed to anywhere near the violence that they would be exposed to in public schools, and since they almost never get to watch television, they're probably way behind their peers when it comes to violent behavior. Yes, fisticuffs occur. When I was at the school the Drill Instructors had a very effective way to handle that. They'd take the whole company to the boxing gym, suit the combatants up in the appropriate gear, and let them have at it with everybody watching. I don't know if that still occurs, but I think it's the most reasonable way to handle it.