Saturday, May 28, 2005

# Posted 2:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE CLASS OF 9/11: This week, both Time and the WaPo have published profiles of the most recent graduates of our nation's military academies. The Class of 2005 will have a special place in history because it was both the final class accepted to the academies before 9/11 as well as the first to spend all four of its years at the academy during the War on Terror.

I found the most fascinating aspect of both profiles to be their description of how moral and practical reasoning is taught at the academies. According to Time, whose profile focuses on West Point's Class of 2005,
Captain Chris McKinney, who led an infantry company during the first months of the Iraq invasion, had been brought to West Point to teach Fundamentals of Tactics...

He is a walking album of case studies: You're leading a platoon, he tells his cadets, and one of your men is lying wounded in the middle of a minefield.

You go meet with a local farmer, who knows how to lead his herds safely through the field, so he could help rescue your comrade. But he won't talk; if he's seen collaborating with the Americans, he and his family could be killed. What do you do?

Many cadets' first reflex, he says, is to hold a pistol to the farmer's head. McKinney challenges them: Well, are you willing to pull the trigger, then? And wouldn't that endanger the lives of some of your men if the farmer's tribe wanted revenge? If he still refuses and you don't pull the trigger now, will you have lost credibility with your team?

Others suggest offering the farmer protection, an idea that McKinney rips apart even more quickly. Never promise these people anything you can't deliver, he says. They remember those things.

Finally, McKinney gives the answer to the case study: There is no answer. Not one single answer, anyhow. It's all just guesses, and McKinney's guess is that you should leverage the strong Iraqi aversion to having a death on one's conscience. Tell the farmer that the soldier lying out there is a human being and that his death would be on the farmer's head. In other words, use your judgment, considering everything you have learned about the place and the culture and human nature.
I certainly couldn't have provided much in the way of an answer to Capt. McKinney's question. I doubt many civilians could. I think McKinney's sensitive and creative thinking go a long way toward explaining why American soldiers have adapted to the social and cultural challenges of occupation so much better than many observers expected.

Now consider the following:
[Maj. Jason Amerine] manages to pack a war's worth of heresy against Army doctrine into a 50-min. class. He presses cadets to enunciate a meaningful difference between insurgent leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi and West Point icon and Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Pole who was the foreign fighter of his era.

What is a terrorist? Amerine asks. Someone who flies planes into buildings, says a cadet. The Japanese did basically that, says Amerine. Someone who kills civilians, says another. The U.S. did that in Dresden, Amerine replies. He is the tireless devil's advocate, forcing cadets into deeper analysis and dense moral ground.

His faith in the essential goodness of the Army, the justness of the cause, he says, informs even his most piercing criticisms. It's delicate detente that all of West Point nurses—how to create well-informed junior officers without their giving in to cynicism.

"I'm hoping to produce cadets who, after having lived through all the blood, all the horrors, will still absolutely believe in what they're doing," says Amerine.
What Maj. Amerine is teaching may be "heresy", but the fact that is he is an instructor at West Point suggests that the United States Army understands the value of unorthodox thinking. One might even say that this sort of devil's advocacy is the best sort of training that officers can have for the challenge of promoting democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The WaPo's profile of the Naval Academy Class of 2005 suggests that instructors at Annapolis also emphasize the moral complexity of warfare:
Scandals such as Abu Ghraib have forced the schools to stress ethical and moral leadership. [My impression was that the service academies have always emphasized ethical and moral leadership, but whatever.]

Midshipmen are run through day-long seminars in which they are placed in small teams and confronted with moral dilemmas they might face as junior officers...

In one such scenario, midshipmen are asked what they would do if, moments before launching a Tomahawk missile, they learn that their "high value" target sits next to a church and a boarding school. A strike would save the lives of U.S. troops but also could kill women and children.

Do they assume that the staff that selected the target knew about the "collateral" buildings? If they tell their superior and he does not bring it up to the captain, are they absolved of responsibility for the children?

If they launch, how do they defend their actions?

"We're trying to help them in their thinking process, not give them a cookbook set of solutions," said Vice Adm. Rodney Rempt, the academy superintendent. "Because, frankly, we don't know what they're going to face."
I can only hope that students also get this kind of education on our nation's civlians campuses.
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