Thursday, April 23, 2009

# Posted 3:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOLISH WEST POINT! Yes, serious journalist Thomas Ricks really did propose shutting down the United States Military Academy, aka West Point. Ricks wants to shut down the Naval Academy (aka Annapolis) and the Air Force Academy, as well.

Why, pray tell, would such a serious student of military affairs propose shutting down institutions of higher learning that have produced America's greatest soldiers, from Eisenhower to Petraeus? To save money:
Producing [academy graduates] is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student).
One of the points that Tom Ricks keeps hammering home in his book Fiasco is that big decisions (like invading Iraq) have unexpected consequences. You'd think that lesson would also apply to shutting down three of America's most successful institutions of higher and military education.

Incidentally, how much would the savings be? If you figure that each academy produces a little more than a 1,000 graduates per year, the annual cost of producing academy graduates is around half a billion dollars -- or roughly 1/1000th of the defense budget.

This assumes by the way, that the academies provide no special training that ROTC grads would have to go through after joining the military. I'd say that's a very weak assumption. According to one retired colonel who responded to Ricks' proposal:
I was not an academy graduate, but as a young lieutenant I looked upon my peers from West Point with admiration. As a result of their deep immersion in military culture, they had a head start on those of us who were commissioned from other sources.
A head start isn't free -- something that should be fairly plain to supporters of the other Head Start.

I'd recommend reading all of the responses to Ricks solicited by the Post. They provide a much richer perspective on the whole issue of military education.

You can also read the transcript of Ricks' online forum about the article. There are a few good exchanges, but you'll have to wade through a lot of snarkiness and self-congratulation (on both sides of the conversation).

A final thought: There are a lot of things that the academies need to be better. I also think the military as a whole could show more interest in civilian education. But if you're looking for a classic example of throwing out the baby with the bath water, this is it.

(Hat tip: JR)

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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