I never had more mixed and shocked reactions than when I crossed the reception room to my office. All my plans and expectations had been thrown into reverse. I had been about to flunk an exam when suddenly I had passed it. I had been about to rid myself of a heckling, cross-fire job when all at once I had it again. I had been at the door of the haven of English literature when I was hauled back to the papers of jargon.
On the other hand, I was exhilarated that the new Supe thought enough of me to carry on, until I realized he couldn't wisely do much else. It would be hard for both Supe and Adjutant to be new brooms under normal conditions. It would be disastrous in the waste and wreckage of a so‑called "Corps."
Yet even with the unflattering knowledge that I had been euchred into an unmerited position, for some wild reason I was sizzling with fascination. I had never come in contact with such a conglomerate human being. He was all contradiction. He commanded without commanding. He was both a patrician and a plebeian. I could close my eyes and see him in his toga, imperiously mounting his chariot, and the next minute clad in homespun, sitting on the narrow sidewalk of Pompeii and chatting informally with a slave. He contradicted all predictions. He hadn't swaggered in, flaunting medals, demanding ceremonies or wearing Brooks Brothers' latest. He hadn't barked or berated. He hadn't charged along, overflowing with frothing verbiage in order to put "the fear of God" in the outfit and show at the outset who was boss. He hadn't goldered: "Hereafter I expect every man . . ." He hadn't even mildly hinted: "This is the way I want it in the future!"
In his new elevation he should have been as ill at ease as a youth wearing his father's boots, but he showed as much p29 uneasiness, trepidation and uncertainty as Pierpont Morgan riding around the Post in his carriage. Yet he was not overbearing. He could be amused and suavely serious in the same discussion. There was no shyness at the magnitude of his task, yet there was no bravado. Even his sharp, aquiline nose fought with his soft brown eyes. And how in the devil had he known what was in that letter without reading a word of it? Must have been a brilliant sense of inference!
But in the next months, it wasn't so much inference as first‑hand knowledge. His quiz of me was just a beginning. It spread to everyone who operated anything. I got an inkling of the range when officers from every quarter would come into my office with such remarks as:
"Gee, was I ever put through a grilling! He can ask more questions in one minute than my young son can ask in an hour, and that's going some."
"Good Lord, I felt my brain had a rope around it and he was pulling the other end."
"How in hell can he think it all up and spill it so fast?"
So in the first few months I saw little of him, as he and his Aide in the Supe's official car scoured the Post. He would swing into my office for a few minutes, keep on his short overcoat and nondescript cap, sign a few necessary papers, make a decision about something unusual and be gone.
During one of his sallies, I asked him if along with the rest he didn't want to inspect my offices, which contained about thirty civil-service clerks. He put his hand on my shoulders in his characteristic way, stretched his lips and smiled appreciatively.
"Chief, they're your offices. I am not going to be guilty of trespass. As long as the effects and results are up to par, I don't propose to snoop and meddle. Such fussing muddies the waters and usurps time which should be spent on the more important. And most certainly, there is enough of that."
This attitude was not toward me and my office alone. I found it reached all persons in charge. Not only did he refuse to belittle his subordinate but he built him into a wheel instead p30 of a cog. He was constantly aggrandizing the subordinate's status. For example, he refused to recognize my title of "Adjutant" and contended the term was archaic and aspersive of the size and spread of my duties. They belonged to the work of a Chief of Staff. As an officer remarked to me, "He makes you feel you're the only man in the only job."
During the first three months of his intense inspection, he gave me no indication of having formed any conclusions. Once in a while he'd mention something he'd seen that I, who had lived on the Post three years, hadn't noticed.
It was apparently after a complete round of inspections that he once arrived in the office, with that expectant glow of being about to see his team make a touchdown, and called out over his shoulder, "Come in, Chief."
He began talking while laying down his cap.
"I am convinced now of what I had opined all along. The Academy has come to the end of an epoch. We are training these cadets for the past, not the future. We are adhering to certain customs because they are customs. Conceits, sentiment, blind worship have sustained outmoded offshoots of tradition too long."
He swung around the room silently, and then asked, "How long are we going on preparing for the War of 1812?"
Whenever he spoke to the wall that way, I had learned, it was my cue to hold my tongue. The question was beyond the rhetorical and oratorical. It was inherent. MacArthur was communing aloud with his own mind. He was questioning MacArthur's reasoning in front of a live witness. MacArthur might not keep so well within the bounds of logic if there were only MacArthur there to hear, or if he considered his problems within the confines of his own brain. When he unraveled vocally, he unraveled better. So I waited silently.
"Chief," he went on, "I learned certain principles, certain means and methods over there that taught me the changes which have come over warfare. Standing armies don't go out and do battle for their people, like our soldiers of the Plains and the champions of old. In future whole populations will p31 fight whole populations. In Europe our regular forces were but a small fraction of all the Yanks. And what does that mean?"
He still talked to the wall, and I buttoned my lips.
"It means," he went on, "that the regular soldier no longer plays the role he has played for centuries. It means he will less and less play that role. The extremes of discipline, heretofore exercised and accepted by him, are and will be useless punishment no longer applicable or productive. He must be trained along broad and humane lines. The type of West Pointer we have been developing is not the type suited for the training and leadership of civilians. We need not lower our level, but we must accommodate ourselves to a radical change in the world."
I had expected, when he got around to divulging proposed changes, they would be something like asking Congress to expand the Corps or to erect a better hospital. But to indicate that the whole objective of the place was wrong, and that it needed an intrinsic overhaul, was like saying, "Did you notice how cockeyed the sun was when it rose this morning?"
Although I had flattered myself that I was numbered among the young progressives who had been exposed to college before entering the Point, and was not a blind worshiper of everything from the Riding Hall to Fort Put, I was wholly unprepared for such a sweeping condemnation. I had unconsciously been imbued with the prevailing idea that the purpose of the Academy was solely to give the cadet an all‑round foundation. He would gain his specialized schooling and when he got out.
As if in answer to my thought, MacArthur went on.
"Graduation is far too late to begin to teach the theoretical lieutenant how to take care of himself and his men in the field. It is too late to overcome the misleading conceptions of that life we are now inculcating here. That sort of straight-laced drill was appropriate to compact forces facing each other and fighting duels by the numbers. Our present regime is satisfactory for such a simple design. But today the battlefield is an endless maze of barbed wire, muddy trenches and lice-ridden p32 dugouts. And the weapons to man the pillboxes and emplacements have expanded, with just as much complication.
"The demands on the human mind and body are prodigious. The kind of war the world has developed is an endless physical and mental preparation. Why put that off for a minute with the cadet? Why cheat him by our waste and neglect? How dare we openly refuse through four years to ready him for the field and for dealing with the kind of troops he must handle? How can we sanely expect to have sufficient time to train him after graduation? Why should we wantonly suppress that training here and then suddenly, as he emerges, thrust on him a superhuman load?"
He was still addressing the wall. I held my peace and absorbed. In fact, what could I say? I hadn't been overseas. But from what I had heard, studied, pictured and experienced at maneuvers, his logic seemed flawless.
"Wars," he went on, "haven't been in the habit of giving us much warning. The youngster may be graduated right into a conflict, as has been the case recently. The young civilian of six weeks' training was more able than the graduated cadet to cope with discomfort, disease and the bullet. He knew what to do under rude conditions. We are unfair. In fact, we are particeps criminis, if he becomes a casualty through our neglect!"
He stopped and turned toward me. "Chief, it seems to be the common belief that what happened to the Academy last year was a calamity. I regard it as an opportunity." Then he came close to me and shot out, "Of what possible benefit is Cadet Summer Camp?"
This was no question to the wall. It was intensely fired straight at me. If he had asked, "What good is Flirtation Walk," he couldn't have floored me as much.
Cadet Camp, for a century, had been as much of an integral part of the institution as barracks. In one capacity or another, I had been eight years on West Point soil, and I hadn't had the faintest idea anything was even questionable about the summer life of a cadet. I had heard no one else offer the slightest criticism.
p33 But now, in far less time than it takes to tell it, I went over in my mind the life I had known for three summers — the Gilbert-and‑Sullivan sentry with white belts primly walking a prescribed beat and shouting an "All's well!" in the middle of the night; the formal drills in the morning in tidy uniforms in neat places; the negligee in the afternoon on comfortable cots resting on wooden floors; and in the evening, reading under electric lights or attending a formal hop in Napoleonic clothing in Cullum Hall; marching to the fife and drum of the Revolution to a palace of a Mess Hall where excellent food was served by civilian waiters. For the first time, there rolled over me the ludicrous untimeliness of it all. Why hadn't I recognized this before? Why hadn't I seen how far such a soft life was from the hardening and understanding of field training?
As I stood there, dumbfounded and silent, he went on. "No, it's out of time and out of place. It is not only inappropriate, it's baneful. We bring them up as fashion-plate soldiers in a rich man's vacation spot." His lips stretched and pressed, and his face lifted with that divining smile. "Sentry duty — sentry duty! Walking post like that against the Boches! Walking that way at all would have been the man's end."
He was quiet, and then he wheeled around. "We have accepted these blights so long, we view them as blessings."
It was all plain, as if I'd opened a Bible to find only cartoons. The folly of it all seized me — and with the seizure came visions of breakers ahead. I could see the hundreds of graduates who fondly remembered camp as a haven after the gloomy grind of the winter, a warm, open‑air gathering where the Corps became a single family, a period filled with exciting and romantic memories, and a fundamental necessity in the upbuilding of the character of the West Pointer. If it were changed, however slightly, by any wave of repair of erasure, the undertow would be at the least upsetting. Even the few of us who noticed minor flaws in the procedures of the Academy, had had to voice our comments to each other in whispers.
Since I was acquainted with the iron resistance to any major p34 change, I ventured to say, "General, you'll meet with a world of opposition."
His eyes lit up, like those of a dog at the entrance of his master.
"Chief, we met more than that in France and won."
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of West Point
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 14 Jun 16