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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
MacArthur Close‑Up
William Addleman Ganoe

published by
Vantage Press
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 13
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p95  Gentle Cleavage of the Wall

Against the gathering umbrage at interference, and mounting resistance to innovations, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur showed no signs of discouragement or defeat. He was never testy or complaining even in my confidential presence. If blocked at one point, his resourcefulness popped up at another with grace and cleverness. He regarded the contumelious attitude of some as a compliment, and the hollowness and self-interest of counter arguments as a fortification of his conviction he was on the right track.

Yet all through his solitary plodding for reforms, he refused to be highhanded or arbitrary. It was only where he knew he'd have a prolonged fight of doubtful outcome, and that only good would result all around, that he took the bull by the horns, as in the orders for the professors' excursions to pagan educational institutions.

His patience was particularly shown in his work with the committees on co‑ordination and the new curriculum. He had endless talks with each professor, absorbing his views and gently persuading him on one little point at a time. As an illustration of his adroitness in these private consultations, he persuaded two sympathetic professors to go the limit on co‑ordination between their subjects. He induced them to exploit their success in an oral report to the Board. It was a mixed process of shame and contagion.

He came in one morning with eyes wide and nostrils distended. "What," he asked, "is the mechanism whereby instructors are obtained?"

"The professor puts in for the person he wants, and the War Department details him here."

"And my office?"

"Rubber stamps, sir."

"How does the professor know the qualifications of the officer?"

 p96  "From his standing as a cadet, memory of his personality, sometimes private correspondence, friendship or other relation­ship — mostly his standing as a cadet."

"But what I'm mostly interested in, Chief, is, how does the head of a department know the man is a good teacher or likes to teach?"

"I don't know unless he finds out by private correspondence."

"Is there much of that?"

"That I can't tell, sir. I do know this, that several instructors have indicated to me there was only one drawback to this place — teaching cadets."

His chin shot out, and a knowing glow spread over his face.

"As I suspected from some of the indifferent teaching I saw in the section-rooms! There are several weaknesses in the whole process of selection. In the first place, just because a man stands high, he is not necessarily qualified as a teacher. Indeed, it has been my experience that the best coaches and teachers are found more around the middle of the class than at the top. They have had to struggle more and hence have more sympathy with the man who is also struggling."

What an admission, I thought, for a man who came out number one.

"In the second place," he went on, "sufficient inquiry is not officially made into the prospect's teaching desires and ability. Personal favor and partiality are too much in evidence, to the detriment of imparting knowledge and help to the cadet." His eyes widened and then squinted. "Chief, I smell a rat. This Post is a bonanza and a temptation for an officer, and especially for his family — fine quarters, kid‑glove work, privileges of an excellent commissary, post exchange, palatial officers' club and constantly entertaining spectacles on the Parade Ground and Athletic Field. How many consider these attractions before the labor of teaching? How many are willing to endure teaching to escape from the rude shacks and hovels they must occupy in these postwar conditions? Too many, I fear, and the cadet is the goat."

 p97  "He bent his head back, studied the ceiling and went on. "I look back and see a sergeant lying down beside a backward recruit and explaining the workings of a machine gun as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. It's that type we want."

"I believe most of the instructors here now," I defended, "would be fine instructors in practical field work, but what gets them is the cut-and‑dried section-room theory which takes so much effort to make interesting. I think you'll find the teaching is better than in our day. I remember what a shock I had after four years of college when I asked an instructor a question about the text. He looked up from his pad and said, 'I'm not here to answer questions, but to mark you.' "

MacArthur smiled understandingly. "Yes, I know the type. We may have progressed here and there quite by accident. But there has been no official, concerted effort to obtain fine teachers of uninterested soldiers. And I am doubtful that the kind of education our graduate receives makes theoretical instruction attractive. Our field is too limited in quantity and quality. There is a large reservoir of army officers, graduates of civilian institutions, which has not effectively been tapped. It will do us good to have them among us. The war taught me that narrowness in any enterprise is stultifying. Too long have we fostered this inbreeding which is no better for us than for a royal family."

He turned and advanced toward me. "Chief, prepare an application to the War Department for the names of college graduates, officers of the Army, who are excellent teachers, who like teaching for teaching's sake."

"But how," I inquired, "are we to get the professors to ask for them?"

He stretched back his lips. "That, he said, "is home missionary work."

At the next Academic Board meeting, he explained his actions and gave his reasons, which were based on his observations in the Academic Buildings. A number of the officers, while excellent in every other respect, were not enthusiastic  p98 teachers who loved explaining for explaining's sake. It was the type who had that passion he was hoping they would put in for. In order to aid them, he would submit lists with full qualifications of civilian college graduates, probably with extra degrees. He urged them to correspond with the better prospects and ascertain their attitude toward teaching.

The room grew depressingly silent and stuffy.

Finally, one of the older members rose and delivered his opinion. He believed this was a step backward. The instructor from the outside (he said "outside" in a tone of across the tracks) would be at an unheard‑of disadvantage. How could he fit in with the peculiar ritual of the section room, the front-board recitation, salutes and formalities of section-marcher and behavior of cadets? How would he know what constituted an offense requiring disciplinary action? How could he be familiar with the cadet's life outside classes, so that he could understand enough of the short study periods to do justice? The whole idea might superficially have breadth and scope, but practically it wouldn't work, might prove dangerous, and certainly was a problematical venture. After all, our graduates had done pretty well if were to judge by the output and the unusually high success of the individuals.

I studied MacArthur's face as the speech went on. It said, "This was to be expected, only it's more moderate."

When he did speak, it was in no offensive or defensive tone. He went on evenly, as if he were reading aloud a letter from a friend. He showed how we already had civilian instructors in the Department of Modern Languages, and at the Gymnasium. Their apprentice­ship had been relatively short, and they had since fitted into the life here with the utmost ease.

He was going on with the details which led up to his decision, when one of the Old Guard began heckling him, not as uncouthly as in Hyde Park, but just as persistently. When the interruptions became so intrusive that they began blotting out parts of sentences, the bland expression of MacArthur changed electrically to that of a cornered animal. He brought his fist down on the table with a bang and commanded, "Sit down,  p99 sir. I am the Superintendent!" After the hush that followed, he add, "Even if I weren't, I should be treated in a gentlemanly manner."

That was the nearest I saw him approach anger. Even then he didn't quite reach it. The explosion was something between an obnoxious duty and defensive indignation. For immediately afterward, he exhibited no flushed face, quivering tones, trembling hand, strained voice or any other after-effects of lost temper. He went right on as before, explaining calmly and unhaltingly what he had in mind.

He was not interrupted then or afterward, and he allowed no one else to be. But on the faces of the Old Guard was written an unmistakable glumness of hostility. Neither the heckling nor the outburst had helped his cause. To them he was just a little more of a youthful dictator.

When he and I were out of earshot of all the others, he leaned over in the hallway and laughingly asked, "What can I say that will make him hit me, so I can try him, and we can remove a bar to progress?"

The question was as rhetorical as absurd. He no more meant me to answer than to carry out such a far‑fetched scheme. His whole conduct had proven to me he was incapable of insulting or badgering language. And it was beneath him to indulge in such low means. The query, uttered flippantly, inferred also he was beginning to realize the array of might against him, but that it was not going to ruffle, sour or deter him.

He was still as set as before on the transfusion of new blood into the instruction. Toward that end the War Department, in contrast to the Old Guard, responded with a surprising number of excellently qualified graduates of other institutions. Some had extra degrees, some had specialized in education, and all had a flair for teaching but had left that field because of low pay or the call to war.

My office parceled out the names to the appropriate comments without comment. When the applications came in from them for replacements of officers whose tours had expired, they showed a feeble attempt at compliance, and in two departments  p100 there were blanks. The introduction of outlanders was going to be as difficult as a mixed marriage.

When I showed MacArthur how limply his suggestions had been carried out, he didn't hit the ceiling. He didn't hit anything, but sat back unwrinkled and apparently unmoved.

"Ask," he said almost brightly, "Professor X to come over and see me at his convenience."

When the Professor came, he swished through the Reception Room without a glance in my direction. Naturally, for evident reasons, I wasn't in on the conference, but I could hear the voice of remonstrance rising to a high pitch and MacArthur's forceful but modulated replies.

Later I learned that the Professor had complained that never had the wishes and advice of the members of the Board been so disregarded, even flouted. Was their experience of no value? Whether they mere figureheads to be called upon to sign their names at odd times like clerks? First, they were packed off to distant parts by an arbitrary order, and now their free choice was being throttled for the first time in a century. They couldn't even have the instructors they wanted but must take unknowns with no experience at West Point. They were objects of coercion as they had never been before.

MacArthur hadn't argued, but redefined his position. Even though the saying was hackneyed, there was always room for improvement. Inspirational teachers were hard to find. It was necessary to widen the field of eligibles to the maximum if we were going to obtain the best instruction for cadets.

The Professor insisted he had the best instruction, and always had had. He had seen to that. He had a standard that was far higher than anything he had seen at the university he had visited, with its futile lecture system.

MacArthur tried to make him see that some instructors were bound to be poorer than others in any department. It was his resolve to replace the poorer ones with better ones, and that it was likelier a nongraduate "coming in here" would be more on his toes in order to make good against the graduate.

But the Professor left unconvinced, unreconciled, unregenerated,  p101 un‑everything else, with a look of sinister determination.

Conversations with others of the Old Guard brought similar objections, even though they weren't so vehement. Altogether they kept opening MacArthur's eyes wider to the extent to which West Point had become a walled city of education, still manning its battlements against any streak of enlightenment from without.

To add to the exclusion and seclusion was the resistance to any slight swerve from the former curriculum. The older members of the Board, firm in their will to retain water-tight compartments, stood solidly against co‑ordination and modernization and MacArthur's attempt to coerce, even though he had the authority. The only weapon he could and would use was his unremitting patience, despite his determination not to be jockeyed from the course of needful reforms unless it could be substantially proven he was in error.

Thus far, evidence against his conceptions had been confined to criticism and complaint. Against them he would not take up arms directly. He ignored the shoutings and sallies. With the self-control of an elderly sage and the frankness of an idealistic youth, he pressed tactfully and courteously toward his goal.

While the progress was slow and painstaking, it presented to me a seeming contradiction. Here was the head of an institution whose short past, wholly within the confines of the Service, should have bound him with a narrow army mentality. Contrarily, he had somehow turned into a progressive educator. Opposed to him were experienced men of pedagogy whose long exposure to learning should have made them exert pressures on the Supe for improvements. Yet they had pulled back in their shells like turtles. At one time, everything seemed to be in reverse and teetering.

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