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Saturday, July 25, 2015

West Point, the Revolution and Contemporary Politics

I visited West Point for the first time, after all these years, and it was, to use the phrase, an awesome experience.  A variety of cadets were out and about in various exercises, and I saw them as a direct line reaching back to Henry Knox, whose vision of a military academy spawned West Point.  During the Revolution, it was a singular bastion for controlling the Hudson River.  Fort Putnam was the linchpin of the various forts, batteries and redoubts that comprised it.  Here is a view from Fort Putnam over the Point and the Hudson River:


Just to the left of the railing post on the right is a small white "dot" that is the Kosciuszko Monument that is at the location of Fort Clinton.  Just to the right of the middle railing post is another white spot, a boathouse on Constitution Island.  The Great Chain, one of several set across the Hudson to impede British naval traffic, reached from Fort Clinton to Constitution Island between those two white "dots." At this point, the Hudson River made a sharp turn, itself a challenge to navigation.

But I was struck by the cadets I saw.  I thought about Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene, who were among Washington's top generals and who learned military strategy from books.  Some, like Charles Lee and Horatio Gates, had had actual combat experience and training in the British army, but various of the Continental generals like Knox and Greene "played" at soldier in militias before the war, but essentially learned warfare from books.  It was Knox's vision to have a military academy, and as I watched these cadets--which seemed to be freshman, as I understood it--I was struck not so much by the Grey Line but the line back to Knox.

I also noted this from the Douglas MacArthur monument, quoting from his last address to the cadets: 


No rational being wants war.  The current Secretary of State, John Kerry, offers his Vietnam experience as a reason for signing a deal with the Iranians, claiming he does not want war.  No rational being chooses to go to war just to do it.  But irrational human beings do bring on war, and rational people need to defend.  Consequently, the current President, Barack Obama, is proud of "ending" wars by bringing troops home, regardless of whether victory--or the American goals--were achieved.  As a result, the Middle East is embroiled in wear with no end in sight.  In the Revolution, the British lost significant numbers of troops and had to make a decision whether to pursue subjugation and continue to fight France, Spain and Holland.  The Americans (with determinative French aid) won.  They achieved victory.  The goal was to sustain independence.  Today, at least under the administration in power as this is written, has no concept of victory in war.  It is all politics.  Meanwhile, real lives have been lost and continue to be lost, and the meaningless rhetoric continues as the current holocaust goes on.  Standing in West Point, looking at men and women who, in 30-40 years will be the leaders of the American military, I cannot help but admire them in the face of the political realities with which they will have to deal.



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