Culture War at
By DAVID BROOKS
David Lipsky is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine, where he has more or less covered the younger generation beat. He'd written stories from about 35 college campuses and done various features on hot young actors and media executives, and was, like most young people, entirely cut off from military life. The Army was the one profession his father absolutely refused to let him consider, and, as he says, ''I never liked the military at all as a kid.''
But he was asked by Rolling
Stone's publisher, Jann Wenner,
Sometime during his stay, he
realized that ''of all the young people I'd met, the
Lipsky obviously came to admire
The story is interesting
Lipsky follows several cadets and faculty members through
their years at the academy, and their stories are the most powerful parts of
this book. One of his heroes is Lt. Col. Hank Keirsey,
a career officer who is, as Lipsky's tale begins,
chief of military training. Big, loud and barrel-chested -- physical charisma
means a great deal at
He gives the inspiring speeches at the climactic moments of cadet life:
''We don't know what division will go to the frontier of freedom here. But I can guarantee you this: this class will move out, will go into the ranks of the Army. And somewhere, in some disputed barricade along the frontier, you will meet your destiny. And you will stack this nation's enemies like cordwood.''
He is, in other words, the
personification of huah, which is the romantic
warrior code of George S.
Cadets revere Keirsey;
one collects a used cigar of his and puts it into a Ziploc bag just so he will
have a souvenir of the great man. But in an army trying to be both
The slide made it into the e-mail circles, and before long there was talk of court-martial for the instructor. Keirsey decided it was his duty to take responsibility for his subordinate, both as a matter of loyalty and because he thought his stature was such that he could take the hit without being tossed out of the Army. He was wrong. Keirsey was relieved of command of military training and dismissed from the Army.
Lipsky concludes: ''For me, what Hank Keirsey did for Dan Dent was one of the clearest examples I have of West Point values. When I tell civilian friends Keirsey's story, I have to go over it twice, because they keep asking, 'Wait, didn't the other guy make the slide?' A leader takes care of his soldiers. He puts their concerns ahead of his own.''
Keirsey's real problem is that he couldn't be bicultural; he was too much the gung-ho warrior and did not embrace the modernizing ethos, which would have made his superiors more charitably disposed toward him. Another of Lipsky's heroes is George Rash. Unlike Keirsey, Rash is something of a goofball. He has no military bearing. He talks too much, he's always looking around when he should be staring straight ahead, he does not project that surplus of manly charisma that military people call leadership. He is anti-huah.
When we first meet Rash he is about to be
tossed out of
Rash is under constant pressure to resign from the academy. A few more times he is almost expelled, or separated, as they say, for failing the physical requirements. He is hauled before a disciplinary committee on an alleged honors violation. He is allowed to bring a friend for support. Rash has no close friends, but he scrapes by and is acquitted.
In his third year administrators ask him to quit. They tell him he will be loathed everywhere he goes in the Army by officers who prey on the physically weak. ''That's reality. This is not your niche,'' one says. In his fourth year, just before graduation, his captain calls him into his office and tells him that he's going to recommend Rash be expelled from the academy and forced to repay the $250,000 the government spent educating him. Rash slumps in his chair.
But in the end he does not quit -- he has
absorbed that much of the
Lipsky has many other stories of this sort, of men and women caught between the unique rigors of military service and the normal urges and vicissitudes of being young, hormonal and American. There are romances, career perplexities, lost souls and cruel expulsions. Lipsky is a fine reporter and observer, and his weakness for similes aside, an elegant writer. The book must have been extremely hard to organize. And yet it reads with a novelistic flow.
When we saw members of the Army's Third Infantry Division roaring toward Baghdad, we saw among them young officers who believed in their organization, who were idealistic about service to the nation and who are, from all appearances, extremely good at what they do. It turns out that how teenagers get turned into leaders is not a simple story, but it is wonderfully told in this book.
David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a contributing editor at Newsweek.