Thomas Ricks, author of "Fiasco" and "The Gamble" has penned an op-ed in the Washington Post indicating his desire to close the service academies and to close the advanced military studies courses, advocating a preference for ROTC programs for junior officers and civil schooling for senior officers in an attempt to improve public diplomacy in the military.
I'm not going to join the debate on ROTC vs. West Point or the closing of advanced military schooling. What I do want to talk about is my college life--specifically, the interactions I had during those four years that I couldn't have had if I went to West Point.
For the first two years of college, I associated with people in my ROTC program primarily. Then, during my junior year of college, a person by the name of Jacob Morgan started up a web site called "The Wolf Web", and advertised it by painting the URL all over campus. Overnight, the website attracted hundreds, if not thousands of students, who began talking about classes, local events, politics, internet memes, sex (quite a bit), and of course, sometimes about absolutely nothing at all.
This was really one of the prototypes of social networking--It wasn't Web 2.0 as we know it by any means, but it still included a message board, photo gallery, profile section, and a class/professor rating feature.
Even though I went to class with thousands of students from outside the military, I wouldn't have said that I had regular interactions with them until I began to meet with them at Wolf Web functions--functions organized on the Wolf Web designed to allow everyone to meet at a local pizzeria/bar.
Through this service, I began life-long friendships with lawyers, aspiring politicians, bankers, teachers, and all sorts of engineers, many of whom now work in Research Triangle Park in Raleigh. Through the Soap Box forum--one based on politics--I was exposed to ideas I would have never encountered in ROTC, let alone in West Point. I had to debate students who believed that America was engaged in empire-building, that soldiers were brainwashed sheep. I had to prove to them by my example that I was anything but the stereotype that they had. It never ceased to amaze me how many people lived until their early twenties without meeting someone who was in the military. I had to re-think many of the assumptions I had about the US and the military, and the dialectic I enjoyed with other students caused me to refine, and even strengthen my views.
Another experience I had that greatly affected me in college happened shortly after 9-11, when I attended a student symposium about that event. Speaking at that event was a Middle Eastern studies professor, Dr. Akram Khater (I had taken two of his classes, and highly enjoyed them both). Dr. Khater put forward a thoughful argument, and while not condoning the attacks in any way, explained to us what al Qaeda's ideology was, and had to break the shattering news to all of us: that America and Israel were not always the dream team that we liked to think we were.
Entering the minds of those in the Middle East is extremely valuable in understanding the types of conflict we face in that region, and I fear it may not be as good an experience at West Point, especially considering that the many of instructors don't have PhDs, and I don't think West Point has Middle Eastern exchange students that students can interact with.
Should we support greater opportunities for public diplomacy for military officers? Absoultely. Should we go about it by closing the service schools? Eh, you decide...