It’s time to stop violent hazing and spirit-building activities at military training academies.
I had a “Code Red” A Few Good Men flashback as I read of a recent incident at West Point Military Academy. My stomach is in knots. Apparently, at the United States Military Academy, freshman cadets mark the end of a seven week summer training with a pillow fight. This event is marked as a way to build class spirit and blow off steam after seven grueling weeks of hard work.
But this year was different. At the West Point, N.Y. campus, some cadets packed their pillowcases with hard objects, possibly helmets and rocks, that split lips, broke bones, dislocated shoulders and left 30 cadets injured and 24 concussed.
Those injured kept the code of silence for fear of repercussions; they did not name names. And according to an academy spokesman, all cadets returned to duty, although it was also reported that some had been hospitalized. This incident occurred on August 20, 2015, and discussion was abuzz on social media; West Point finally confirmed said incident to the New York Times on September 3, 2015.
Punishments have not been doled out, and the academy has no plans to end the annual tradition. According to one cadet, he was advised by his upperclassman commander, “If you don’t come back with a bloody nose, you didn’t try hard enough.”
A female first-year was quoted as saying “My friends were really excited . . . everyone felt really hard core.” And then she saw a male cadet being loaded into an ambulance, and changed her tune. “If you are an officer, you are supposed to make good decisions and follow the rules. You are supposed to mediate when everyone wants to go out and kill everyone.”
These types of activities occur at other military training institutions nationwide. At the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs ceremonial warfare traditions have seen similar violence. During the first winter storm of the year, Air Force freshman attempt to throw cadet leaders into the snow. In 2012, however, the snowball fight ended in 27 concussions, cuts, broken bones and a bite wound. Again, there was no punishment for this event and it was treated as a “teachable event.”
While I realize it was fiction, and I realize we are talking about one cadet and not a group activity, I cannot help but relive the courtroom moment when Tom Cruise confronts Jack Nicholson with “Did you order the Code Red?!” and he finally replies with “You’re Goddamn right I did!” And, of course, that was his undoing, it was a murder case with a Hollywood ending and an apopleptic Nicholson is led off in handcuffs.
But this is real life. We are talking about sanctioned violent acts against a fellow officers/cadets for what reason? In the movie’s case it was because the cadet didn’t measure up. In the examples above the activities are to show camaraderie? Toughness? To blow off steam? These are the ways these institutions have chosen to teach community, relief, anger, joy, frustration, and happiness.
I am not from a military family. I know there is a structure and code and specificity to the armed forces that I could never understand. And, I have a great respect for those who serve our country, who make incredible, and often the ultimate, sacrifice to protect, honor, and pay respect to our country. What I do not understand or condone is the slippery slope I see when these kinds of behaviors go unchecked. In most of these cases, we are talking about very young impressionable men and women. Young men and women who are committed to their cause and code. Allowing a lack of accountability for behaviors that do not follow the honor of what the young cadet said, making good decisions, following the rules, and mediating when everyone wants to go out and kill everyone. That is where it breaks down for me. And that is where someone needs to step in and say, enough. This is not how we conduct ourselves as representatives of the United States of America. As colleagues. As fellow officers. And as human beings.
Photo Credit: Flickr:/West_Point