Posted on October 19, 2005
Read an interesting review while I was back east the other day, in the WaPo. A book I’d heard mentioned before by an occasional correspondent. Annapolis Autumn
I was a poly sci major at the boat school, so I’m well familiar with iconoclastic bull profs who want to change the world from inside the belly of the military/industrial beast.
Bruce Fleming should get down on his knees every evening and thank the Lord for the tenure system. Now in his early fifties, Fleming has taught English at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis for about two decades, during which he has repeatedly and insistently expressed opinions that, at least within the culture of the academy, are decidedly contrarian. He says the academy “is both homoerotic and homophobic,” he doesn’t much like war, and at a time when the armed forces are falling all over themselves to embrace diversity, he has written (in this newspaper’s Outlook section) against affirmative action.
Homoerotic and homophobic? I guess. If you’re predisposed to see the world in those terms. Which practically no one there is, unless things have changed a very great deal. Still, this rang true:
Students at what midshipmen call ‘real schools’ slouch, avoid the gym, binge-drink, chain-smoke, wear caps inside, and never, ever, say ’sir’ or ‘ma’am’ to a professor. Not to mention that our students aren’t — for lack of a better word — sullen, something I remember being in college. Teaching plebes at the Academy, I sometimes think — at least when they are at their best — is like tussling with twenty golden retrievers at once. Who wouldn’t be exhilarated?
As does this:
The military, for entirely legitimate reasons, wants those who serve in it to feel that they can do anything they set out to do: “In the conservative, and hence military, mindset, everything is a ‘choice,’ and motivation alone decides whether you succeed or fail.” The Naval Academy believes, with utter sincerity, “that personal motivation alone determines all outcomes,” and while it’s understandable that for Fleming this “sometimes becomes frightening, rather than merely frustrating,” it also should be acknowledged (as Fleming does not) that his own educational mission and the academy’s are almost entirely different.
Perhaps it’s just that I’m a product of that education, but nothing that the good professor highlights as unusual seems the least bit remarkable to me. One man can move the world, if he’s got the motivation.
Don’t they teach that everywhere else?