Reform the Service Academies


Portland, Oregon. -- We are reducing our military budget and rethinking our military roles and doctrines. Shouldn't we reorganize our service academies as well?

America has four of them: the Military Academy at West Point, New York; the Naval Academy at Annapolis; the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Connecticut. This was once a useful arrangement. It is no longer so in the post-Soviet era.

Ideally, we should eliminate the academies and adopt a system such as that in Israel, which has a unified land, sea and air force in which the senior soldiers move from drafted recruits to non-commissioned officers, to graduates of officer-candidate school, and then up the ladder of promotion until they reach the general staff. But in America the pressures of nostalgia, history, tradition, inertia, the veterans, the Congress, the armed services and the public itself make that an unlikely reality.

So if we can't do away with the present academies, why not remold them into a National Defense Academy?

Much good can come from a new institution whose student body would comprise not only those who want to serve their country in a military manner, but also those who want to build careers in, say, the State Department, the U.S. Information Agency, the Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

During their first four to six semesters, the students would wear a common uniform and take core courses together in both military and civilian subjects. Such a learning situation would de-emphasize the service and departmental rivalries that have always plagued our country. It would also teach the students about the relationship of intimacy that must exist among the land, sea and air forces, and about the many threads that entangle both the making and the carrying out of American foreign and domestic policy.

The National Defense Academy curriculum might easily require a five- or six-year program. In their early years, the militarily oriented students would major in air science, military science and naval science, and then transfer to variants of our present academies.

Those students oriented toward civic society would concentrate on subjects such as languages, administration, economics, psychology, sociology, history and political science, and then transfer to existing federal civilian institutions for more specialized training.

Later, when some of the academy's alumni become our future generals, admirals, ambassadors and other principal public servants, they might possess the outlook to enable them to think more of what is best for the government and the nation, rather than of what best suits their particular armed service or civilian department.

Let's at least experiment with what I am suggesting. If the idea fails, we will have lost some time and money. But if it succeeds, we will have gained a better educated officer corps that is much more attuned to the country and the world than to itself and its branches.

Edward Bernard Glick is emeritus professor of political science at Temple University.

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