Friday, December 4, 2009

The West Point Cadets

I read somewhere that, after the president's address on Afghanistan Tuesday night at the West Point Academy, Chris Matthews opined that the cadets had no reaction to Obama's speech and that, in truth, Obama had found himself in the "enemy camp." Matthews has since apologized for his comment. As he should. Besides the impolitic nature of his comment, he needed to apoligize because he got it wrong. Completely wrong.

I watched those same faces that Matthews watched, when the camera panned to the audience during the speech. But I saw something completely different from what Matthews saw. Instead of lack of reaction, I saw intensity. Somberness. I saw young people, with perfectly pressed uniforms - how many hours did that take? to get those uniforms just right - listening to every single word, absorbing what the president said, determined to understand exactly what they will need to do - what their mission will be. My heart broke several times as I watched their faces, their intensity, their focus, knowing that at least some of them will die over the next months and years, fulfilling this mission being told to them on this night in December, 2009. For as much as this was a speech to the country and the world, it was even more a speech to these young and brave men and women who have chosen - chosen - to put their lives on the line for all the rest of us. How could Matthews not see that, and respect what was, in that moment, a relationship between the president and these cadets, irrespective of any television camera or political pundit who may be spinning the story even before the speech could finish?

What I saw is, apparently, what the cadets felt. There is this reaction of one cadet, Ben Salvito, to Matthews' comment, entitled "We Are Not The Enemy." In part, it reads:

To applaud or to boo at the announcements made last night would have both been equally inappropriate for the Corps of Cadets. In fact, the stoic reaction by all ought to leave the world confident in the Corps' and the military's ability to be apolitical and execute the policies of the President and Congress with fervor and duty. [...]

Cadets are trained in acceptance of orders, and the Commander-in-Chief was effectively issuing an order to all who were present. No cadet will be spared from the effects of President Obama's remarks -- his message has been received and internalized by all who were present in Eisenhower Hall. I am humbled by the President's decision to announce his new strategy at my school and completely reject the notion of any who suggest that West Point is in any way "the enemy camp." The enemy camps are in Helmand province, where soldiers are currently engaged in the President's mission.

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