On the Bounce
As far as columns designed to provoke go, Tom Ricks’ latest effort has succeeded admirably:
Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships.
After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the service academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I’ve been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.
Obviously, I’m not an expert, though James Joyner’s measured response sounds about right to me. Having said that, I’ve always wondered why a suggestion first put forward by Robert Heinlen – one of science fiction’s great pulp auteurs – has never been seriously considered. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is not exactly great literature, but like so much of his other work, it includes a lot fascinating ideas on the nature of democracy, military service, and citizenship. In Heinlein’s militarized future, candidates only qualify for officer training after serving as NCOs. This is a fairly radical departure from traditional Western officer candidate schools, which generally induct individuals with no prior military experience, but it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. Has any country ever tried something similar to Heinlein’s hypothetical OCS program?