An exceptionally interesting, informative, and poignant description of the American Military Academy at West Point, its graduates, and the bond that remained between them even during the costliest war in American history.
Most of the names familiar to us from the battles of the Civil War were West Pointers -- Grant, Lee, Jackson, Pickett, Longstreet, Rosecrans, and on down the list. About half the students resigned from West Point or were dismissed at the outbreak of the Civil War.
That the bonding between them never broke -- that Yankee Grant could slap Pete Longstreet on the back at the surrender and suggest they forget the war and go back to playing games together -- is as fascinating a subject as the part these men played in the war.
It raises a question -- how do you get people to be loyal to a group? -- that social science has actually helped answer.
There have been several studies in anthropology and social psychology but probably the best known quasi-experiment was done by Aaronson and Mills in 1959. The experiment demonstrated that the tougher the initiation ritual, the greater the group loyalty. The investigators separated volunteers for entry in a book club into two groups. The aim of the study was to test if individuals who undergo an unpleasant initiation to become members of a group increase their liking for the group; that is, they find the group more attractive than do persons who become a member without going through a severe initiation. They did.
West Point is a splendid example of a total institution that demands much of its graduates, and not just knowledge but "character", by which is meant honesty, stubbornness, courage, and a willingness to do exactly what they're told to do. It's hard to get into West Point and relatively easy to be dismissed. (Not mentioned is that Edgar Allan Poe was briefly a student.) The program does a fine job of blending the documentary with personal sentiments. Nicely done.
We can see its effects today. "Once a Marine, always a Marine." No one ever says, "Once a Coast Guardsman, always a Coast Guardsman."
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