F. P. Miller, literary editor of the Pointer, the West Point weekly, has given to Crimson readers, in the following article, a few of the traditions current at "Old-Hell-on-the-Hudson."
Traditions. What are they? What do they mean? Are they the effete practices that thin-blooded men of degenerate stock use to bolster their sense of defeated pride? Are they outworn customs fit only for academic discussions? Are they part of the life-blood of the Nation? What are they, and are they worth following?
The answer depends on the man. There is no accounting for the individual taste. At West Point we have many and varied customs, pleasant and unpleasant, but all handed down from former days, and constantly in the process of growth. We have found an answer that fits our purpose. The rest of the world may praise or blame as it sees fit. To us they are standards that we must follow to be worthy of the men before us. Some are for the good of the individual--though he often doubts it is plebe days and some we would not part with for gold.
Honor a Personal Matter
Honor in the Corps is a personal matter that falls on every member. The word of a cadet is unquestioned, and it must be perfect surely. It is a small thing to report oneself for violations of the Honor Code, for any man may unintentionally fail to accomplish some intention, or overstep his bounds. True the punishment is swift and sure. This is the most cold-blooded place for discipline that the Lord created. But, once over the offence is completely forgotten; wiped out.
This system is the creation of the Corps. It is handled solely from within. The punishment for deliberate dishonor is the silence. To the Corps the man is dead. He moves in complete dissociation from all other men. His one recourse is to resign, for the silence will follow him all his life. He will be a marked man. He has had his trial he has been fairly judged, and there is no appeal.
But there are many lighter things that have their place. A plebe, for instance, is not recognized by the Corps for his first year. He is by himself in a world apart, subject to judgment at all times. And this is wise. Conceive Mr. Dumbjohn the name is itself traditional who receives an appointment to the Academy Promptly Father and Mother Dumbjohn print accounts of young hopeful's appointment in the Podunk paper. He is given farewell parties, he lords it over the soft-eyed damsels, he is escorted to the train with the Podunk Fireman's band. The hero is doing the Government a favor to become a cadet.
He Takes a Fall
He arrives. And he is less than the dust of the area. He is fed, clothed, inspected as to teeth and hoofs exactly as a horse would be. He must stand at attention for all officers. Upper classmen are all Mr. So-and-so to him. He cannot speak to them without being spoken to, he pulls his chin back and elevates his chest by orders, and gradually it dawns on him that he is not appreciated. That the hero of Podunk is completely obscured at West Point! And in him, perhaps, is born the realization that he is important only as one of the Corps; that he must be a part of the team or not play at all that he must learn subordination of self to command.
The ceremony of recognition, by the way, is one of the most remembered in a cadet's life. June Week, just before graduation, is full of reviews, parades, and ceremonies. There are kings and princelings to be honored, and gray-haired old grads with the sallow cheeks of the Orient service upon them. Grimfaced men who have moved regiments and divisions to battle, who have built canals and railroads, who have broadened frontiers and brought peace and civilization to savage tribes; we are proud to honor them.
But the last parade of all is the greatest. The band plays old songs that are used only this once each year. The men of the graduates march to the front, a long straight line, they face about and the Corps that is left swings by them in review. It is almost a holy time.
Then Holy Time Arrives
Then the Corps wheels through the sally-ports, and the silent ranks become alive. For the last time the plebe tucks his chin into his collar, heaves until his muscles crack on his shoulders, and holds his breath for a last instant. The ranks are halted; the front rank faces about, and the hands that were denied him for a year are seeking his. The bitterness leaves him. That is a holy time.
Now that the football season is here, other customs are revived. The plebe sounds off the days to the next game as well as those to June and Graduation. The Corps listens to doleful forecasts from officers and is told that it must back up the team. Then it goes to the game and cheers its throat into paralysis, just as it would have done without the patriotic speeches, and "Yuh-gotta-do its" of the cheer-leaders.
But in years past it has been the custom, after Navy Games, to meet the returning team at the station. There is an old stage-coach at the Point that has a history. The Corps has always taken it to the station and drawn it back by hand laden with the battered team. The announcement of the new captain has always been made from its top by the captain of the preceding year. Since I have been here. I have never seen a defeated team drawn up the hill. Now Navy Games are a thing of the past, for a time at least, and some other game must be chosen for the final chapter. I hope that I shall finish my course with my personal tradition unbroken; never to have seen an Army team drawn up the hill after a final defeat. And with all due respect to dear old Harvard. I hope there are no intermediate defeats.