MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The VMI Controversy – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on February 22, 2021

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2021/02/jacob-hornberger/the-vmi-controversy/

By Jacob G. Hornberger

The Future of Freedom Foundation

Last year, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia, came under scrutiny for alleged acts of racial discrimination against black members of the corps of cadets. The controversy began with an article in the Washington Post, which was followed by a call by the governor of Virginia for an official state investigation into racism at VMI. Under pressure, VMI’s superintendent, who is equivalent to a college president, resigned and was replaced by a temporary superintendent, who is black. Pending the outcome of the state’s investigation, the school removed a statue of Confederate hero Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson from the parade ground in front of barracks, where it had stood for many decades.

The controversy raises interesting questions regarding independence, discrimination, state financial support of colleges and universities, and the concept of freedom. The controversy has particular interest for me because I graduated from VMI in 1972.

One of the things that surprised me when I got to VMI was how important the Civil War was to many of the students, especially those from Virginia. They knew all about the war. And having had stories about the war passed on from one generation to the next, they were deeply passionate about it. One of the most popular classes at VMI was a two-semester course on the Civil War in the history department.

VMI is an unusual place. Today, almost 50 years after I graduated, I still have mixed feelings about the school. I received a great liberal arts education, for which I am still very grateful. It enabled me to get into University of Texas law school, one of the best in the country.

VMI also taught me the importance of honor, for which I shall always be grateful. VMI arguably has the strictest student honor code in the country. It’s run entirely by the cadet corps. We elected the members of the honor court, and they had the full authority to accuse cadets of honor violations, put them on trial, and evict them from the school. From the very first day I arrived at VMI and continually thereafter, it was emphasized that no cadet would lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who did. The honor code is a centerpiece of life at the Institute.

It was the military side of VMI about which I still have misgivings. Of course, that was several years before I discovered libertarianism, a philosophy based on individualism, liberty, free markets, and limited government, all of which are opposite to the highly regimented, controlled, and regulated way of life that comes with a military structure.

Whenever people ask me about my four years at VMI, I tell them that I learned what it’s like to live in a harsh socialist and totalitarian system. That type of education, ironically, is invaluable for a libertarian because it actually helps to inculcate a deep love and passion for liberty. At VMI, we were awakened and put to bed at set hours. We assembled in military form for all meals and then marched to the mess hall, singing cadence songs in the process. Daily life was strictly regulated, monitored, and controlled. We all were required to wear uniforms, even when we went into Lexington, the small town in which VMI is located. We were not permitted to have cars before our senior year. We had a Marine Corps superintendent who apparently believed that cadet life should be modeled after boot camp at Paris Island. Justice by the VMI administration, if you can call it that, was usually arbitrary and capricious.

I survived VMI’s harsh military environment, but I wasn’t enamored with it. Many cadets responded positively to the highly regimented and controlled environment and even ended up making the military their career. Others were like me — grateful for the education but all too ready to escape the military environment upon graduation.

Transforming VMI

Founded in 1839, VMI’s mission is to educate and train “citizen-soldiers,” men who will graduate and return to civilian life but who are trained in warfare and are expected to come voluntarily to the assistance of their country in times of peril. It is, of course, a mission that is entirely consistent with the libertarian philosophy and also with the limited-government, anti–standing-army system on which the United States was founded and that remained in existence until after World War II, when the federal government was converted into an all-powerful national-security state consisting of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.

When I was at VMI, the Vietnam War was in full swing and I fully expected to be sent there. Luckily, the war was winding down by the time I graduated and so I ended up spending eight years in the Reserves as an infantry officer. During my four years at VMI, the VMI administration aligned itself with the U.S. national-security establishment and its intervention in Vietnam. Thus, when an increasing number of cadets began turning against the war in 1969–1971, including me, administration officials frowned upon us as being “unpatriotic.”

Today there is a plaque on barracks listing VMI cadets who “died in service to the nation” in Vietnam from 1961 to 1975. That’s standard Pentagon-CIA propaganda. The truth is that the more than 58,00 U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam, many of whom were conscripted (i.e., forced to “serve”), died serving their government, not their nation. Or to put it another way, they died for nothing.

There is another plaque on barracks that states that VMI cadets died in the 2003 war in Iraq as part of the U.S. government’s “global war on terror.” That’s sheer nonsense too. The truth is that the U.S. government’s war on Iraq, a Third World nation that never invaded the United States, was an unprovoked war of aggression, a type of war that was declared a war crime at Nuremberg.

Moreover, the concept of a “global war on terror” itself is nonsensical and has proven more destructive to the liberties and well-being of our nation than even the national-security establishment’s Cold War “global war on communism.”

It is unfortunate that the VMI administration still does not understand these basic truths about what former General and President Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” and its policy of foreign wars, foreign interventions, and an empire of foreign military bases.

See the rest here

This article will appear in the April 2021 edition of Future of Freedom.

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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