Week after week, month after month, the word comes floating back from the Fleet: "We hear the plebes have really taken over Bancroft Hall"—"What's all this dope about first class rating every week-end, and driving automobiles on liberty?"—"I hear that all Youngsters have radios and the plebes rate dragging; what in the world is going on down there on the Severn?" The foregoing, like all scuttlebutt, has finally come full circle. It is all scuttlebutt, it has originated outside of the Naval Academy, and it's all coming back to you right now.
It is not surprising that you have these thoughts. After all, a good many wardroom bull sessions have as their subject the Naval Academy, its shortcomings and its limitations. And to many of the rumors there is, of course, some particle of truth. As officers, it is natural that you should be concerned about and interested in just what is being done in the training of prospective career officers, and this interest should be held by non-graduates as well as by graduates of the Academy. If you are like most officers in the Navy, you have had no contact with the Naval Academy since your day of graduation (or none at all), so you have little to go on in formulating your thoughts regarding the place except what you hear in bull sessions, and what you read in the popular periodicals. Both are potentially dangerous sources. Neither is likely to be altogether factual, and both are likely to be colored and distorted for effect. The officer expounding about the Academy in the bull session is probably not being deliberately malicious, but his remarks can be just as damaging as though he were an avowed saboteur. Chances are that all this type of individual is thinking about is being impressive. He wants all and sundry, and particularly those junior to him and those who are not graduates, to know that in his day the Academy was a very tough place indeed. You will recognize this individual at once when he begins his remarks with the all-too-familiar phrase, "When I was a midshipman . . . ." The same man would in all probability deny vigorously that what was good for his father, or for his grandfather, is necessarily good for him, but he follows that untenable train of thought without a qualm in discussing the Academy. But still this reminiscer, this champion of the "good old days," is not nearly so dangerous as the self-appointed authority who gets his peculiarly slanted observations into the public print. We're not all "from Missouri." A whole lot of us tend to accept the printed word unquestioningly, or almost so. That is the big advantage enjoyed by the article writer—in most cases his audience is psychologically prepared to believe him because his utterances, even though conceived in bias and brought forth in anger, have been published. So it is apparent that a lot of loose talk about the Academy is being indulged in.
Some of it indicates that the plebes are living a country-club existence, with the first class too occupied with their own pleasurable pursuits to take a hand; and again some of it indicates that the whole institution is vice-ridden, corrupt, and a haven for sadists, with lashings and other extreme tortures of common occurrence. The truth is, of course, not to be found at either extreme. It is true that the Academy has changed, but in what way?
This article will not attempt to cover every aspect of Academy life, but will concern itself, for the most part, with life inside Bancroft Hall, as it is in this area that the widest misunderstanding, and the deepest interest, seem to exist. There will be no attempt here to "white-wash," or to justify for the sake of expediency. The intention is to present an objective view of life at the Academy as it is actually being lived, particularly within the purview of the Executive Department.
There has been one basic conceptual change in recent years, the effects of which have extended into every aspect of life at the Academy. The change has had to do with that abstract and elusive thing known as "Discipline"—what it is, and how it is attained. In the past, as many of you will recall, the state of discipline obtaining seemed to be regarded as a function of the number of conduct reports turned in. The more "fraps" that were handed out, the tighter the "discipline," and consequently the more efficient the administration. That was a nice, easy way of life; you could accept it unthinkingly, could enter into it with spirit, and all was serene. Duty officers ran races with each other to see who could most load the conduct sheets, the midshipmen served their extra duty, the "status quo" was maintained, and the Academy seemed to turn out pretty good officers anyhow. But in that system, however much fun it might have been as a game of "cops and robbers," there was absolutely no regard for the midshipman as an individual. There was no effort expended in trying to see behind behavior and get at the roots of trouble. Actions were punished, relentlessly and in accordance with an unvarying code, but causes for the actions were blithely ignored. You remember the pattern: you were caught in a delinquency (perhaps by a D.O. peeping from behind a bush); in due course the "frap" appeared on a table outside the battalion office; you initialed it, and in a day or two you and "Miss Springfield" started keeping company. No attempt had been made at correction or at determining your motivation; you were no better a man after three or four hours of extra duty than you were before you got into the trouble, and no one seemed to care. In the vast majority of cases, you would never have had a talk with your company or battalion officer. Any evidence of personal interest in you as a human being on the part of the officers of the Executive Department was wholly lacking, or very nearly so.
Now, fortunately, all that is changed. Yes, the conduct report is still used and standards are still as exacting, but the approach is different. D.O.'s no longer lurk behind monuments to pounce on the unwary; they don't vie with each other for the "Frapper of the Week" title; in fact, the current group of D.O.'s strive to be so straightforward in the execution of their duties that scarcely one of them has a nickname indicative of any personal peculiarity. The passing of the "characters" from the officers' watch list has been officially recognized by the Log. The editors of that magazine have not had a good "D.O. story" to run this year! But midshipmen are still placed on the report, although not in wholesale lots in a competitive atmosphere. The watch-officers today have learned to recognize and appreciate the difference between honest shortcomings and deliberate violations, and they counsel and correct as much as they report for disciplinary action.
But a more important change is to be considered after the conduct report has been handed in and logged. It is not left outside the battalion office to be initialed; it is sent to the Company Office of the midshipman concerned, where the latter initials it, usually in the presence of the Company Officer. This brings the alleged offender face to face with his immediate commissioned superior in the chain of command, and the two talk the case over. The officer has at hand a complete catalogue of all the midshipman's previous offenses; he knows the man from day to day contact; together, they can soon get at the root of the trouble. If the purpose of the regulation is not clear to the midshipman, it can be readily explained; if he has any excuse it can be heard at once; the indicated corrective steps can be instituted. The midshipman will still get some extra duty if he has been on the wrong side of the line, hut at least it will not all have happened automatically and inevitably. He will know why he is serving that extra duty, will know what his Company Officer thinks of him, and what he expects of him in the future. The whole transaction is more personal, more mindful of human dignity, and hence is naturally more appealing to all parties concerned. And, not the least important, it provides opportunity, through counseling, of planting and cultivating the seeds of self-discipline in the officer-aspirant.
And where, you might well be asking, did that company office come from? You remember that the Battalion Officer and two or three Company Officers all sat down together in an awesome cubicle, the insides of which you might never have seen in broad daylight unless you were in Class "A" difficulty. For all practical purposes, two or three of those officers might just as well have been back at sea. Yes, you saw them at noon meal formation and you saw them, fleetingly, on watch, but with how many of them did you ever pass the time of day? To how many of them did you ever carry any questions or make any suggestions? Today the Company Officer has been given some status, and his duties have been made meaningful. He has been given an office (in the form of a vacated midshipman's room) on his own company's deck, with a desk, a few chairs, and the full responsibility of guiding, counseling, and developing that company of some 95 midshipmen. A lot of little things have resulted from this change, the sum total of which is most important. The midshipmen pick up their dining-out forms, their requisitions, etc., in this office without hiking down several decks to the Battalion Office; they turn them in there for signature and a fast return. They come in and out of that office so many times that they grow accustomed to exchanging greetings with their own officer, get to feel that they know him as a person and not just as an authority, and a feeling of naturalness permeates their relationships. Most Company Officers have a coffee mess for first classmen in their offices, where the gentlemen of the senior class can drop in for a cup when their duties permit, just like human beings the world over. You "old-grads" are probably thinking we have gone mad for sure, but what tenable argument can be made against such procedures? Remember how much more at ease you felt the first time you put in an appearance in the Captain's Cabin and he had you join him in a cigarette and a cup of coffee, instead of requiring you to stand at rigid and nervous attention? It works the same way here. Ideas are much more likely to flow freely in a natural atmosphere than in one charged with an awareness of a large senior-junior gap. And that's the aim of the Company Officer—to break down the barriers of formality, in situations where formality is not called for, in order to get on with the business of coming to know and understand the midshipmen.
You have probably heard some talk, too, of the recently established Leadership course which is being given to the midshipmen by the Academic Section of the Executive Department. The Company Officers are the instructors in this course, in addition to being administrators and duty officers in Bancroft Hall. At present, eighteen of the twenty-four Company Officers are engaged twelve hours a week each in teaching Leadership to the first and second classmen, and next year all twenty-four will be in the act. It is one of the best developments yet introduced, this business of having the Company Officers teach the Leadership course. The informal nature of the discussion type classes enables the officers to get to know intimately many more midshipmen, and vice versa. One definite result of this system has been that, perhaps for the first time, the midshipmen have come to recognize the officers of the Executive Department as people—as brother officers—with problems and thought processes not unlike their own. And this constant interchange between the Company Officers, as administrators and instructors, and the midshipmen has resulted in an awareness of leadership on the part of both that was never before approached, even remotely.
That, in brief summary, covers the effect of the conceptual change in "discipline" at the officer level. How, you might ask, is it working out at the midshipman level, in their inter-class relationships? The answer to that question, to be fully appreciated, needs to be seen—to be experienced—rather than read, but perhaps a few words can give the general outline.
To understand how the present inter-class relationships evolved you will have to go back a few years to the Summer of 1944, when the recent first class (1948-B) entered the Academy. This, of course, was the mid-war period, when the attitude of "anything goes" was in full sway. From all accounts, '48 did have a rough plebe indoctrination. They told you this themselves, but they didn't do so in a spirit of braggadocio. They would also tell you that the flagrant cases were not general throughout the Brigade, as you might believe from reading the magazines. There were enough of these flagrant cases, however, to awaken a determination in those plebes that when they became responsible for running the Brigade things would be different. To this end, as second classmen, the men of '48-B got together and formulated an admirable instrument known as the "Class Policy of 1948-B," which was approved by the Superintendent, giving it the force of regulations, and which they implemented the very day that they took up the reins of leadership. In this policy the Class dedicated itself "to develop discipline based upon mutual respect and the principles disclosed to us in the recently established Leadership Course." They further avowed in this instrument their intention "to utilize the methods which eliminate the flagrant violations of mature personal dignity" in attaining and maintaining that discipline. This was a new concept, backed to the fullest extent by the Class which inaugurated it, and by the Administration. It has worked to a degree unanticipated by even the most optimistic. Hazing at the Academy has been prohibited by Congressional act for many years, but, in varying degrees, it has existed throughout those years. This year, to the very best of my knowledge and belief, there has been no hazing. The Class Policy ordained that "private, man to man correction will supplant all practices of hazing," and it has. It also required that "shoving out and other practices of hazing shall cease in the Wardroom Mess," and they have. Plebes are no longer bellowed at by any and all upperclassmen; they don't "swim to Baltimore," "sit on infinity," or suffer any other personal humiliation. The first class have made the indoctrination of the plebes their own responsibility, and a solid bond of mutual respect has grown between the two classes. The second and third classmen are observing, and learning.
Originally, this change put through by the recent first class was designed to protect the plebe from violations of his personal dignity. The benefits from the policy were to accrue to the plebes primarily, with a resultant increase in loyalty and cooperation between and among all classes to be expected. In practice, it seems likely that an even more important benefit has been reaped by the first class in the experience they have gained in treating men as men, in not leaning only on their preponderance of stripes and playing on the fear of punishment to gain results. What lesson could be more important than this? What could be worse than a young officer going out to the Fleet accustomed to gaining obedience by shouting at and, if need be, humiliating his subordinates just to show who is "top dog"? It is common knowledge, reinforced by the experiences of all the Services in the past war, that the American enlisted man can most definitely not be handled successfully in any insulting or condescending fashion. Techniques which embrace a consideration for the man as a man must be employed if mutual respect is to exist and if there is to be any real leadership and any cheerful following. Beneficial practice in such techniques is afforded the first classmen in effectuating their policy and, over the years, the entire Naval Service will be the better for it.
It is hoped that what has been written here will serve to refute the statements of those who would have the public believe that the Naval Academy is still living in the days of sail, doing things as they were done in Dewey's day, and completely out of touch with reality in this changing world. The changes mentioned here have been made, and real progress in the field of human relations has resulted. There is still, of course, room for improvement, and no one is more aware of that than are the officers charged with administering the Academy. All the selection techniques available to the Navy are being utilized, and further perfected in the process, to insure that only those officers most particularly qualified for career-indoctrinational duties are ordered to these recently emphasized billets in the Executive Department. It is a difficult job, and one that is administratively burdensome, but noticeable improvements have already been evolved. Likewise, efforts are being made to work out a program which will afford to the officers selected some formal schooling in the subjects they will teach as Company Officers. Beginning with the Academic Year 1948-49 the Company Officers will be teaching to the first and second class midshipmen not only Leadership, embracing some areas of Psychology, but also Naval Organization and Administration and Military Law. It is recognized that some instruction in those subjects, and in techniques of teaching, should be made available to the officers selected to do the teaching if they are effectively to discharge their responsibilities. In short, the situation at the Academy today is not static. It is recognized that only by continuing and consolidating the progressive changes which have been made, and by holding ourselves ready to make those changes indicated as necessary in the future, can we say that the Naval Academy has learned from the lessons of the recent war, and is profiting from its learning.
Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1937, Major Williams served as a private for a year on the U.S.S. Oklahoma before winning an appointment to the Naval Academy. Graduating with his class in December, 1941, in a war-hastened graduation, he was commissioned in the Marine Corps and saw service for two and a half years in the South and Central Pacific as anti-aircraft battery commander. Subsequent duty included command of the Marine Detachments on the U.S.S. California and the U.S.S. Los Angeles. For the past 18 months he has been on duty at the Naval Academy as Company Officer and Leadership Instructor in the Executive Department.