It was shocking news last Thursday (10 March 2022) to hear that six West Point cadets on spring break in Fort Lauderdale either overdosed on a “powder substance [read cocaine] laced with the drug fentanyl,” or were overcome while administering CPR. But that is not the real story. Snorting cocaine was a choice. The stricken cadets reaped what they sowed.
Recall that on 20 May 2010, Annapolis professor Bruce Fleming published “The Academies’ March Toward Mediocrity” in The New York Times warning that a football running back allowed to remain at Annapolis for smoking marijuana “brings to light an unpleasant truth: the Naval Academy, where I have been a professor for 23 years, has lost its way. The same is true of the other service academies.
Two years later, on 8 October 2012, in “The Few, the Proud, the Infantilized” (The Chronicle Review), Fleming further wrote: “We also claim that students are ‘held to a higher moral standard,’ which suggests zero or low tolerance of wrongdoing. But the current emphasis on reducing attrition means that, as many midshipmen have told me, students get one ‘freebie,’ such as a DUI. Held to a higher moral standard? The students know that’s a joke.”
The recent fentanyl overdoses by West Point cadets, not to mention the Naval Academy’s own widespread cheating scandal last August, prove that Bruce Fleming—who was ostracized and almost fired by Annapolis over his op-eds—was absolutely right in his criticism; he was just a decade ahead of his times.
But was he really? Ahead of his times? The decades-old Fat Leonard scandal reached new low points recently with the podcast revelations by Leonard Glenn Francis (aka Fat Leonard), the Malaysian businessman at the heart of the decades-long scandal, that he secretly videotaped Navy officers with sex workers he had paid for. So far, 27 out of 34 accused Navy officials have pleaded guilty, admitting that they accepted “millions of dollars in luxury travel and accommodations, meals, or services of prostitutes,” in exchange for helping “Fat Leonard” overcharge the Navy by $35 million.
U.S. Navy ship operations have not been much better. Two “avoidable” USN ship collisions in 2017 resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors; the deliberate burning of the “Bonhomme Richard” in July 2020, resulting in a total loss of the $1.4 billion warship, was later ruled “completely preventable”; and the endless construction problems on the “Ford” aircraft carrier has put it over four years behind schedule and cost taxpayers almost $3 billion above plan.
Things aren’t much better where I work: the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, RI. Purportedly to save money, unvetted contractors are being hired rather than civilian PhDs to teach students. Out of 400 Faculty total (including the contractors) only 30% of the professors now have PhDs, 60% have MAs, and as many as 10% only have Bachelor degrees, which is an extremely poor educational pedigree, in particular since the NWC awards the M.A. degree, not the B.A. degree.
Ten years after his op-eds, Professor Bruce Fleming still works at the Naval Academy, but the administration has constructed a “penalty box” around him to keep him far away from the students. Recent events prove Fleming was 100% right all along. At some point, the Naval Academy administration must acknowledge Fleming was right and let him out of the box.
Bruce A. Elleman, PhD | William V. Pratt Profesor of International History
U.S. Naval War College | Newport, RI