Thursday, 4 November 2010
Schofield's Definition of Discipline
Most graduates can recite verbatim Schofield’s Definition of Discipline that begins, “The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army.” Said definition being delivered with chin squeezed dramatically back at the command of an upperclassman often caused the Plebe involved to lament the fact that he himself was the victim of both harsh and tyrannical treatment. What most do not recall is that this definition constituted only two-thirds of one paragraph in a much longer address on the “venerable vice of hazing” delivered to the Corps of Cadets on 11 August 1879 by MG John M. Schofield, Class of 1853, Superintendent from 1 September 1876 to 21 January 1881. The Corps of Cadets at the time numbered only about 240, with the Class of 1880 subsequently graduating only 52.
Schofield began his little presentation on a congenial note by stating:
“Young gentlemen, I have some words to say to you, and I will try to detain you no longer than may be necessary. I have chosen this mode, rather than that of a printed order, of saying what I wish to strongly impress upon your minds, partly because I am doing my duty toward you, as your instructor, quite as much as my duty toward the Government as your commander.”
He then indicated that he wished to speak to them about “the treatment of New Cadets by their Seniors in the Corps.” He did not hold them responsible as individuals for the increase in hazing that appeared following the Civil War. “The practice of hazing has prevailed in most, if not all, of the institutions of learning, both in this country and in England, for many generations. It has always been condemned by the more enlightened, and generally denounced by the regulations.”
He then compared hazing to slavery, robbery (of human rights), wanton arson and the tendency of small boys to bully their even smaller neighbors. He concluded that “The practice of hazing is both injurious and humiliating to its victims and degrading to those who engage in it.” He then added a practical note: “Your constant associates after you leave the Academy must be the members of higher and lower classes. The memory of ill-treatment will remain with its victim as long as he lives. You can never be a ‘brother officer’ to him whom you once degraded. The stern discipline of a commanding officer will soon be forgotten when it can be remembered that he always treated his subordinates with justice and due respect. But wanton injustice and contumely can never be forgotten, except by a spirit too mean to feel its sting.”
He warned that hazing at West Point does not even warrant “the poor excuse that is urged for it at civilian colleges. For the military discipline and instruction which all new cadets must necessarily undergo, are quite sufficient to cure them of any undue egotism with which they may be afflicted upon entering the Academy. But no consideration of mere utility, even if that could be fairly urged, could justify the violation of individual rights. Hazing is essentially criminal and must therefore be suppressed.”
“Like all vicious and illegal indulgences, the practice of hazing tends toward revolting extremes. In former times at West Point it was confined, with rare exceptions, to comparatively harmless sport. Sometimes the treatment was quite rough and accompanied by more or less of vulgarity. But any approximation to degrading or insulting treatment was almost unknown.” Plebes on guard duty at night at summer camp notoriously were subjected to rough handling by “ghosts” bedeviling them by spiriting away their weapons or tossing the Plebe guards themselves into ravines. “But by degrees, here as elsewhere, the poison seems to have spread and become more and more virulent, until now [new cadets] are subjected to degrading treatment, such as no gentleman can possibly justify or defend.”
“The very foundation of civil society is mutual respect for individual rights. And nowhere is such mutual respect more strictly enjoined and rigidly enforced than in military organizations. Without it, tyranny on the one hand and disaffection and mutiny on the other must destroy the efficiency of an army.”
“The most odious of all forms of tyranny is the tyranny of a mob; that is, of an unlawful combination of many persons to overawe an individual and compel him to submit to wrong, or deter him from the exercise of his rights or the denunciation of those who have wronged him.”
He then again reinforced the notion that the best and most successful commanders enacted justice tempered by kindness and then spoke those words quoted much earlier and learned verbatim by every cadet as “Schofield’s Definition of Discipline.” But he went on to say that the differences among men often are less than imagined. The Yearling thinks himself far superior to the naïve and confused New Cadet, but to the disinterested observer, the difference is barely perceptible.
“A veteran soldier sees but little difference between the different grades, from his own down to that of a junior cadet, and treats them all with nearly equal respect. It would be well for young soldiers to profit by such examples. The road to military honor will be guarded all the way by the hearts of those who may be your subordinates. You cannot travel that road unless you can command those hearts.”
He again reminded them that hazing is universally condemned, with the only defense offered that it is indulged in by boys too young to know better. “Are you, young gentlemen, willing to be regarded as boys? To be treated as boys, who are not old enough to know better? No! I have disdained on your behalf to consider the subject in this light. You are old enough and have sense enough to see this matter in its true light.” Instead, he believed, that many cadets suffered from the practices that may have been common in other educational institutions, from the influence of rough companions, and most of all from “inheritance of a vicious practice which has so long been indulged here . . . . But now, since the view of it entertained by those in authority has been clearly pointed out to you, I shall not give my assent to the proposition that you are not old enough to understand it, or that you are not men and gentlemen enough to accept and act upon it . . . . I trust that we now clearly understand each other and know what our line of conduct in the future must be.”
John McAllister Schofield, the son of a prominent minister, was questionably dismissed from the Academy but then graduated seventh of 52 men in his class; taught at West Point in the Department of Philosophy from 1855 to 1860 (and married Harriet Bartlett, the daughter of his department head, in 1857); was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a major, 1st Missouri Infantry, during the bloody Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, on 10 August 1861; commanded at multiple levels during the Civil War; was held in high regard by President Lincoln and Generals Grant, Sherman and Thomas (for brave leadership at the Battle of Franklin, TN); served on a diplomatic mission to France regarding withdrawal of their forces in Mexico; retired from the Army as General-in-Chief in 1895; and served as president of the Association of Graduates from 1900 until his death in 1906. And now you know the rest of the story of Schofield’s Definition of Discipline.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
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