What do Norwich University cadets think about waterboarding, government eavesdropping and sending more troops into Afghanistan?
The answers might surprise you — and they matter more than you may think. Today’s cadets are tomorrow’s military leaders, defense contractors and business managers. Many will hold positions of power and influence in the armed forces, their worldviews informing important national security decisions.
And their numbers are growing. This year’s freshman class of 121 ROTC scholarship recipients is the largest at Norwich since the end of the draft — and the largest group of freshman Army cadets ever. The Army is making more ROTC scholarships available to fill its upper ranks, paying the college tuition of students who are commissioned as second lieutenants upon graduation.
Most Norwich cadets were just middle-schoolers when the nation was attacked on September 11, 2001. They came of age during the Bush years, when torture and government surveillance weren’t just the stuff of eye-popping news stories but also of glorified depictions on hit shows such as “24.”
Seven Days wanted to know what the swelling ranks of Norwich cadets think about the hot-button national security issues of the day. Using the online questionnaire Survey Monkey, we sent our questions through the university press office to all 486 ROTC scholarship recipients* in the Corps of Cadets.
One hundred forty-four cadets completed the 30-question multiple-choice survey, and many added pithy one-liners to augment their answers.
“Whatever it takes to keep us alive,” wrote one, when asked whether torture can be justified to gain intelligence from suspected terrorists.
Another cadet views that as tortured logic: “Anyone will say anything when they are being tortured in order to make it stop.”
Most cadets consider waterboarding a form of torture — and 72 percent say they’d waterboard a terror suspect themselves if they thought it could stop an attack.
Fifty-two percent of respondents think domestic radicals pose a bigger threat to U.S. security than do foreign terrorists. But they overwhelmingly stand behind the right of Muslims to serve in America’s military, even while some admit to being rattled by the Ft. Hood shooting.
“We don’t keep our own people in check, right to privacy or some nonsense,” offered one cadet, “the Fort Hood shooting being a perfect example. No one sees the neighbor as the one being the terrorist.”
Many Norwich ROTC graduates complete their requisite eight years of military service and then leave for careers in civilian jobs. But some will stay in the armed forces longer and ascend to high-profile posts. Norwich counts among its graduates 102 Army generals, 11 Air Force generals, nine Marine Corps generals and 16 Navy admirals.
Ross Kaplan, a 20-year-old Army cadet from Coral Springs, Fla., has wanted to join the military since childhood — a result of watching “too much Top Gun,” he suggests.
Kaplan was a seventh grader, walking into a photography class, when the planes hit the Twin Towers on 9/11. He had already wanted to join the armed forces, but the attacks hardened his resolve.
“It was a feeling of vengeance,” says Kaplan, who agreed to be interviewed about his survey answers. “Go get those fuckers.”
That sounds tough, and plenty of cadets say they favor torture and rolling back civil liberties in the name of security. Just last week, two Norwich cadets were charged with assaulting a classmate in an incident that recalls “enhanced interrogation.” The accused cadets allegedly lured a freshman to a party, where they bound him, tied him to a chair and assaulted him before a crowd of his classmates. Eleven more cadets face potential disciplinary action for their involvement in the beating.
But, like many other Norwich cadets, Kaplan opposes the harshest solutions and takes a complex view of modern warfare. He thinks torture creates more terrorists and thinks the Obama administration should investigate whether the use of harsh interrogation techniques broke any U.S. laws.
“I don’t believe we should sweep it under the carpet or turn a blind eye to what happened in the past,” Kaplan says.
On close reading, the survey results reveal many curiosities.
Four out of five cadets oppose closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. If it were shuttered, only freshmen favor moving terrorist suspects to U.S. prisons — even a prison in their home state. Sophomores, juniors and seniors all oppose moving terror suspects onto American soil.
Asked whether the Bush administration misled the American public, intentionally or not, about the reasons for invading Iraq, most freshman and sophomores answered “no.” A majority of third- and fourth-year cadets said “yes.”
A week before President Obama’s announcement that some 30,000 more troops will be sent to Afghanistan, female cadets said they oppose such a “surge” by 43 percent, while men support it by 65 percent. Likewise, 60 percent of female cadets oppose warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism, while male cadets favor it by 51 percent.
“All communications should be able to be subject to monitoring,” wrote one third-year male cadet, who describes himself as a political “moderate.” “You don’t want someone to read/hear it, [you should] send a letter.”
Below is a sample of results from the survey.
Respondent Demographics at a Glance
African American: 1.5%
1st year: 12.6%
very conservative: 7.4%
don’t know: 14.0%
As a country, how safe are we after the terrorist attacks of sept. 11, 2001?
More Safe: 61.8%
About as Safe: 33.3%
Less Safe: 2.8%
Don't know/Unsure: 2.1%
“An attack on an overcrowded public high school in South Florida could produce twice as many casualties as on September 11, 2001.”
– 3rd-year male cadet, who gives the Bush administration “no credit at all” for lack of terror attacks on U.S. soil since 2001.
Which political party do you trust to do a better job handling
Don't Know/Unsure: 26.3%
“I don’t think any political party can protect its citizens from a determined enemy.”
– 3rd-year male cadet, who feels war on terror is going “not well at all” and that “neither” side is winning.
Which do you think poses a more serious threat to the U.S.?
Foreign Terrorists: 36.6%
Domestic Radicals: 52.1%
don't know/unsure: 11.3%
“Foreign terrorists are the ones who influence radicals in the country or bring in terrorist sleeper cells into our country.”
– 2nd-year male cadet, who said Muslims should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.
Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can be:
Sometimes Justified: 49.3%
Rarely Justified: 16.7%
Never Justified: 10.1%
Don't Know/Unsure: 2.2%
“Situations will arise where the number of lives saved outweighs the possible harm. However, at that point, the individual will still be held accountable for [their] actions. This is what separates us from the terrorists.”
– 4th-year male cadet, who said the Obama administration should not investigate whether harsh interrogation techniques broke U.S. laws.
Do you think the U.S. should send more troops to Afghanistan?
Don't Know/Unsure: 21.7%
“I do not understand the objective in Afghanistan from the United States’ perspective.”
– 3rd-year male cadet, who said it’s “somewhat likely” the U.S. will capture Osama bin Laden.
Do you Consider Waterboarding a form of torture?
Don't Know/Unsure: 13.8%
“It presents no urgent threat of killing a person.”
– 2nd-year male cadet, who said he’d do “whatever it takes” — including waterboarding someone — to prevent a terror attack.
Would you be willing to waterboard if you thought a terrorism suspect had info that could perevent an attack on U.S. citizens or troops?
Don't Know/Unsure: 15.2%
“I would have no problem with it. In fact, I would love to take part.”
– 2nd-year male cadet, who said torture is "justified" to gain crucial security information.
Do you think the Obama administration should investigate whether any laws were broken in the way terrorism suspects were treated under the Bush administration?
Don't Know/Unsure: 12.3%
“What happened, happened and at this point there is no point in destroying another former president’s reputation and tarnishing the U.S.’s for justice.”
– 4th-year female cadet, who calls herself “very conservative”.
Do you think the govt. should be allowed to wiretap the phones of u.s. citizens suspected of terrorism without first obtaining a warrant?
Don't Know/Unsure: 5.1%
“ No way should they be allowed to do that.”
– 3rd-year male cadet, who identifies as libertarian.
Do you think the military prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed?
Don't Know/Unsure: 10.1%
“It makes so much sense to put foreign terrorists on U.S. soil. Honestly this is a horrible idea.”
– 4th-year female cadet, who identifies as a conservative Republican.
Do you think the Bush administration, either intentionally or not, misled the american people on the reasons for going to war in IRaq?
Don't Know/Unsure: 12.5%
“We need that oil. We might as well have everybody on board with taking it because it will mean cheaper gas prices. It’s not going to be around forever so we should make the U.S. as strong as possible before it runs out”
– 3rd-year male cadet, who commented on Iraq: “We knew they had WMDs...We gave it to them.”
Should muslims be allowed to serve in the u.s. military?
Don't Know/Unsure: 10.9%
“After the recent Ft. Hood shooting, it’s a difficult decision. Maybe it’s best to allow them to serve in non-combative situations while still involved in this war.”
– 1st-year male cadet, who answered “don’t know” to whether foreign terrorists or domestic radicals pose a bigger threat to U.S. security.
*The online version of this article has been corrected. The survey was sent to the 486 ROTC scholarship recipients, not the entire Corps of Cadets.