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The influential American journalist Robert Kaplan recently commented that the real shapers of his country's foreign policy are junior and middle-ranking military officers. When an engineer captain in Afghanistan mobilises his men to de-mine a road, or a major in Baghdad oversees the training of competent new policemen, the 'Global War on Terror' (GWOT) moves one step further towards a successful conclusion. But when their colleagues violently raid houses and carry off the wrong Afghans to detention, or gun down innocent civilians in Iraq, Osama bin Laden and his kind garner another handful of followers. Much depends on what individual American officers in the field consider to he acceptable behaviour.
I have just returned from a visit to the US Military Academy West Point, which educates about 40 per cent of all US army officers, after an earlier trip to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. I was investigating the moral education of America's future officers. The results were instructive--and encouraging.
Those British university lecturers who decry backwards-baseball-cap-coiffed, non-class-attending slouch potatoes of students whose idea of charm is to call their professors 'mate' can only gape with envy at West Point. The academy sits in a strikingly beautiful setting on cliffs overlooking the Hudson (where it originally guarded against British ships using the river). The …