Axe Takes a Hatchet to Army ROTC

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Axe Takes a Hatchet To Army ROTC Army 101: Inside ROTC in a Time of War. David Axe. The University of South Carolina Press. Ill pages; black and white photographs; $24.95.

For an individual who argues for increased precision in the training of America's future officers and finesse in the handling of the individuals undergoing this training, David Axe has no qualms about giving Army ROTC a coarse "hatchet job" in Army 101: Inside ROTC in a Time of War, his treatment of the process of training Army officers in the University of South Carolina's Army ROTC "Gamecock" Battalion.

Axe's brutal and unforgiving assessment of the Army and the program is both unnecessary and unsettling. His appraisal is less a condemnation of the University of South Carolina's ROTC program and more of an indictment of the Army's method of training in general and ROTCs approach to officer candidate training in particular. I doubt that any ROTC program could withstand his scrutiny and obtain a positive assessment based on his biased perspective and unrealistic expectations.

Axe's slim, unscholarly volume reads more like a loosely connected series of tabloid articles than the considered and coherent treatment the topic deserves. His analysis is based on criticism without context or understanding, and his style is more akin to that of an amateur blogger than the work of a professional journalist. Filled with comments and phrases that range from snarky ("ROTC bullshit made real") to downright cruel and disrespectful (titling the chapter on Ranger Challenge as "Ranger Challenged"; titling a chapter about cadet responsibilities within the ROTC program and in the Army as "The Fine Art of Covering Your Ass"; and another chapter on ROTC and military life as "lies My Leaders Told Me"; and so on), Axe belies the objective treatment alluded to on the book's cover description and back cover attributions.

There is value to Axe's work in some areas. For example, he does an excellent job of showing ROTCs intrinsic value and overall importance to the national defense establishment, the program's difficulty ("the hardest minor ever") and the respect young people who volunteer for the program are so worthy of. Axe also portrays the cadets in a largely positive light, highlighting their inherent goodness, commitment, dedication, character and value. His descriptions of Airborne School, Ranger Challenge and cadet summer training are also largely accurate and positive. His portrayal of ROTC as an excellent opportunity for college students to help themselves, improve their situation and get a leg up on their peers, especially for minority students, is also worthwhile. Finally, Axe does an excellent job of giving ROTC cadets a voice and readers a sense of how some cadets feel about the training and sacrifices they make and what a few of them think about the experience.

Axe ultimately comes off as iconoclastic, biased and antiauthoritarian, however, and his account is so riddled with these shortcomings that it becomes difficult to sort out the author's unsubstantiated opinions from the work's valuable aspects.

His bias appears in many areas, from characterizing a sergeant (whom he never met) who was assigned to a particular unit during Operation Desert Storm as a man who "massacred Iraqi soldiers in the Kuwaiti desert," to determining that the decision of the ROTC program's senior officer regarding a scholarship was both calculated and unethical, without providing any evidence or commentary from the officer who made the decision. In addition, the entire work comes from the cadets' perspective. I find much to admire in his treatment of the cadets he profiles, but little in either his approach or his methods, which makes reading the book much like hearing only one side of a conversation. Axe seems quite comfortable in ascribing motives and rationale to cadre decisions without offering the reader any evidence to support his assertions-or even the ability to evaluate them-resulting, throughout, in destructive sniping and character assassinations. …