Generation X and the military: A comparison of attitudes and values between West Point cadets and college students

Generation X and the military: A comparison of attitudes and values between West Point cadets and college students

Franke, Volker C

This article compares the value-orientations and attitudes of cadets at the United States Military Academy (USA) at West Point to those of civilian undergraduate students. By exploring the extent to which young men and women who decided to pursue a professional military career in the mid-1990s are representative of their civilian generational cohort, this analysis allows inferences about the effects of tertiary socialization on social and political attitudes across educational settings. Specifically, this research explores whether there is a civil-military value gap among the members of a generation typically described as apolitical and whether selection (attitudinal differences existing at the time of enlistment) or socialization (increased differences proportional to length of socialization and service) are primarily responsible for attitudinal differences. The study found that, on average, respondents seeking a career of public service in the U.S. military tended to be more conservative, patriotic, and warrioristic than their civilian generational peers. At the same time, members of the military cohort showed less support for global institutions and tended to be less self-oriented.

Civilian institutions were preeminently liberal in character, but no necessary conflict existed between them and professional military institutions, so long as each was kept within its proper sphere. The real problem was the ideological one, the American attitude of mind which sought to impose liberal solutions in military affairs as well as in civil life…

Samuel Huntington (1957:457)

The new tasks of the military require that the professional officer develop more and more the skills and orientations common to civilian administrators and civilian leaders.

Morris Janowitz (1960:9)


Citizens who come of age during particular periods of history often exhibit distinct attitudes and patterns of behavior. America’s post-baby-boom generation is decidedly different from previous generations. During their formative years, the members of Generation X, as this age cohort is commonly referred to, had to contend, among other factors, with the breakdown of the nuclear family, severe challenges to the educational system, crumbling political and corporate hierarchies, a steady rise in crime, the political, economic, and social ramifications of the Cold War, the legacy of the unpopular Vietnam War, and the absence of war or any other major social or political upheaval that could have formed a collective outlook. In addition, Gen Xers experienced enormous economic prosperity juxtaposed against the growing uncertainties of globalization and the erosion of traditional bases of identity. As a result, recent surveys have indicated that, compared to previous young generations, Gen Xers tend to be less engaged politically or civically, are more materialistic, exhibit less social trust or confidence in government and its institutions, and overall show a weaker allegiance to their country (see Halstead 1999; Fukuyama 1999).

Not surprisingly, the values of this generation are shaped by a mentality emphasizing independence, self-sufficiency, and supremacy of material values over teamwork, community, or civic virtue (see Howe and Strauss 1993; Cohn 1992; Janowitz 1983). In a recent study of the political culture of today’s young adults, Halstead concluded that “Xers have internalized core beliefs and characteristics that bode ill for the future of American democracy. This generation is more likely to describe itself as having a negative attitude toward America, and as placing little importance on citizenship and national identity, than its predecessors. And Xers exhibit a more materialistic and individualistic streak than did their parents at a similar age” (1999:34).

This generational outlook is inconsistent with values and sentiments that have traditionally motivated public service, military or otherwise. If one is to believe these studies, “duty, honor, country” or service-before-self seem hardly part of Gen Xers’ value repertoire. Indeed, empirical evidence suggests that Gen Xers are somewhat less patriotic than preceding generations (Owen 1997; Owen and Shumate 1997) and are motivated to join the military more by personal benefits (e.g., educational financing or job training) than they are by an intrinsic desire to serve their country (see Cohn 1992; Moskos 1977).2

Do these observations portray an entire generation of prospective leaders? Are these traits characteristic of those young men and women destined for/interested in public service? In a recent study of young males aged 16-21, Owen and Shumate (1997) found that respondents who expressed interest in signing up for military service were more inclined to note the significance of “doing something for their country” than their peers who were less likely to join the military. Nevertheless, likely joiners did not show a strong desire to pursue missions on foreign soil and tended to view the opportunity to engage in non-traditional military missions, especially to provide disaster relief, more positively than to serve in a more traditional war scenario. For example, when asked to rank order types of missions, they preferred disaster relief assistance within the U.S. (62%) over worldwide assistance (45%) and UN peacekeeping missions (29%).

These findings suggest that public (here: military) service remains intrinsically valuable at least for a subsample of Gen Xers. However, these findings also point to the central question that has shaped U.S. civil-military relations since the end of World War II: Should the U.S. military reflect the values prevalent in American society? To what extent should the soldiers and officers serving American society be representative of that society? The increasing involvement of U.S forces in a widening range of operations other than war over the last decade has further added fuel to this debate.

This study explores the extent to which young men and women who decided to pursue a professional military career in the mid-1990s are representative of their civilian generational cohort. To this end, the study compares the values and attitudes of cadets at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point as expressed in response to an attitudinal survey to those of civilian undergraduate students attending Syracuse University (SU).’ Answering questions about the representativeness of one cohort of future military leaders, this analysis also allows inferences about the effects of tertiary socialization on social and political attitudes across educational settings and, more specifically, about the level of cognitive preparation of future officers for the increasingly complex security environment of the 21st century.

Before discussing survey results, it seems useful to conduct a brief excursion into the history and nature of U.S. civil-military relations, outline the values that have traditionally shaped the identity and the ethos of military professionals, and discuss what one author has described as “a widening gap between the military and civilian society” (Holsti 1997).


The profession of arms is distinct from any other profession in American society. The basic components that make the military unique, Huntington (1957) argued more than four decades ago, are service to the state, a deep sense of loyalty and, perhaps most importantly, expertise in the application and management of violence. Today these core values remain the bedrock of the American professional military ethos. The U.S. Army Operations manual describes the values shaping military identity as “proper subordination to political authority, loyalty, duty, selfless service, courage, integrity, respect for human dignity, and a sense of justice” (Department of the Army 1993:1-2). Military professionals, Huntington observed, tended to view war as inherent in human nature and, therefore, favored the maintenance of a strong, diverse, and ready military force. Justifying war as an instrument of politics, they often perceived international law and organizations of little help to global peace and, given their specialized professional expertise, only hesitantly accepted civilian control over the armed forces. The dilemma, he asserted, was that a conservative military elite operated within a liberal society. Although serving society, the military, he concluded, must not become a close reflection of that society.

In contrast to Huntington’s focus on warfighting, Janowitz (1960) predicted the use of U.S. forces in constabulary roles. “The military establishment becomes a constabulary force when it is continuously prepared to act, committed to the minimum use of force, and seeks viable international relations, rather than victory, because it has incorporated a protective military posture” (1960:418). The constabulary model eliminates the distinction between peacetime and wartime military and creates a force that in many ways resembles the police. Janowitz believed that the military’s increasing engagement in constabulary tasks suggested a growing need for politically sensitive officers and challenged the traditional warrior conception of military professionalism. Consequently, he predicted convergence of military and civilian organization and the emergence of the citizen-soldier who is “integrated into civilian society because he shares its common values” (1960:440).

Following the creation of the All-Volunteer Force in 1973, Moskos (1977) hypothesized that military service as a “calling to the nation” was giving way to views of military service as “just another job.” He conjectured that the U.S. military was shifting from an institutional format, legitimated by values and norms transcending individual self-interest in favor of a presumed higher good, to an occupational format, legitimated primarily in terms of marketplace conditions, implying priority of (mainly economic) self-interest over group cohesion and collective benefits.

At the brink of the 21st century, the debate over the extent to which the military is or should be separate from or reflective of American society continues. Especially given the myriad of evolving functions, some observers feel that the military “must adopt an identity that encompasses warfighting, peacekeeping, and disaster relief roles” (Dunivin 1994:542). Despite a number of significant changes-most notably more inclusionary laws and policies, a more heterogeneous military structure in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender, and increasing egalitarianism and tolerance-one observer argued that the post-Cold War military is still dominated by many traditional features. “The military still views itself as the primary instrument of national power whose combat mission, performed by masculine warriors, characterizes its very existence and meaning. Consequently, military ethics and customs still tend to be conservative and moralistic” (Dunivin 1994:537).

The fact that military officers tend to be more conservative than their counterparts in comparable civilian leadership positions comes as no surprise. However, a number of recent studies discovered an increasing politicization of the officer corps and, with it, growing conservative partisanship (Bacevich and Kohn 1997; Ricks 1997; Holsti 1997). The gap between senior military officers and their civilian age and status peers, these studies conclude, is widening. While Cold War generation military and civilian leaders differ considerably in their values and attitudes (see Franke 1998; Holsti 1997), do these findings hold true for Generation X? Is there a civil-military value gap among the members of a generation typically described as apolitical? If so, does the gap exist already at the beginning of an individual’s professional career and/or does it emerge/widen over the course of that career? In other words, is selection (attitudinal differences existing at the time of enlistment) or socialization (increased differences proportional to length of socialization and service) primarily responsible for attitudinal differences?

More specifically, the analysis sets out to answer the following questions: What is the commitment of future military leaders to those values that have traditionally informed military professionals? Are they ready to take on a growing spectrum of operational functions and mission responsibilities? Are they intrinsically motivated to serve their country or is their service commitment based primarily on occupational or market place considerations? Are they reflective of society or does the military (i.e., USMA) attract and train a self-select group of aspiring youngsters who in some way are distinct from the rest of American society?


The Samples

In October 1995, the Future Officer Survey was administered anonymously to a representative sample of 1,233 cadets (31% of the total student population) in all four classes at West Point. 594 questionnaires were completed at least in part and could be used for analyses (a response rate of 48.2%). A revised version of the survey-statements referring to respondents’ direct involvement in military tasks or to particulars of the West Point setting were either deleted or modified to fit the civilian academic environment-was administered to 372 students in entry and upper level social science classes at Syracuse University (SU) between January and April of 1996. One limitation of the SU research is that the data was collected from a non-randomly selected sample of students from only one private university. Unlike their West Point peers, only some five percent of students in the SU sample were science and engineering majors, while the majority majored in a social science. Although SU students may not be representative of civilian Generation X college students in general, the demographic distribution of the SU sample was consistent with demographics reported for many private universities in the United States!


In order to assess their value-orientations and attitudes, respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with 36 separate statements. Responses were scored on a 5-point numerical Likert scale (from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree”) and mean response values were calculated. Survey items measuring the same concept were combined into separate scales and mean scale values were computed! The following scales were constructed (italicized descriptors correspond to items listed in Table 1):

Conservatism (CONS) – To measure political conservatism, respondents were asked for their attitudes toward government involvement in individuals’ lives. The following four items comprise the conservatism scale:

1. Economic Help – The United States should give economic help to the poorer countries of the world.

2. Equal Opportunity – The United States has gone too far in providing for equal opportunity under the law.

3. Health Insurance – The government should provide health insurance for every American.

4. Eradicate Poverty – The government should do everything it can to eradicate poverty in this country.

Patriotism (PAT) – Respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement with six statements concerning their allegiance and loyalty to the United States and their attitudes toward serving and fighting for their country:

1. Military as a “Calling” – I look upon service in the military as a “calling” where I can serve my country. (USMA only!)

2. Allegiance to Country – Although some people feel that they are citizens of the world, an American should always feel that his or her primary allegiance is to his or her own country.

3. Military Service – The strongest indicator of good citizenship is performance of military service in defense of one’s country.

4. Promotion of Patriotism – The promotion of patriotism should be an important aim of citizenship education.

5. Fighting for Country – All Americans should be willing to fight for their country.

6. Loyalty to Country – We should strive for loyalty to our own country before we can afford to consider world brotherhood.

Warriorism (WAR) – Respondents were asked for their attitudes toward the military’s warfighting and peacekeeping roles, their own expectations to fight in a war (USMA cadets only), and the personal satisfaction they expected themselves (USMA cadets)/Ul.S. soldiers (SU students) to gain from participating in warfighting and peacekeeping missions. Seven items were included in the warriorism scale:

1. Centrality of Peacekeeping – In today’s world, peacekeeping and other non-combat activities should be central to the military’s functions.

2. Expectation to fight War – When I decided to pursue a military career, I expected to fight in a war. (USMA only!)

3. Preparation for War – The most important role of the military is preparation for and conduct of war.

4. Necessity of War – Sometimes war is necessary to protect the national interest.

5. Reward from Peacekeeping – I think I/soldiers would find peacekeeping just as rewarding as war fighting.

6. Focus on Combat – The military’s primary focus should be preparation for and conduct of combat operations.

7. Human Nature – Human nature being what it is, there will always be war.

Globalism/Global Institutionalism (GLOB) – Respondents were asked for their attitudes toward the United Nations and the potential for ensuring peace through a world government. Respondents’ support for global institutions was measured using three items:

1. Stronger UN – The increasing multinational character of military missions since the end of the Cold War shows the need for a stronger United Nations.

2. UN Control – The United Nations should be strengthened by giving it more control of the armed forces of all member nations.

3. World Government – A World Government is the best way to ensure international peace.

Machiavellianism (MACH) – Following the writings of Machiavelli, Christie and Geis (1970) developed a series of hypothetical personality traits that someone who is effective in controlling others (high Mach) should possess, among them a relative lack of affect in interpersonal relationships, little concern with conventional morality, and a focus on getting things done rather than on pursuing and achieving long-range ideological goals. Individuals displaying a strong individualist disposition (high Mach) tend to focus on self-actualization and attainment of personal goals, whereas collectivist individuals (low Mach) tend to focus on development of a set of common beliefs, attitudes, and practices and on “maintenance of social norms and performance of social duties as defined by the ingroup” (Oyserman 1993:993). Consequently, high Machs tend to be competitive, self- rather than other-oriented, and less inclined to value the group’s success unless it can be used to their own advantage, while low Machs tend to be susceptible to affective involvement, focused on the group, and oriented toward interpersonal interactions. Respondents were asked to respond to an abbreviated six-item version of the MACH scale:

1. Honesty Best – Honesty is the best policy in all cases.

2. People Won’t Work – Generally speaking, people won’t work unless they are forced to.

3. Cutting Corners – It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.

4. Moral Actions – One should take action only when one is sure it is morally right.

5. Vicious Streak – It is safe to assume that all people have a vicious streak and it will come out when they are given a chance.

6. Trust in Others – Anyone who completely trusts anyone else is asking for trouble.

The following hypotheses were derived for attitudinal comparisons across educational settings:

H.1. Given self-selection, anticipatory socialization and an educational environment steeped in military tradition, West Point cadets should be more conservative, patriotic, and warrioristic than SU students.

H.2. In contrast, given greater campus diversity and the more liberal nature of a civilian college environment, SU students should be more supportive of peace operations and of global institutions than their USMA peers.

H.3. The value-differences between military and civilian students should be magnified as a result of their respective college experiences, i.e., cadets should become more committed to traditional military values, while civilian students should become less conservative, warrioristic, and patriotic, and more supportive of peace operations and global institutions.

In addition, cadets’ responses to the MACH scale provide a means for assessing the extent to which their decision to pursue a career in the military might have been motivated by institutional (low Mach) or occupational (high Mach) factors (see Moskos 1977). Consistent with Oyserman’s (1993) conceptions, we would expect the cadet cohorts to score lower on the Mach scale (high collectivism) than the civilian student cohorts. In particular, the study tested the following hypotheses:

H.4. USMA cadets will be more collectivist and group-oriented than SU students, i.e. they will score lower on the Mach scale.

H.5. If military traditions, and notions of “duty, honor, country” and selfless service are conveyed effectively as part of the West Point experience, cadets’ Mach scores should decline across classes.


Scale Comparisons by Academic Background

The effects of socialization by academic environment on respondents’ attitudes were assessed through separate t-test analyses. The between-sample test compared the overall scale and item scores across educational cohorts. The within-sample test compared scale and item scores between freshmen and seniors separately in both samples.6 The results are summarized in Table 1.

Conservatism – Comparing respondents in the West Point cohort in terms of their mean scores on the conservatism scale revealed no significant differences. Only when asked whether they thought “the United States had gone too far in providing for equal opportunity under the law,” significantly more graduating cadets agreed than did freshmen (p

Overall, cadets’ attitudes tended to grow slightly more conservative the longer they had been at West Point, while students became less conservative across classes. Within-sample gender comparisons revealed statistically significant changes across classes only for male SU students and only with respect to their scores on the conservatism scale (M = 2.79 for freshmen vs. M = 2.31 for seniors). Subsequent research should more closely examine whether, and if so to what extent, being in college affects the values and attitudes of male and female students differently. In addition, further research should assess the effects of military socialization on the values and attitudes of female cadets at West Point and the other service academies more closely.

The observed value change among civilian students confirms the assumption that political conservatism will decline with increasing levels of political sophistication (Alwin et al. 1991; Sniderman et al.1991; Bachman et al. 1987; Astin 1977; Converse 1964). However, value changes among cadets in the opposite direction suggest that these tendencies might not be as generalizable as commonly presumed. In addition, the fact that changes in civilian students’ conservatism scores across classes were not significant statistically for the student cohort as a whole suggest that self-selection, institutional recruitment, and anticipatory socialization may affect private universities just as much as the service academies. Subsequent research is needed to draw more conclusive inferences.

As hypothesized (H.3), the between-sample differences were highly significant statistically. Overall, USMA cadets were significantly more conservative than SU students (p

Patriotism – The data show that cadets were very patriotic. Somewhat surprising, however, was that cadets’ patriotism scores decreased slightly across classes. Although only the overall difference between freshmen and senior class cohorts was statistically significant (p

By contrast, the between-sample comparison for patriotism revealed highly significant differences between cadets and students for the overall scale score as well as for each of the six items. While nine-in-ten cadets agreed that “an American should always feel that his or her primary allegiance is to his or her country” (90%) and that the “promotion of patriotism should be an important aim of citizenship education” (89%), significantly fewer students felt this way (75% and 63% respectively). Similarly, eight-in-ten cadets (81 %) agreed that “we should strive for loyalty to our own country before we can afford to consider world brotherhood,” while only two-thirds of students (68%) agreed. While three-quarters of cadets (74%) thought that “all Americans should be willing to fight for their country,” only one-third of students (34%) shared this view. Finally, more than three-quarters of students (78%) disagreed that “the strongest indicator of good citizenship is performance of military service in defense of one’s country.” Not surprisingly, significantly fewer cadets (54%) disagreed with this statement.

Warriorism – In contrast to patriotism, West Point seniors scored significantly higher on the warriorism scale (p

Given their civilian academic socialization, SU students were expected to show significantly lower warriorism scores than their USMA peers (H.3). Moreover, their warriorism scores, if at all subject to change, should decrease across classes. Indeed, Table 1 reveals a within-sample decline in the overall warriorism score and in the mean scores for items measuring combat attitudes. However, the only significant difference between the freshmen and senior classes was students’ response to the statement that “the most important role of the U.S. military is preparation for and conduct of war.” Twice as many freshmen (43%) as seniors (21%, p

Consistent with the other measures of traditional military values, the between-sample comparison revealed significant differences in respondents’ overall level of warriorism (p

Global Institutionalism – Cadets’ overall support for global institutions decreased significantly between class cohorts (p

In contrast, the level of support for the UN was slightly stronger for SU seniors than for SU freshmen, but this difference was insignificant statistically. Again this could be the result of students’ college experience, exposing them to cultural, social, and intellectual diversity. By their senior year, more than three-quarters of students (76%) agreed that “the increasing multinational character of military missions since the end of the Cold War shows the need for a stronger United Nations.” Only about half of freshmen (58%) saw the need for a stronger UN.

While between-sample comparisons did not reveal any significant differences, it is interesting to note that less than 25 percent of respondents in either sample agreed that “the UN should be strengthened by giving it more control of the armed forces of all member nations” (25% of students and 21% of cadets) and that “a world government is the best way to ensure international peace” (21% of students and 15% of cadets).

Machiavellianism – Although USMA cadets scored relatively low on the Mach scale, MACH scores increased slightly between freshmen and senior classes, which may be attributable to the competitive structure of the West Point environment! As hypothesized (H.4), cadets’ mean scale score was significantly lower than the mean student score (p

Scale Comparisons by Sociopolitical Views

In addition to assessing levels of conservatism using the CONS scale, the survey also asked respondents to “classify their general social and political views” on a seven-point scale from “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative.”‘ Figure 1 shows that more than half of USMA freshmen (58.6%) and more than two-thirds of graduating cadets (67.7%) categorized their general socio-political views as conservative. By contrast, fewer than two-in-ten cadets in either class considered themselves to be “liberal.” These proportions are virtually reversed among the civilian student sample. While almost half of SU freshmen (49.6%) thought of themselves as liberal, six out of ten seniors (60.8%) claimed to have liberal views. At the same time, students’ level of conservatism declined slightly but insignificantly across classes (from 18.4% to 15,7%). In either sample, a larger proportion of graduating students tended to show political leanings-more conservative in the West Point case, more liberal in the SU case-than beginning students, as evidenced by the decreasing proportion of respondents in either sample claiming “middle of the road” political views. This finding is consistent with previous research that attributed increased political sophistication to tertiary educational experiences and suggests that socialization shapes attitudes and values (see Sniderman et al. 1991; Alwin et al. 1991; Astin 1977; Converse 1964; Newcomb 1943).

Comparing mean scale scores across class years by sociopolitical views revealed further interesting differences between the military and civilian samples. Figure 2 shows similar changes in value-scores for USMA cohorts independent of socio-political views, with the exception of the conservatism score which decreased across classes for cadets claiming liberal views. Interesting to note is that, while patriotism declined for all subsamples, the only significant decrease occurred in the liberal subsample (p

In contrast to the USMA sample, Figure 2 does not reveal a patterned change in values across classes. This may reflect the fact that socialization in a tertiary civilian academic setting is not geared toward instilling particular value-orientations or a succinct professional ethos. On the contrary, the civilian college environment encourages intellectual growth based on academic individualism and institutional independence. As a result, Figure 1 shows decreasing levels of patriotism, conservatism, warriorism, and Machiavellianism for liberal college students, while their support for global institutions rose. These trends were exactly reversed for self-identified conservative SU students.


The purpose of this analysis was to compare the value-orientations and attitudes of USMA cadets to those of a sample of their civilian generational peers. While the data at hand only render a snapshot of the value-orientations of future military and civilian leaders, the analysis nonetheless provides a baseline for evaluating the effects of tertiary educational socialization on students in different academic settings. Due to time and budgetary constraints, the research was designed and conducted as a cross-sectional study. Comparisons across classes were assumed to reveal real “change” in attitudes as a result of exposure to the socializing influence of the respective academic setting. Of course, such inferences can only be made with great caution, since variables other than length of military/college socialization might account for response differences across classes and between samples. For instance, within-sample attitudinal differences might be attributable to the overall greater maturity of seniors as a result of their particular college and general life experiences (see Sniderman et al. 1991; Alwin et al. 1991; Newcomb 1943). Follow-up research should measure the attitudes of civilian and military students at the beginning of their respective socialization experiences and resurvey them at different times during their respective military or civilian professional careers to confirm observed trends longitudinally. Although the research focus on SU and USMA limits the generalizability of the present findings, the data indicate some interesting socialization effects across educational settings. Further research should extend this study to include students from other public and private academic institutions, members of the ROTC Corps, and student-officers from the other service academies.

Overall, the data showed significant value-differences between USMA cadets and their civilian generational peers. On average, respondents seeking a career of public service in the U.S. military tended to be more conservative, patriotic, and warrioristic than their civilian counterparts attending a private university. At the same time, they showed less support for global institutions and tended to be less self-oriented as indicated by their lower Machiavellianism scores. These findings are generally consistent with the hypotheses that informed this research and indicate that the next generation of military officers still adheres to traditional military values as described by Huntington (1957) more than four decades ago. Many cadets displayed these attitudes already at the beginning of their West Point experience. By their freshmen year, cadets already differed significantly in their levels of conservatism, patriotism, warriorism, and individualism from their civilian counterparts. Consistent with earlier research (Owen and Shumate 1997; Hammill et al. 1995), this result reconfirms the importance of self-selection, reflecting pre-existing attitudinal differences that may have informed respondents’ choice of academic/educational program and desired professional career.

Although self-selection may have played a considerable role in respondents’ educational and career choices, socialization appears to have also considerably shaped respondents’ values and attitudes, especially for the West Point cohorts. The data indicate that cadets became significantly more warrioristic across classes, while their support for peacekeeping operations and global institutions decreased. Given USMA’s socialization purpose to “provide the nation with leaders of character who serve the common defense” (United States Military Academy 1995:I-1), the academy’s structured military environment, and the rigorous physical, emotional, and mental demands placed on cadets (see Franke 1999), the observed attitudinal differences are unsurprising. At the same time, West Point’s mission is to “inspire each [cadet] to a lifetime of service to the nation” (United States Military Academy 1995:1-1). Based on cadets’ fairly low Machiavellianism scores and their strong loyalty to the U.S., as indicated by their patriotism scores, USMA seems to succeed in instilling a devotion for public (military) service in its cadets, not shared by their civilian counterparts, at least when it comes to military service.

Interesting to note is the fact that cadets’ overall Mach scores increased slightly, while those of civilian students decreased slightly. The fact that the difference between SU and USMA freshmen is highly significant suggests that cadets might indeed have been motivated to pursue their education at USMA by institutional factors and collectivist aspirations, while SU students on average may have made their college choice in response to perceived occupational benefits. USMA’s mandate, “to develop leaders of character to serve the national defense,” combined with the fact that USMA, in its admission decisions recognizes candidates’ prior societal activities and leadership experiences suggests that individuals who apply to military academies may differ, at least in those respects, from their generational peers who apply to and attend civilian colleges and universities (see Franke 1999; Cochran and Malone 1997; Hammill et al. 1995).

Given military socialization guided by notions of “duty, honor, country,” “service before self,” and emphasis on a strong military group identity (Dunivin 1994; Janowitz 1960; Huntington 1957), the low Mach scores are unsurprising. In fact, they suggest a strong cognitive commitment to unit cohesion and group morale, attributes likely to strengthen discipline, motivate performance, and help ensure mission accomplishment. If self-selection is indeed a significant factor and collectivist/group-oriented educational settings attract students whose orientation is also collectivist, then one should find strong group cohesion and collectivist attitudes among students who enter other institutions of higher education that are based on a strong group identity. Subsequent research could examine the effects of socialization in other educational settings founded on the basis of strong group identities, e.g., denominational colleges, seminaries, or single-gender institutions.

Analyzing the civilian survey responses also leads to some interesting preliminary inferences. Despite the fact that the data show changes in attitudes and values over the duration of civilian college education, none of these differences were significant statistically. Although, previous research has found college education to have a “liberalizing” effect on students’ values and attitudes (Alwin et al. 1991; Astin 1977; Newcomb 1943), a recent study by Cochran and Malone (1997) found that students! undergraduate experience had virtually no effect on their political attitudes. Consistent with these findings, the data at hand indicate that socialization effects on attitudes may not be as strong as reported in past research. Perhaps the “liberalizing” experience of attending college has given way to an interest in maximizing one’s self-interest and achieving economic well-being, financial security, and self-fulfillment. Comparing respondents’ Machiavellianism scores across cohorts certainly substantiates this implication. However, since this study only measured attitudes of civilian students at a single institution, more conclusive inferences must be reserved until data from a wider range of academic institutions is available.

In sum, the data reveal attitudinal differences between Gen Xers opting for military vs. civilian educational settings and career paths. Observed differences are partly attributable to selection, but at least in the USMA context, socialization also appeared to have significantly influenced respondents’ value-orientations. West Point socialization seems to instill and strengthen those values that characterize the traditional professional military ethos-conservatism, patriotism, warriorism, service before self, loyalty, and group cohesiveness. Whether these values are sufficient to ensuring officers’ commitment to the multitude of emerging multinational non-combat missions is questionable, especially given the observed decrease in support of peacekeeping operations and global institutions. Other recent studies have suggested that military socialization should prepare the men and women in uniform cognitively to shift between peacekeeping and warfighting, as missions require (Franke 1999; 1997). The present findings confirm these recommendations.

The debate over the utility of a military force representative of civilian society continues. While the present analysis cannot provide a definite answer, the data indicate that a gap between West Point cadets and their civilian generational peers exists already prior to their military socialization. The observed correlations between value-orientations and general sociopolitical views could be another manifestation of the growing politicization of the U.S. military. The data also suggest that socialization may widen this gap. Value-differences between military and civilian students were greater for seniors than for freshmen. At the same time, occupational incentives seemed stronger among civilian college students, while institutional motivations seemed prevalent for many West Point cadets. These findings suggest that the picture for Generation X may not be quite as bleak as painted by Halstead (1999). They also suggest that there is still an important purpose for West Point and the other service academies in contemporary American society. Nevertheless, this analysis also points to the importance of institutional change to adjust to the demands of a new global security environment.

1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2000 International Studies Association Meeting in Los Angeles. I am indebted to Gavan Duffy, Patrick Toffler, and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this article. I am also most grateful to Lt. Gen. Howard D. Graves, former Superintendent of USMA, for granting generous access to cadets and to Richard Braungart, Joseph Cammarano, Gavan Duffy, and Richard Sherman for allowing administration of the survey to students at Syracuse University. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Military Academy or the Department of the Army.

2 Cohn (1992) cited an ACE/UCLA survey that found that young people increasingly indicated financial well-being as a goal in life (from 44% in 1966 to 78% in 1992).

3 Since most of this research was conducted in residence at Syracuse University, SU students initially presented the logical basis for testing the construct validity of the value measures. After completion of several studies of the cognitive preparation of USMA cadets for the post-Cold War security environment (see Franke 1999; 1998; 1997), I decided to compare value– orientations across educational settings. While SU students are not necessarily representative of American college students in general, the data nevertheless present preliminary insights into the effects of tertiary educational socialization on value-orientations.

Slightly more than half of students in the SU sample were male (55.7%) and the vast majority was white (81.5%). Some seven percent (7.3%) of students were of African-American descent, a figure that is compatible with the proportion of African-American students in other leading universities (7.5% at the University of Michigan; 6.8% at Duke University; 5.9% at Harvard; 5.4% at the University of Pennsylvania; see United States Military Academy 1994; see also various annual editions of U.S. News & World Report, “America’s Best Colleges”). Comparing the values and attitudes of West Point cadets to those of students at a private university is justified by the fact that cadet candidates are most similar in terms of academic credentials to applicants admitted to elite private universities (see United States Military Academy 1994).

5 The following scale results were obtained for the two samples: USMA: (1) CONS: M = 2.98; SD = 0.76; range = 1.20-5.00; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.59; (2) PAT: M = 3.87; SD = 0.59; range = 1.50-5.00; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.69; (3) WAR: M = 3.60; SD = 0.61; range = 1.71-5.00; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.73; (4) GLOB: M = 2.81; SD = 0.86; range = 1.00-5.00; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.66; and MACH: M = 2.44; SD = 0.55; range = 1.17-4.50; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.45. For the SU sample: (1) CONS: M = 2.44; SD = 0.70; range = 1.00-4.75; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.61; (2) PAT: M = 3.19; SD = 0.75; range = 1.00-5.00; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.75; (3) WAR: M = 2.92; SD = 0.59; range = 1.17-4.67; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.62); (4) GLOB: M = 2.97; SD = 0.78; range = 1.00-5.00; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.57); and MACH: M = 2.72; SD = 0.57; range = 1.17-4.33; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.46. Boxplots and normal probability plots generated separately for each scale showed that the scale values for the response sample were normally distributed. Construct validity of the scales has been established in a number of previous studies (see Franke 1999; 1998; 1997).

6 In addition to within sample comparisons by class status, respondents’ attitudes were also compared by gender. Given the small proportion of female cadets (some 15% across classes), statistically meaningful gender comparisons were not possible for the West Point sample. For the SU sample (56% male and 44% female), value scores of female students did not change significantly across classes. The only statistically singificant change among male SU students was a drop in conservatism across classes.

7 Holsti acknowledged that one of the shortcomings of his research was its focus on senior military leaders, most of whom were either top level officers at the Pentagon or students at the National War College. Hence, the results of his study are not representative of the military as a whole. Since the data at hand show similar results, Holsti’s conclusions can be extended to junior officers. Similar analyses of enlisted personnel are still needed at this time.

8 These results confirm findings from earlier research on the values of West Point cadets which also detected slightly higher Machiavellianism scores among graduating cadets (see United States Military Academy 1988).

9 For the purpose of this analysis, respondents who checked “extremely liberal,” “liberal,” or “somewhat liberal” were grouped together and labeled “liberal.” Similarly, respondents who checked either of the three respective conservatism labels were grouped together as “conservative.”


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Department of Political Science and International Studies Western Maryland College Westminster, Maryland

Journal of Political and Military Sociology 2001, Vol. 29 (Summer): 92-119

Copyright Dr. George Kourvetaris Summer 2001

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