Anthony Galluzzo on Literature and Guns


Galuzzo recounts his time teaching at West Point @ Jacobin.

Greg, a tall, lanky, and unusually thoughtful cadet, waited for me after class. While most West Point “plebes” (first-year students) ran out at the end of the fifty-five minute period, Greg almost always lingered, wanting to further parse this or that novel, play, or poem.

He regularly and passionately participated in class discussions while large groups of the cadets dozed. He took unpopular positions when I ventured into controversial territory and sought me out for “A. I.” – additional instruction – whenever he wanted to discuss something above and beyond the curriculum.

But Greg was unusually silent that day during a debate about the value of “literature” and interpretation for our future military officers.

It hadn’t gone well.

“No disrespect, sir, but I think this poetry crap is pretty useless.” This was Troy, another very vocal cadet. Troy often sounded off about the worthlessness of “English.” English was his catch-all term for the humanities, social sciences, and any mode of intellectual inquiry without one “right” answer and some solid practical application, like building a bridge or blowing one up. He was not a fan of APL classes. APL is the official United States Military Academy acronym for Art History, Philosophy, and Literature: three separate disciplines all rolled into one department, ironically confirming Troy’s worst assumptions about their interchangeability.

Despite Troy’s many and frequent provocations in the classroom, I usually stuck to “facilitating debate,” in the bloodless lingo of the USMA. But that day, I took the bait and countered Troy’s swaggering declaration. He was, after all, talking shit about my vocation.
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