The SCUSA conference at West Point was a valuable experience that provided me with an insight into the civ-mil cultural divide. Over the course of four days, my group discussed a wide variety of topics around “The Future of Force and Faith” and also forged new friendships.
While it may seem basic, one of the best parts of this conference was actually being at West Point. Because it is an active military institution, access to campus is limited, and access to the dorm rooms even more so. However, we had the opportunity to live in the barracks for a few days, which gave me a sense of what life is like for military personnel that I would not have had otherwise. The military-issued computers, rigidity of schedule, spartan rooms, and communal showers were strikingly different from my life.
The second part of the experience of being at West Point was meeting cadets. Not only did I get to see how they lived, but I also got to talk to them about their lives. Most of the people I’ve met at Tufts have come from fairly similar backgrounds to myself: they have usually lived in one place for most of their lives and are upper-class–lots of lawyers, doctors, finance, business, etc. These military cadets, however, seemed to come more from military families who had moved a lot, or from poor households where the military seemed a more attractive option than it does for me.
And, of course, the actual panel discussion was remarkable. Among my fellow panelists were Catholics, Protestants, Atheists, a Muslim, and a Norse Pagan. We had a stimulating discussion about what, exactly, a religion was, then transitioned into ways that those religions affected US foreign policy. What we eventually came to was a discussion of why the United States has so much difficulty in our diplomatic relations with Muslim countries, and how to improve this situation.