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While his fellow soldiers prepared to unleash one of the most spectacular land assaults in modern military history, Col. Ted Westhusing was studying old wars. He was in the final months of writing his doctoral dissertation at Emory University's department of philosophy in the spring of 2003. His topic was honor. As the Third Infantry Division charged into Iraq, Westhusing pored over ancient Greek texts like those once preserved in Baghdad's libraries, comparing them to modern Civil War novels and accounts of valor in America's more recent wars. He was an archaeologist carefully sifting the history of human violence: Achilles' savagery at Troy, Gen. Robert E. Lee's compassion to an underling at Gettysburg, Gen. Matthew Ridgway's turnaround of the Eighth Army's retreat in Korea. He sought an understanding of what the Greeks called arete- skill, excellence, or virtue - because Westhusing wanted to know, exactly, what honor meant for the modern American soldier. "Born to be a warrior, I desire these answers not just for philosophical reasons, but for self-knowledge," he wrote.
Westhusing stood out on Emory's leafy green campus, which is not far from downtown Atlanta. He was twice as old as some of his fellow graduate students, with a buzz cut that grayed at the temples. They showed up for class in shorts and flip-flops, Westhusing in slacks and loafers. They stayed out late at campus bars, Westhusing had a wife and three children. They were younger, but he was faster. Intensely competitive, he had a physique as lean and hard as an ax head. He could often be seen jogging through the hilly neighborhoods around campus in camouflage and combat boots, a full rucksack strapped to his back. He challenged his fellow students to race. "I'm ten years older than you, man. You wouldn't last five minutes in the army!" he'd shout as he ran past. And he finished his dissertation in three years - a year or two earlier than most students. The story about his dissertation defense was campus legend. Supposedly he had walked into the room in full dress uniform, took a seat in front of his advisers, and placed his sidearm wordlessly on the desk in front of him. It was apocryphal, but it spoke to his Pattonesque reputation: bullheaded, self-assured, and packed with military bravado.
Westhusing's unwavering belief in the United States made him a maverick in another way. In a department of professional skeptics, Westhusing was a believer. He saw things in black and white, true or false, right or wrong. There was no room for relativism in Westhusing's world. He was a deeply faithful Catholic who attended Mass nearly every Sunday. His ardent, unalloyed patriotism burned brightly in the coffee shops and classrooms of the mostly liberal institution. He loved his country, loved serving it, loved defending it. "We have the finest fighting force to ever exist, and we will get the job done, no matter what it is," he said. Some found his conviction exhilarating. Westhusing got into fierce debates with fellow students, leaving newspaper clippings in mailboxes with comments circled in pen. He loved arguing about Aristotle and Epictetus, Kant and Wittgenstein. "He enjoyed being the voice of dissent. He definitely had a strong contrarian streak," said Aaron Fichtelberg, a fellow student who went on to become a professor at the University of Delaware, when we spoke of Westhusing in the fall of 2005. Others found him rigid and inflexible. It was almost as if he wasn't interested in digging too deeply into the issues, afraid of the moral ambiguities he might find. One of his fellow graduate students suggested a reading by liberal philosopher Martha Nussbaum that questioned the value of patriotism. Westhusing refused even to attend the discussion group. Instead he sent a typed three-page response criticizing the article. "There were clearly things that Ted was not willing to question. One of them was patriotism," Fichtelberg told me.
Westhusing stood out in the military too. He had graduated third in his class at West Point. He became a Ranger and special forces instructor with the legendary Eighty-second Airborne, serving in some of the world's hot spots: East Berlin before the wall tumbled, Central America during the proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. He loved working with soldiers in the field, but it wasn't enough. He thought he could have more influence by training America's next generation of officers. He decided to teach at West Point.
There he returned to his devotion: honor. For Westhusing, honor was what set the soldier apart from the rest of society. It gave a soldier meaning, the military strength, and society structure. At West Point he became one of the army's top ethicists, contributing to military journals and grappling with the toughest issues of modern war. Emory was a chance to deepen his knowledge. He learned ancient Greek and modern Italian. When he graduated in 2003, he was one of only fourteen out of eighty thousand officers in the army with a PhD in philosophy.
Westhusing had only one regret about his immersion in academia - he had never seen combat. It gnawed at him that he missed the first Gulf War, which happened while he was earning his master's. He had also not seen action in Bosnia, Kosovo, or any other of America's myriad conflicts. "He used to say he never had a shot fired at him in anger. There was a twinge of disappointment as he said that," Fichtelberg said. Westhusing's interest, after all, was in applied ethics. He was not interested in philosophy for its own sake. He had written about the thresholds of knowledge necessary before a commander could order an air strike, and about the rules of engagement that governed when a soldier could open fire during a peacekeeping mission. The classroom was good enough for discussion. But the battlefield was where you tested ideals. "War is the hardest place to make moral judgments," he wrote.
THE THINKING WARRIOR
Westhusing was born in 1960, the third child in a closely knit family of seven siblings that grew up in Texas and Oklahoma. His father, Keith Westhusing, served in the Korean War and had been a commander in the Navy Reserve. He was a geophysicist who worked with NASA during the moon mission, and the Westhusing kids had grown up with the children of the Apollo astronauts. The family moved from Texas to Oklahoma when Westhusing was in the eighth grade, settling in Jenks, an outlying suburb of Tulsa across the Arkansas River from Oral Roberts University. Tim Westhusing, the oldest of the siblings, said his younger brother played the role of mediator in the competitive family, which spent summer vacations engaged in tennis and basketball tournaments with one another. "He was the one who could really calm down a family of nine. He was the diplomat," said Tim, a telecommunications executive.
Although small, Ted Westhusing played basketball for the Jenks High School Trojans as a starting guard. He was intensely driven. Joe Holladay, who coached Westhusing before going on to become an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina, recalled him showing up at the gym at 7 a.m. to get in a hundred extra practice shots. The team nearly won the state championship his senior year. "There was never a question of how hard he played or how much effort he put into something," Holladay said. "Whatever he did, he did well. He was the cream of the crop. Ted was special." Westhusing was academically talented as well, with a flair for math and science. He was a National Merit Scholar and the vice president of a fellowship of Christian athletes. (He would have been the school's valedictorian if not for a B in driver's education.) Both students and teachers knew there was something different about Westhusing. "He was very bright and a successful athlete, but he didn't boast about it," said Mike Means, the Jenks principal who coached Westhusing. "He had a maturity level as far as his character and values."
Westhusing thought about going to Notre Dame or Duke University, but decided on West Point. His mother, Terry, had had to evacuate with her family when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and Westhusing had always been intrigued by his family's military past. The nation's oldest military academy also appealed to the competitor in Westhusing. Only one of every ten applicants is accepted. The median grade point average of the entering class is 3.5; 20 percent are class presidents; 60 percent are varsity team captains. The roster of graduates includes many heroes of American military history, from Robert E. Lee (class of 1829) to Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing (class of 1886) to Dwight D. Eisenhower (1915) to Norman Schwarzkopf (1956).
When Westhusing entered West Point in 1979, the tradition-bound institution was in the midst of turmoil. The first female cadets were going through the system; within a year the academy would name the first black first captain, the leader of the cadet corps. A revelation in 1976 that scores of cadets had cheated on their engineering exams had resulted in congressional hearings, public outcry, and a commitment from the army to reemphasize the academy's moral code. From the moment they entered, cadets were taught to value duty, honor, and country and drilled in West Point's strict moral code: A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal - or tolerate those who do.
Westhusing embraced the code's austere demands. As an underclassman, he was the honor representative for his company, serving on the cadet committee that reviews any violations and makes recommendations on punishment. As a senior, or firstie, Westhusing was the honor captain, the highest-ranking ethics position in the cadet corps. It is a position of tremendous responsibility, with the ability to make decisions that can destroy the future of would-be officers. Each year, some one hundred cases of honor violations come before the committee. They range from accusations of lying to cheating to stealing. Most infractions result in punishments such as being forced to repeat a year of school, but about 10 percent bring the ultimate sanction: the offender is separated - expelled - from the class. Col. Tim Trainor, a classmate and West Point professor, said Westhusing was strict but sympathetic to cadets' problems. He remembered him as "introspective." Lt. Col. William Bland, another classmate and professor, said Westhusing managed to maintain the cadets' respect despite being a disciplinarian. "He was a smart guy, a thoughtful guy, a caring guy. He was pensive," Bland said. As honor captain "you do a lot of thinking."
After graduation, Westhusing became an infantry platoon leader. He took Ranger and Airborne training and went through jungle warfare courses in Panama. He rose to become division operations officer and chief of staff for the Eighty-second Airborne, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he worked with Gen. David Petraeus. He loved commanding soldiers. Westhusing told friends that one of his favorite postings was near the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. He lived with his platoon, far from the comforts of base. "He liked it because he was with his people. He was living with them. 'That's the way you lead soldiers,' he said. 'You lead them by being with them, rather than being at a comfortable villa,'" his dissertation adviser, Nick Fotion, told me.
Nonetheless, Westhusing was always drawn to intellectual pursuits. In his doctoral dissertation, he wrote about visiting the remote village of Chipyong-ni in South Korea, the site of a famed defensive stand by U.S. and French forces during the Korean War. He "walked and studied in detail" the battlefield in an effort to distinguish "false from true honor," he wrote in his doctoral dissertation. "War is brutal; courage remains supreme," he wrote.
"True self-knowledge in the form of the moral virtue of 'honor' demands warrior recognition of that brute, vulgar fact."
He went to Emory twice, once for his master's degree in the early 1990s and a second time in 2000 to get his doctorate. He chose Emory partly because the philosophy department had one of the nation's few programs in applied military ethics, but also because of its reputation as a bastion of classical Greek philosophy. Westhusing had little truck with modern epistemology (he told one friend that society had "taken the wrong road after Descartes"). He loved Socrates, Aristotle, Plato. His favorite saying was by Socrates from Plato's Phaedo: "Those philosophizing rightly are practicing to die."
"He saw himself as a person of antiquity. He felt much more engaged in ancient Greece than the modern world. He was an anachronism," Fichtelberg recalled. To master ancient Greek, Westhusing took an intensive summer course at the University of Texas. His professor, Tom Palaima, remembered how Westhusing jumped at the chance to participate in the Aristophanes play The Acharnians. Westhusing played the role of Lamachus, a braggart, buffoonish general. He seemed to enjoy the chance to poke fun at himself and his beloved military. "He took to the role, and the self-irony to do it. He was just tremendous," Palaima remembered.
Westhusing's 352-page doctoral dissertation is a dense, searching, and sometimes personal effort to define the ideal spirit for a modern American soldier. His lantern held high, he plucked specific examples from history and picked each apart in a search for the perfect warrior. Achilles was a fierce fighter, adept with his spear and physically fit. But he desecrated Hector's corpse and selfishly pouted on the sidelines as the Trojans nearly destroyed the Greeks. Ridgway was a brave leader of men, but, Westhusing noted, some considered him too eager for his own glory. The bridge between the sometimes competing virtues of competition and cooperation was honor, a soldier's desire for approval from his fellow man and his country. Westhusing called it a "beguiling virtue"- difficult to define and difficult to recognize. The job of the American soldier was to embrace the true form.
Westhusing cautioned that devotion to honor could be taken too far. The "regimental honor" of the British infantry in the Victorian era was so extreme that officers suffering even a slight moral lapse would occasionally commit suicide rather than face disgrace. Westhusing called it a "monster" of a notion. "This sense of regimental honor tends to prevent and transfigure both greatness of mind and extended benevolence," two of the requirements needed for true honor, he said.
As planned, Westhusing returned to teach philosophy and English at West Point. He was made an "academy professor," the military's equivalent of tenure. With a guaranteed lifetime assignment, he settled into life on campus with his wife, Michelle, and their three young children. He played basketball on the weekends, and exulted in being able to beat cadets on a bicycle ride up a nearby mountain. He was not particularly outgoing. He had his family and a few close friends. His relationships with his colleagues were professional and courteous. Westhusing kept himself busy outside academia as well. He and Palaima served as consultants for a Discovery Channel re-creation of the battle at Troy. He went to a conference in St. Louis that tried to link Achilles to modern-day Iraq.
As always, he remained deeply involved with ethics. He worked with the cadet honor program as faculty adviser. Westhusing commented forcefully to Tom Palaima when his former professor wrote a newspaper column questioning an apparently inadvertent instance of plagiarism in a book by New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Palaima, who was a columnist for a local newspaper, believed that Hedges had copied a passage from a Hemingway novel without giving due credit. Westhusing scoffed at excuses. "Do you know what this would garner Hedges in the circles I run in? If truly 'inadvertent,' and if Hedges were a cadet, he might be lucky to garner only a 100-hour 'slug.' That is, he spends 100 hours of his free time marching back and forth in the hot sun in Central Area under full dress uniform pondering the consequences of his failure (a slug). If intentional, Hedges would get the boot. Kicked out. Gone."
Westhusing was restless, however. The war in Iraq raged on, always in the headlines. Westhusing believed in the effort there, deeply, fervently. He had once criticized Clinton for using soldiers in the rebuilding of Bosnia. Westhusing's attitude, a friend said, "was, 'They are trained to kill people, not build schools and bridges.'" But now he saw the war as a way to spread democracy, to make life better for Iraqis. It was also personal. Iraq was a way to "obtain 'verification' ... and to lend authenticity to his status, not only as a soldier, but as an instructor at West Point," his father, Keith Westhusing, said. He believed that the war would make him a better soldier, a better professor, a better man. When Westhusing got a call in the fall of 2004 from one of his former commanders in the Eighty-second Airborne, he didn't hesitate. "He wanted to serve, he wanted to use his skills, maybe he wanted some glory," recalled Fotion, his dissertation adviser at Emory. "He wanted to go."
Excerpted from Blood Money by T. Christian Miller Copyright © 2006 by T. Christian Miller. Excerpted by permission.
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|1||Man of honor||11|
|3||Back at the ranch||42|
|4||The Halliburton gang||72|
|5||The mother lode||92|
|7||The shooting starts||132|
|14||Cost of war||278|
Posted May 9, 2012
No text was provided for this review.