What’s in a Name? Of West Point, War, and Pizza

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When is a “West Point” graduate no longer a “West Point” graduate?  That’s easy, according to the legal experts at the United States Military Academy.  Any time you have an organization using the term, West Point, of which they do not approve.  In fact, according to a letter received by us from these authorities, any use of the words or phrases “West Point,” “United States Military Academy,” “USMA,” and “U.S. Army” without the “express permission of the Department of Army [sic] constitutes a violation of Title 17 of the United States Code.”

And so we de facto, legitimate West Point graduates, who belong to an organization accurately named West Point Graduates Against The War (www.westpointgradsagainstthewar.org/), have been advised by the very institution we cherish, to cease and desist calling ourselves West Point graduates.  Surely this is just some silly paranoia of the Bush-Patriot-Act variety.  But maybe not.  Yes, our organization is opposed to the war in Iraq, a war launched on lies and subterfuge that make mockery of the honor and reputation of America (and, by extension, West Point), a war that has seriously debilitated our military.  Even the generals are now speaking out.  And some of them are West Point graduates, a designation duly noted by the media.  But us?

We are the (unnamable) graduates of the (unnamable) institution where we spent four years of our youth imbued with the spirit of its motto, “duty, honor, country,” inspired by the moral energy of the (unnamable) Honor Code to live honest, truthful, honorable lives.  Who, if not we graduates, have better earned the right to use the name “West Point” when we describe ourselves?

West Point PizzaWell, it seems West Point Pizza in nearby Highland Falls, New York has.  And so have its neighbors, West Point Cleaners, and the West Point Motel.

“I am sure you will agree, as a graduate of this instutition [sic],” reads the letter from the Staff Judge Advocate at West Point, “that it is deeply important to protect the valuable trademarks that enhance the image and standing of the United States Military Academy in [sic] the national and world stage.”

West Point is far more than some mere product or “valuable trademark” to us.  What is deeply important to us is the “image and standing of the United States Military Academy.”  This is precisely what we members of West Point Graduates Against The War are trying to uphold.  Our organization’s opposition to the policies of the Bush administration promotes the very Constitutional First Amendment rights all military officers swear to protect and defend.

We have nothing to do with pizza parlors, dry cleaners, or motels.  But we do have a lot to do with the formative experience of graduating from West Point, and having the Cadet Honor Code become an irrevocable moral force in our lives.  No authority can deny us that.  And no authority can deny us the protections provided by the Founding Forefathers of America.  The notorious behavior of the Bush administration in violating scores of international treaties, charters, conventions, and protocols, and, in so doing, the U.S. Constitution itself, has placed tens of thousands of innocent people in deadly peril.  If that doesn’t defame and devalue the image and standing, indeed the very soul of America (and West Point), what does?

James C. Ryan
James C. Ryan, USMA, 1958

James C. Ryan is a co-founder of West Point Graduates Against The War.  He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, class of 1962.  Ryan spent five years in the army artillery with assignments in the United States and Europe.  Thereafter a businessman, he subsequently became a writer.  He divides his time between Istanbul, Turkey where he lives, and New York City where he teaches in the summer at Columbia University.  Father of four, Jim has eight grandchildren.