That’s why they call it a ‘military academy’

A Barnard girl backed her brother’s decision to choose the U.S. Naval Academy over Berkeley till she discovered “the truth” about “military academies. They train students to serve in the military! Which involves weapons! And being willing to put your life on the line. Writing in the Columbia Spectator, Idris Leppla recounts her inability to get her brother out of his commitment — perhaps hampered by the fact that he didn’t want to get out.

. . . after my mom dropped him off at Annapolis, she came home with an acute sense of grief. The only thing she could talk about was how to get him out. In addition to missing his presence at home, she was scared by the extent to which her son had suddenly become the property of the U.S. Navy.

She begged me to call a naval lieutenant Monday morning to start the out-processing forms for my brother. After leaving countless messages for the lieutenant, he finally called me back, at which point he informed me that my brother would have to go through 13 exit-interviews to be dismissed, including an interview with the head of the Navy. When I asked him whether this might intimidate him out of leaving, the lieutenant reminded me that my brother had signed an oath legally binding him to the Navy. When I reminded the lieutenant that he had signed that oath after he had been yelled at all day and that his hair had just been shaven off during his first day there, he comforted me that John was not at all forced to sign the oath.

In fact, John “admitted” to his sister that he “feels called” to attend Annapolis. (A little googling reveals he has the same name as a Navy pilot who was a hero of the Battle of the Coral Sea.)

What’s interesting to me is this girl’s belief that a college’s worth is determined by the number of people who say “you must be so smart” once you get in. That’s how she was fooled by Navy: People said her brother must be smart to get in, so Idris didn’t realize it was more than an elite college. After this article, advertised as the first of four parts, readers are telling her she isn’t smart; several add she only got into Barnard College, not Columbia University. Right Wing Prof has never met a student so “stoopid.” This must be painful for Idris, who is a senior majoring in political science. Perhaps she didn’t realize that a student newspaper is a public forum.

About Joanne


  1. I worked for the Navy for a few years right out of grad school, and had contact with quite a few Navy officers, and spent a couple of weeks at Annapolis at conferences. I found the officers and cadets to be quite admirable, on the whole. The process of going through the Academy did change people, but the changes were very positive (although not something I wanted for myself). The fighter pilots were a little strange (but apparently that’s common among pilots — friends who worked for the Air Force said it was the same there), but all of the officers I knew were deeply patriotic, and very thoughtful and committed. Being around people like that made me more proud of my country.

    The girl is right to be upset, though, since there is no chance that her brother will come through this process being as vapid and shallow as she is, and so she’s certainly “lost him”.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps she can arrange to swap brothers with some sister who appreciates a man for a brother.

  3. Worst of all… this girl votes.

  4. I don’t usually click the link to the article, but I did this time and realized that I went to high school with the writer and her brother…

  5. Mike, a diag in Texas says:


    Don’t leave us in suspense. Was she as vapid in high school as she appeared in her column?

    I searched for the next 3 promised articles and couldn’t find them. But I did notice that she seems very active in student government and student council activities.

    I am normally a polite Texas man. So I’ll just leave it at that…..

  6. My lingering optimism and increasingly-unjustified faith in humanity says “this MUST be a parody.” But unfortunately, I know it’s not.

  7. I’m from a part of the country where her column is probably being praised, so it is kind of hard to put her into any context. I would say that she and her brother are very different people, so I would not surprised if they completely differed in their opinions on his college choice.

  8. For whatever it’s worth, her brother knew about the oath he’d take well before he got yelled at for a day and had his hair shaved off (I haven’t heard someone invoke a haircut as a traumatic event since the 70s).

    He also knew that Plebe summer — what he’s going through now — is physically and mentally stressful. Apparently didn’t tell his Mom & sister.

    IOW, atta-Midshipman!

  9. I, too, wrote about this, and being a West Point graduate myself, had a visceral reaction to this girl’s article. Did you notice it’s all about *her*?

    “I soon became comfortable with the idea of the academy, as if it would be a haven for my brother’s undergraduate career. And when people would congratulate me on my brother’s decision, it made me feel reassured.”

    “While it has been difficult for me to accept that I have a brother in the military, I must allow him to pursue whatever path he is drawn toward, and he has admitted to me that he feels called to being there.”

    Additionally, she writes as if attending a military academy and getting a first-rate education are mutually exclusive. I can assure you that her brother’s education will be more “liberal” and well-rounded than hers obviously has been.

    My complete post is at:

    Joanne, if it’s not cool to post the link here, I trust you’ll let me know or delete the comment!

  10. realized that I went to high school with the writer and her brother

    I had one of those moments right after the Gang of 88 statement was published, and I realized I had gone to grad school with one of them. She was nuts then, and I guess she still is.

  11. As a former Naval Academy Grad I found this incredible – especially her mom asking her to call “a naval lieutenant”. Forget the fact the fact that a lieutenant is too junior to really do anything – but I just keep picturing him and his buddies sitting around the Officers Club laughing until closing time.

    The ultimate in irony will come when she is swept off her feet by one of his classmates and doesn’t realize until he graduates and they get married that he can, and will, become a marine. (disclosure: my sister, who is not vapid, married a midhsipman)

  12. superdestroyer says:

    I have seen her picture. She is definitely not in the Marine wife category.

    Also, image a future employer goggling her name and being hit with 100’s of blogger commenting about her article.

  13. Super, that is just mean. Even if true.


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