Not everyone is into football — or sports. But when the cadets of West Point’s U.S. Military Academy meet the midshipmen of Annapolis’ U.S. Naval Academy in Philadelphia, they aren’t always playing football.
In a room just off the main hallway from where the press is set up to interview celebrities and military VIPs visiting the big game, a debate rages on: Should the United States implement a policy of nuclear non-first use?
The West Point team calmly lays out exact information from reputable sources to support its argument.
“Unclear policy leads to unnecessary risk,” says Cadet Carter McKaughan “the US government should implement a policy against nuclear first use.“
Debate teams from the two service academies are meeting each other head-on to argue the finer points of this question. Of course, in the spirit of the debate, the views expressed don’t necessarily represent the views of the speakers, the school, or the Department of Defense.
Just like the rhetoric for the football game, the rhetoric in the debate competition is heated, but respectful. The Annapolis team argues that West Point’s nuclear non-first use policy proposal will only lead to an increased need for conventional forces and that a nuclear option will be more efficient.
“What has been sustainable for 73 years will continue to be sustainable,” Midshipman William Lewis argues. “Such a policy is not justified today… First-use is 73-0 in preventing great power conflict.“
The debate has three parts. Each team gets two six-minute speeches to lay out their most pertinent points. The opposition gets two minutes of cross-examination questions. Back and forth, back and forth, for just under an hour.
“Russia doesn’t want to face economic ruin to get Estonia,” says Cadet Tommy Hall. “First-use nuclear policy doesn’t deter them. Mutually-assured destruction keeps countries like China and the United States from a nuclear exchange, not policy.“
Midshipmen and Cadet debate nuclear first-use policy.
Each side gets a five-minute rebuttal, and even the audience gets a chance to ask questions. Midshipman Nicholas Gutierrez cracks his knuckles before he begins his six-minute speech. He talks about how the nuclear deterrent and first-strike policy actually prevents armed conflict.
“A first-use policy not only works, it’s the best thing we’ve had in place to save lives in all of human history,” he says.
Admittedly, it didn’t look good for Navy for much of the debate. The Army team was well-spoken and calmly laid out their salient points. In the closing minutes of the debate, Navy came out with a five-minute rebuttal that was passionate and rebuked all of Army’s points.
Like a last-minute drive down the field in the fourth quarter, Navy made its stand. Both teams were impressive in their rhetoric and passion on the subject, but Navy won the day.
The Army-Navy Debate will likely never have the sponsorships and merchandising of the Army-Navy Game. We may never see debate swag or a pair of seasoned debaters providing color commentary. But if you ever want to see the quality of education the future leaders of the U.S. military are getting at West Point an Annapolis, it’s worth a trip to the room just off the main hallway.
You just might learn something.