Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and national protests against racism including calls to defund the nation’s police department, President Donald Trump on Saturday delivered the commencement to over 1,000 graduating Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The Trump Administration invited Queens County Politics to the event as part of the White House press pool. The speech was given on the Academy’s parade grounds before the cadets who were on folding chairs socially distanced apart and without family in attendance due to the pandemic.
“What has historically made America unique is the durability of its institutions against the passions and prejudices of the moment,” Trump, a Forest Hill native, told the cadets. “When times are turbulent, when the road is rough, what matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring and eternal.”
While the president didn’t mention the killing of George Floyd, who is black, after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the back of his neck for more than eight minutes, he did allude to West Point’s role in ending both slavery and ending segregation in the military in 1948 – six years before the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision which began the process of desegregating public schools.
“It was this school that gave us the men who fought and won a bloody war to extinguish the evil of slavery within one lifetime of our founding,” said Trump.
“It was under the leadership of West Point graduates like the legendary General Matthew Ridgway that the Army was at the forefront of ending the terrible injustice of segregation,” he added.
Trump also noted that his administration has vastly increased military spending.
“After years of devastating budget cuts and a military that was totally depleted from these endless wars, we have invested over 2 trillion — trillion; that’s with a “T” — dollars in the most powerful fighting force, by far, on the planet Earth. We are building new ships, bombers, jet fighters, and helicopters by the hundreds; new tanks, military satellites, rockets, and missiles; even a hypersonic missile that goes 17 times faster than the fastest missile currently available in the world and can hit a target 1,000 miles away within 14 inches from center point,” he said.
At the same time, Trump advocated for his somewhat isolationist policy of staying out of wars.
“We are ending the era of endless wars. In its place is a renewed, clear-eyed focus on defending America’s vital interests. It is not the duty of U.S. troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of. We are not the policemen of the world,” said Trump.
“But let our enemies be on notice: If our people are threatened, we will never, ever hesitate to act. And when we fight, from now on, we will fight only to win,” he added.
While the president appeared to stay on script, the day wasn’t without controversy, however, as more than 1,000 West Point graduating alumni from 1966 to 2019 posted an open letter on Medium just hours before the graduation ceremony, taking issue with President Trump’s recent threats to utilize the U.S. Military to quell national protests through the Insurrection Act of 1807.
“The oath taken by those who choose to serve in America’s military is aspirational. We pledge service to no monarch; no government; no political party; no tyrant. Your oath is to a set of principles and an ideal expressed in the Constitution and its amendments. Our Constitution establishes freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion, of equal protection under the law regardless of race, color, or creed — we cannot take for granted these freedoms that are but dreams in too many nations around the world,” the alumni wrote.
“The abhorrent murder of George Floyd has inspired millions to protest police brutality and the persistence of racism. Sadly, the government has threatened to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests. The principle of civilian control is central to the military profession. But that principle does not imply blind obedience. Politicization of the Armed Forces puts at risk the bond of trust between the American military and American society. Should this trust be ruptured, the damage to the nation would be incalculable. America needs your leadership.”
But politics and controversy aside, the day belonged to the 1,113 graduating cadets including 229 women, 132 African-Americans, 103 Asian/Pacific Islanders, 102 Hispanics and 10 Native Americans from all 50 states.
“I’m extremely excited to graduate. It’s been over four years – 48 months instead of 47 months coming,” said First Captain Daine A. Van de Wall of West Friendship, Mayland, a first-generation American, who is going into the infantry
“For awhile we didn’t think we’d have the opportunity for us to have this graduation so to come together and throw our hats up before the President of the United States is really special.”