A Most Trumpean Victory For West Point
What a sight to behold! After 14 long years in the gridiron desert, the football team of the United States Military Academy defeated their age-old nemesis, the United States Naval Academy, in that most iconic of American rivalries, the Army-Navy football game.
As fans’ feet and fingers froze at icy M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore last Saturday, the game opened with an invocation by a Navy chaplain, whose baritone delivery and thunderous phrases brought to mind Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments. I half-expected him to produce a couple of stone tablets with the game’s final score etched on them, but covered with a ceremonial cloth till the big reveal with the game-ending cannon blast. It was a fine prayer.
The rivalry this year had the usual good-natured jibes between the schools in the 117-year-old tradition, although some of the methods of delivery don’t date back quite as far as the rivalry itself. In the run-up to the game, we Cadet parents were treated to a stream of student-produced spirit videos on our Facebook feeds of West Pointers mocking their Annapolis opponents. Navy had a few good video zingers of their own. These would-be Lorne Michaels saw their productions replayed on the Jumbotrons during the game for the benefit of the fans in the stadium, and I’m guessing at home as well. Pretty funny stuff.
On ESPN’s GameDay show, Cadets and Midshipmen waved home-made posters with clever jabs at their opponents. For the Mids, we saw: “Sporks Confuse Army”; “If I Had a Dollar for Every Time Army Says, ‘This is Our Year…’”; and “Army Makes Stupid Signs”. The Cadets came back with “Navy Has Small Decks”; “No One Played ‘Navy’ As a Kid”; and “I Just Hope Both Teams Have Fun. Except Navy.” Then there was my personal favorite: “Navy Can’t Save Private Ryan”. (Okay, I confess. My son, Kyle, and his buddy, Neon, came up with that last one.)
But there was something different about this Army-Navy game. It seemed like Navy was about due for its comeuppance. I was reminded of a comment by a friendly parishioner coming out of church a few months ago, who spotted me wearing an Army polo. He had on a Navy shirt, and congratulated me on Army’s 28-13 win against Temple the day before. I smiled, thanked him and gave him the standard reply, “Beat Navy!” His reply, without missing a beat: “Someday.” Hahaha.
Well, my friend, Someday just arrived and opened a can of what-fer on you Squids. And just like The Donald, we had the last laugh.
The game definitely had an almost revolutionary feel about it, from Army’s perspective at least -- very much like a certain insurgent presidential campaign that 90 percent of the supposedly informed commentariat ridiculed from its inception to its stunning victory on November 8.
Navy has won the storied game so many times in recent years, it almost felt like an Army loss was a given. One had the impression that Navy felt the same sense of entitlement that a certain Democratic politician seemed to feel going into last month’s presidential election. For her and her acolytes, it was merely a matter of accepting the crown.
I won’t stretch the comparison between Navy’s football team and Hillary Clinton’s campaign too far. That would be too great an insult to our terrific Midshipmen. And in fact, the reversal of fortune in the game might best be considered from the onset of Army’s football decline, right after 9/11.
The last time Army beat Navy was December 2001 -- three months after the tragic events of September. A lot has happened since that time. Two wars. Thousands of young American lives, including from these two Academies, cut short. Many thousands more permanently maimed. Yet the service academies continue to attract some of the best and brightest of America to join their ranks, even when the policies our military has been asked to pursue in those 14 years has been, to be generous, incoherent.
Iraq illustrates the point well. President Bush made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, after which our military fought a relentless campaign of irregular warfare against an intractable enemy, while US (as well as Iraqi Army) losses mounted and many billions of dollars were spent. President Bush’s popularity declined as Americans grew weary of the conflict, and he finally brought in General David Petraeus to execute his Surge strategy, which succeeded in stabilizing the country. In fact, Iraq was pacified to the point where President Obama was able to say in December 2011 that the US was “leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”
But he said this while disregarding the advice of his senior military leadership to leave 10,000 US troops in place to ensure Iraq’s continued stability. That precipitous removal of all US forces from the country wiped out all the hard-fought gains by our military the preceding eight years, as the country’s Islamist forces resurged and retook cities like Fallujah, over which so much US and Iraqi blood had been spilled. Moreover, Islamic State arose from this flawed Obama decision, and we are now back in Iraq, once again fighting over ground we had previously liberated.
All of this brings us back to the Army-Navy game. Fourteen years after the events which led to our confusing policies in the Middle East, a completely unconventional, non-politician has won the White House, promising a completely new approach to US foreign and defense policy, and hiring some of the toughest, smartest, most battle-tested generals from the Iraq experience to take us forward. And it somehow seems fitting, in keeping with that upheaval, that West Point turned conventional wisdom on its head and has once again been victorious in the Army-Navy football showdown.
When the final cannon blast signaled the end of the game, I was one among many middle-aged West Point dads, jumping up and down in the stands, high-fiving the guy next to me. I had the same sense on Saturday night that I did on Election Night. A new day seems to have dawned. My sense is that the troops feel the same way, based on the eruption of applause as President-Elect Donald Trump entered the stadium.
While taking nothing away from the Naval Academy, let’s hope the West Point victory signals a new course for our country, in keeping with the spirit of that other sign I saw at GameDay: “Make Army Football Great Again.”
William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government and private sector for 30 years. Presently he is a Senior Investigator for Judicial Watch, Inc. (The views expressed are the author’s alone, and not necessarily those of Judicial Watch.)