The Truth About Cadet Blake Page and Why West Point Is Not Anti-Atheist

 

On Monday, the Huffington Post published an article written by soon-to-be-former Cadet Blake Page, entitled “Why I Don’t Want to be a Graduate of West Point”.

In the article, which I encourage you to read by clicking the hyperlink, Page writes that Atheists and Agnostics face discrimination at the Academy on a number of levels, and thus, he is resigning to protest proselytizing in the military.

This is actually not true. I used to attend West Point and was in Page’s class (2013) for two years. Although I do not personally know him, we have some mutual friends, and I have talked to many of them about this.

Here’s actually what happened: Page is not a stellar cadet. That’s not a crime, of course, because many folks who don’t do spectacularly at the Academy go on to have great careers in the military as phenomenal leaders.

The problem with Page is how badly he performed. He failed multiple leadership positions, and this semester, the Academy intended to separate him for medical reasons related to mental health.

Mental health is a serious issue, and shouldn’t be taken lightly, so please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say here.

Page was going to be separated but instead asked to resign, which Academy officials accepted out of grace. In turn, Page went behind their backs and claimed the resignation was done to protest Christian Fundamentalists at the Academy, which is a whole lot of bullshit.

I posted an open letter on Facebook to explain why Page is completely in the wrong in this. Here’s the full text:

Hi Blake,

I’m pretty sure we don’t know each other. My name is Charles Clymer, and I’m a former member of West Point’s Class of 2013. I am a former classmate of yours.

I read your article “Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate” on the Huffington Post on Monday. Initially, I decided to ignore it since a) I reasoned I didn’t know all the details of your experience, and b) It’s been 18 months since I last wore a cadet uniform, and I felt this would really get in the way of moving on from my time at the Academy.

However, over the last few days, I’ve had more time to consider the article, and I must say that I can’t help but chime in with my two cents.

As I could not find you on Facebook, don’t know your e-mail, and wish to do my part in setting the record straight, I’m posting this as an open letter as well as sending it to the Huffington Post. I doubt they will publish it or that this will be widely read, but I’ll take a shot and see what happens.

First, I feel I should admit to you that I’m a Christian, and I’m sure that at least some bias comes with it when analyzing this situation. I love Christ, and I want to establish that as a way of being honest before I continue.

With that said, I’m fairly certain that if you were to ask any of our classmates who know me, they would all probably say the same thing: that I’m an aggressive, outspoken liberal.

At the Academy, I didn’t shy away from controversial topics. I tended to voice my opinion quite loudly on the injustice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the limited career options of women who serve our country in uniform, and what I feel is a very broken system of addressing sexual assault at the Academy and in the Armed Forces in general (among other things).

I say all this to let you know that I was never a “typical” cadet and that the opinion I’m about to give you shouldn’t be dismissed on the rather lazy theory that all (or even most) cadets are mindless, conservative drones.

I’m angry and disappointed with you over this article, and I say that as someone who very much supports the separation of Church and State.

I believe religion belongs in one’s private life, and apart from certain, limited allowances for those who have a faith they practice, government employees should never be given preferential treatment and upon such instances, leaders who allow that to happen should be counseled and/or punished.

With that, here are the reasons my blood pressure has somewhat risen over the last few days when I think about your situation:

1. I never, not even once, witnessed, heard about, or even thought it implied that non-religious cadets face discrimination of any kind at the Academy. I saw widespread homophobia and sexism but never any negative sentiment towards those cadets who identified as Atheist or Agnostic. In fact, the closest thing I ever observed that looked like a pro-Christian bias were the few cadets who believed Islam is evil, and that was a very small fraction of our class. The vast majority of Christian cadets treated non-Christian cadets with respect insofar as their beliefs are concerned.

And I should again point out that I spent the better part of two years calling out homophobia and sexism when I saw it, and it wasn’t as though I was “known” for being a Christian in our class. I didn’t exactly spend my free time in Christian-based organizations or attend church services, regularly. I did sing in Gospel Choir for a few semesters but never heard any sort of anti-Atheist remarks during my participation with them. They treated everyone with respect, regardless of faith, gender, or sexuality.

My point is that, try as I might, with all my stereotypical, sensitive liberal feelers in tune, I can’t remember ever seeing or hearing about negative experiences of Atheists, Agnostics, or other Non-Christians at the Academy.

2. I am not thrilled with your sweeping indictments of the Corps. In your article, you paint a picture of Atheist and Agnostic cadets walking around with targets on their backs with harassment coming from both their fellow cadets and the commissioned officers appointed to guide us through four years of leadership development. You make it seem as though a cadet who openly identifies as an Atheist or Agnostic is viciously torn down.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Logically, one can’t prove something doesn’t exist, but as a person who prides myself on maintaining honesty in regards to how minorities (of any kind, including spiritual) are treated, I can say with confidence that are you are either blatantly lying or, at the very least, being incredibly misleading with how you represent the Academy’s religious environment.

3. You have failed at least two leadership details of which I am aware. For those not familiar with USMA’s leadership system (included in the Academy’s ‘military pillar,” one of three for grading purposes), a cadet, starting sophomore year, is given charge of other cadets, every semester (either directly or indirectly), and usually during two summers during their time at the Academy.

You have to do pretty bad or have some extraordinary circumstances to fail a detail. I can understand failing one. Shit happens, and sometimes, you have an incompetent rater (supervising cadet) who fails you for petty reasons. Failing multiple details takes effort, the kind of dogged determination to go your own way (and not in the good sense) or be so completely careless or incompetent that those above you can’t justify your performance with anything higher than an “F”. Failing a detail usually means you have to repeat it, which takes another semester at the Academy or some generous leniency on the part of the senior leadership (commissioned officers) observing your progress.

So, when you state in your article that you could have made it to graduation in May, you’ll have to forgive me if I express a high degree of skepticism. I’m simply not buying it.

Accordingly, here’s my theory, and I’m quite confident in it: the Academy just wasn’t a good fit for you. It’s tough. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have great success in life if you don’t graduate (either through resignation or separation), but it’s not for everyone.

Instead of cutting your losses and admitting it’s not a good fit and likely separation or simply working harder and seeking out the help you need to get through it, you decided to co-opt an issue (that’s usually controversial) as a front for your own failings. Rather than be separated for your performance, resigning in “the name of religious freedom” has provided you the opportunity to save face.

Well, that really pisses me off. You have managed to smear most of my former classmates (and friends) as well as the faculty and other commissioned officers at West Point by using an issue that is very important to me in order to make yourself look good.

You have made exactly the kind of ethical decision that the Academy’s Honor System is designed to prevent.

Not to mention you’ve made West Point look incredibly unfavorable to promising Atheist and Agnostic applicants who could be great officers. someday. We need those kind of young people to lead the next generation of Soldiers, and you’ve effectively deterred some (if not many) of them from continuing the application process.

Less importantly, your conduct is something I find personally insulting. I had to medically separate from the Academy because of health complications at the end of our sophomore year (illnesses I’m still dealing with), and I would give anything (absolutely anything) to be back with our classmates and preparing to be the kind of officer who takes care of the young men and women assigned to him or her, to not worry about OERs (job performance reports essential to promotion) but put my Soldiers before myself while still accomplishing the mission.

You had the opportunity to be that kind of officer, and if I am to believe that you are so passionate about religious freedom in our military, it completely goes against common sense that you would resign “in protest” rather than be the kind of officer who does those things you wish to see be done.

So, no… I don’t believe your story for a second, and I’m angry that you’ve managed to insult the institution and everyone in it, lie about your experience, and exploit an important issue (separation of Church and State) for your own long-term gain.

And just so we’re clear, before it even happens, don’t dare compare yourself to Katie Miller, the cadet who resigned in 2010 in protest over DADT. I absolutely do not speak for her but she resigned because she was literally being forced to lie about her sexuality in the professional arena, and being at the top her class, she had a great deal to lose. You have neither the personal justification or the “professional loss” to paint yourself as a martyr, so don’t. It makes you look ridiculous.

Sincerely,

Charles Clymer

Former Member, Class of 2013

This open letter circulated around my former classmates until it finally reached Page, who posted this comment in response:

Well written, but like many others, ill-informed.  The OpEd in the Huffington Post was certainly vitriolic, but without understanding the intent, audience, number of people represented and my personal circumstances, you lack enough understanding of the situation to give an authoritative response just yet.  We can talk if you’d like, or if not you can watch the rest of the story come out over the next couple of days.

Of course, Page is once again lying here. At first, he was resigning in protest of the Academy’s supposed (and completely false) Christian bias against non-Christians.

Then, in an update by the Huffington Post, it was that he was due to be medically separated for depression and anxiety.

This has done considerable damage to West Point’s reputation. A quick Google search will show how many news sites and blogs have picked this up.

And as a liberal, this makes me quite angry because of how audaciously Page has lied about his experience and the circumstances of his “resignation” by using an issue important to those who believe in the separation of Church and State.

Please don’t believe this guy. He is completely bullshitting to save face for his failures at the Academy, and I fear it’s going to have a long-lasting impact on West Point’s reputation if he’s not held accountable for his actions.

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9 thoughts on “The Truth About Cadet Blake Page and Why West Point Is Not Anti-Atheist

  1. Trey Cleary says:

    Fantastically written Charles!

    -Trey

  2. Tyler says:

    Clymer, glad to see you’re doing alright and still writing! Great article, and although I’m not allowed to offer my opinion on Page due to constraints, I will offer that it was an accurate portrayal of West Point’s religious environment, and that I have never witnessed harassment of atheists or agnostics since I’ve been here.

    Keep up the good work.

    Your old plebe,

    Tyler

  3. toniknxvll says:

    smelled to me from the beginning.

  4. Berlin90 says:

    Thank you for defending the Academy. It is easy to cry victim against a populace who is silenced for the sake of being politically correct and bi -partisan. Once more, thank you.

  5. Marcus says:

    Being an open Atheist and being friends with many open atheist I have talked much about this subject recently. Its obvious he is lying. There is no persecution of irreligious cadets and especially not from our superiors at West Point. He is a disgrace and unfortunately taints the image of atheists with his militant atheist agenda. Aside from maybe the overzealous religious cadet who acts inappropriately, there has been no pressure to be christian and above all, certainly not from the institution. The people who support this accepted his story after 1 article (which cites nothing specific and he for some reason avoids citing anything specific). Im not a lawyer but I’d think a hear-say account from a cadet who was being medically disqualified is probably not the best evidence for attacking and criminalizing an institution that has defended the constitution for more than 200 years.
    -I speak as an atheist cadet and from that perspective only.

  6. James Myers says:

    Very well said, Charles. Thank you. I myself, while not an atheist, was hardly religious as a West Point cadet – I would describe myself as a humanist. While at West Point, I left the Mormon church, then explored the Quakers, Western philosophy, and many branches of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and other Eastern modes of thought. I was very open about this. I am also friends with men who hold their evangelical Christian faith very dear to them… and I never, ever felt the slightest bit of discrimination. In my final semester at the Academy, I served as a regimental S3. My boss was an atheist Russian Jew. My roommate was just an ornery person. My best friend was an evangelical Christian. All any cared about was the quality of my work and my personality… and there, we had absolutely no issues.

  7. MK says:

    That was probably one of the most all-encompassing, articulate, well-written open letters I have ever read in response to an issue or article. After having attended USNA for 4 years, I can certainly relate to the similar environment of an academy but I never once felt anything like what Page described despite the fact that I am a Christian who was also active in faith-related extracurriculars. I only heard of people wondering or maybe complaining about noon-meal prayer which is an old tradition that the academy continues out of respect, but no one is forced to pray or forced to believe. Everyone is expected to respect the faiths of others and simply silently observe as the prayers are led by chaplains of different faiths everyday. As much as the academies can be places which breed cynicism and in reality do have problems concerning racism and sexism, discrimination against atheists doesn’t seem to ever have been one of those problems. I don’t know what to say about his health issues except that if those are truly the reasons he had to leave, I hope he can recover from them although the controversy he has incited and the negativity he has left surrounding his reputation amongst his peers and the entire USMA network is likely to shut some doors or at least will not be of service to him. I do not want to judge Page as a bad person or a liar since that does not go in-line with my personal faith or what I believe the Bible teaches (I made a TON of heavily gossiped mistakes at USNA), and I just don’t know ALL of the facts about the situation, but I hope he can see his mistake in smearing an institution which accepted him, expanded his mind and opportunities, and enriched his life- an opportunity that not many are blessed with to ever experience in their lifetime. His seat at the academy could have been filled from the beginning with someone who may or may not have been more qualified, but maybe just more appreciative and thus more deserving. I wish him the best and hope he comes to his senses to make a public apology and recant the allegations he has made as he may still be able to redeem himself. It is not in good taste and reflects nothing of the training I am sure he received in officer/gentleman-like behavior, class or poise to leave with such a negative, well-publicized legacy behind him. Finally, you are right- this is absolutely nothing like what Katie Miller did as there was certainly more honor in her actions.

  8. […] former 2013 classmate who was forced to separate from the Academy due to medical reasons, wrote an open letter on the Secular Student Alliance’s Facebook page.  Describing himself both as a Christian and an […]

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