Josiah Bunting Iii
That A Sense of Honor is … successful as fiction owes little to the author's skill in developing "character"; the cast is familiar enough. The novel is compelling because an essential question is honestly and simply posed and an honest, somewhat complicated answer is attempted. The question is this: How should a professional military man be prepared for his career of service? There is a corollary inquiry: What pressures can legitimately be applied to test, and to temper, the military novice? All military academies implicitly endorse the notion that the best way to prepare people for real stress is to devise a reasonable approximation in school. True; but how is such stress to be created? Who shall administer it? Can the purpose of education and training, fundamentally antipathetic, be served in the same institution, at the same time? Education, after all, aims to prepare people to ask intelligent questions; training habituates to obedience.
The sufferers—variously denominated plebes, smacks, doolies—are at the mercy of upperclassmen. In A Sense of Honor, one plebe, infelicitously named John Dean, presents a familiar pathology. He is very "bright"; but he is also terrified, and he is not very "military." An excellent student with a strong bent for science, he is hopelessly rational in what is portrayed as a closed world of jarring and unreasoning authoritarianism….
(The entire section is 590 words.)