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The Gaping Hole in Ben Carson's West Point Story

There is a gaping hole in Ben Carson's "I was offered a full scholarship to West Point" story -- 7th Day Adventists were conscientious objectors in the mid-sixties, and conscientious objectors were not (and are not) admitted to West Point.

Ben Carson was attending a 7th Day Adventist Church with his mother at the age of 12 and even asked for (and received) a second Baptism there. And by all accounts, he was taking his faith seriously from the time of the "stabbing/belt buckle" incident when he was 14 years old and in 8th grade.

According to Carson, he joined Junior ROTC when he was in the 10th grade (around 1967), in he midst of the controversies over the draft and the Vietnam War. The JROTC, was not, as its name implies, an "Officer Training Corps"; rather its goal was a combination of preparing young males for military service, and a good citizenship program. Unlike with college ROTC, no military obligation was conferred by joining ROTC, and while it is estimated that 30-50% of JROTC members enroll in the military, "JROTC participation has no impact on the enlistment decision". (rather, JROTC participation predicts enlistment rates, but does not influence it.)

Carson's tale of being offered an ROTC scholarship takes place during his senior year and Carson graduated in 1969. Carson himself says that it took place on or after Memorial Day in May , but references to Gen. William Westmoreland suggest February as the earliest date. Regardless of when the offer supposedly occurred, the 7th Day Adventist Church's position on military service in 1969 was that members could only serve in noncombant roles. In other words, members could only function in medical and clerical (clergy, not office) capacities.

From all indications, West Point has never admitted conscientious objectors. Current regulations make it clear that West Point cadets who become conscientious objectors will be discharged, and a 1970 lawsuit details how conscientious objectors were separated from West Point at that time.

In other words, Carson, a devout 7th Adventist, would never have been allowed to attend West Point, let alone have been "offered a full scholarship", had the persons who allegedly made the offer been aware of Carson's religious affiliation. Given these simple facts, for Carson to claim that he received anything that might be construed as an actual offer is entirely disingenuous -- especially considering the near-certainty that Carson would have been aware of his church's position on military service in the middle of the Vietnam War and its attendant draft controversy.

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Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

if Ben Carson had actually received an appointment to West Point, I don't think there would be any problem with the (technically inaccurate, but true in the venacular) "full scholarship" nomeclature

chezmadame's picture
Submitted by chezmadame on

It's amazing that no one in our vaunted press has pointed this fact out.

Yes, Carson could wiggle out of his equivocation through a legalistic definition of "scholarship", but he wouldn't look good doing it.

We have several specialized public high schools here in NYC; admission is test-based and competitive. None of the students who make the cut pays tuition, but it's really problematic (and misleading) for anyone to claim that they're there on scholarships.

I wonder if Carson even knows that West Point is tuition free. I wish a "journalist" had sucker punched him with that question.

metamars's picture
Submitted by metamars on

This link shows a photo of what is claimed to be marketing literature re West Point, which uses the phrase "a full government scholarship". Can't tell if it's photoshopped, or not.

The link is from Carson's side of the story:

According to the original Politico article, “Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.”

The Carson campaign, however, never admitted anything of the sort. Carson never applied to West Point and therefore was never accepted, but was, as he told Charlie Rose last month, “offered a full scholarship at West Point, got to meet General Westmoreland and go to Congressional Medal of dinners, but decided really my pathway would be medicine.”

Carson said he met with recruiters at the time, and they told him he’d get into West Point and wouldn’t have to pay for his college education. West Point is free to all who are accepted—in essence, it’s a full scholarship, language even West Point uses in marketing pieces.

blues's picture
Submitted by blues on

The Guardian News -- Ben Carson condemns 'political hit job' amid questions over personal story -- 11/8/15

In Gifted Hands, Carson wrote that he was offered a scholarship to West Point by General William Westmoreland in 1969, following an impressive performance in a reserve officers training corps programme run by his high school.

Why sure, any gifted high school kid could get an audience with General William Westmoreland. No special social "connections" would be required. Just about anybody could just walk right up to Gen. Westmoreland (nice name), and even get to be president. Your kid should try too!