“Stop Hazing In Toto”

August 16, 1879

Thomas Nast

“Stop Hazing In Toto”

Education, College; Hazing; Tammany Hall, John Kelly; U.S. Military; U.S. Military Academy/West Point;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

Five Points to West Point. "Don't put on airs. When it comes to Hazing, Deviling, and Blackguardism, I am as good as you, perhaps better."

This anti-hazing cartoon is a sequel to the artist's cartoon of July 5, 1879 in which he contrasts the respectable image of a West Point cadet to that of a shoulder-hitter (the rough and tough enforcer of the will of a political boss).  In the earlier cartoon, Nast defended West Point against charges of elitism leveled by those seeking to cut congressional appropriations for the U.S. Military Academy.  The debate over West Point was part of a larger effort by the Democratically-controlled Congress to reduce military appropriations across the board.  

In this cartoon, however, Nast turns the tables by having the shoulder-hitter pointedly condemn the hypocritical arrogance of West Point cadets for their practice of hazing, which the artist equates with the violent methods of the shoulder-hitters.  Notice that on the right shoulder-hitters from Five Points, a poor immigrant area of New York City, are beating up a political opponent.  

In 1878 (a year before this cartoon was published), a hazing incident at Princeton University prompted Harper's Weekly to editorialize against the practice, calling it a "mean and sneaking business."  Editor George William Curtis called for the targets of hazing to defend themselves against such attacks; for the immediate expulsion of the perpetrators from their respective colleges; and, for police intervention if public order was disturbed.  

In 1879, as congressional attention focused on the military, West Point came under scrutiny for its toleration of hazing.  On July 22, the superintendent of the institution, General John Schofield, wrote to Secretary of War George McCrary in strong support of the dismissal of cadets guilty of hazing and of those who shielded their identities.  Superintendent Schofield complained, however, that every time he expelled a cadet, the War Department reinstated him.  

Other West Point superintendents over the years expressed similar anti-hazing sentiments, but, as Schofield's comments indicate, few of the other parties involved shared that view.  Besides an uncooperative War Department, congressmen refused to allow dismissal of cadets from their districts, even though Congress periodically held hearings on hazing at the Military Academy.  In addition, West Point alumni, faculty, the academic board, and students, including the first-year plebes who were the victims, overwhelmingly upheld the tradition.  Therefore, prohibitions and pronouncements against the practice by superintendents were not enforced.

Some defended hazing as consisting of harmless pranks (despite incidents of physical harm or suicide), while others noted that it was a unifying experience for cadets and alumni.  A more substantial reason was that hazing allegedly undermined the brashness and inflated egos of the plebes, whose prestigious appointment to the Military Academy usually capped athletic and academic achievements in their hometowns.  Many spoke as hazing as a ritual of passage making them better men and better soldiers.

In earlier years, hazing at West Point was restricted to the summer when first-year plebes were at a training camp, and involved minor pranks, such as pulling the cadet out of bed by his heels.  In the post-Civil War period, hazing intensified at West Point, became associated with the martial spirit of the school, and lasted the entire first year.  Upperclassmen forced the plebes to undergo various forms of hazing, including strenuous physical exercises; menial labor; chewing rope ends; eating soap, hot sauce, or unpalatable foods; having hot oil dropped on their feet; reciting nonsensical verse; performing pointless tasks; or other behavior meant to demean the victims.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Stop Hazing In Toto”
April 19, 2024

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