West Point - If defenders of the defense secretary need a scapegoat, here's an idea: Blame West Point.
Of the six retired generals who have called for Donald Rumsfeld to step down, three of them, including the former commander of key forces in Iraq, are products of the U.S. Military Academy.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005, last week joined the growing ranks of former generals calling for Rumsfeld's resignation.
In an interview yesterday, Batiste, now president of Klein Steel Service in Rochester, said the values of honesty and honor instilled in him as a cadet were clearly a factor in his decision.
The Academy is "my bedrock foundation. That foundation has shaped, in significant ways, who I am," he said. "I put away the uniform so I could be vocal. It was the most gut-wrenching decision I've ever made."
Some military analysts have praised the generals for standing up to a defense secretary whom many in uniform see as arrogant and authoritarian. Others worry that the public rebuke could undermine civilian control of the armed forces.
Dennis E. Showalter, a military historian at Colorado College who has taught at West Point, said he isn't surprised Academy graduates are at the center of the debate over Rumsfeld.
West Point sets the tone for the Army's senior officer corps: roughly one-third of current generals earned their stripes at the historic Hudson River institution.
Today's retired officers were also yesterday's young soldiers. Some were on the ground during another unpopular war, managed by another unpopular defense secretary, Robert McNamara.
"There is a sense that the military, and the Army in particular, had in fact been hung out to dry by the civilian administration" in Vietnam, Showalter said. "The Vietnam War was scarring in the officer corps in ways that have endured."
High-ranking officers aren't the only Academy alumni going public with their criticism. Bill Cross, a 1962 West Point graduate living near Syracuse, helped launch a Web site last week, www.westpointgradsagainstthewar.org, that encourages others to speak out against the Iraqi conflict.
"I spoke out against the war before we got into it, but haven't really pulled out this West Point card, out of loyalty (to the institution.) I know each of us did not take this step lightly," said Cross, a Vietnam veteran and former professor of military psychology at West Point.
Still, while public criticism of Rumsfeld has dominated headlines in recent weeks, some question the graduates' timing.
"I often told the cadets whom I taught that the real reason they were issued a saber was that they might someday find an issue so important that they would feel compelled to fall on it in protest," said Ted Crackel, author of "West Point: A Bicentennial History," and a former West Point history professor. "Speaking out in retirement, however, is hardly falling on one's sword."
But Jim Ryan, another 1962 graduate who launched the anti-war Web site with Cross, disagreed.
"We understand that there is a natural reluctance on the part of West Pointers to speak out on the matters that we are giving voice to. But the times have changed," he said.