The Corner

Imprecision, Not Fabrication, in Carson’s ROTC Account

Dave Weigel posts the relevant section of Carson’s book:

Notice that Carson never says he applied or that he received an acceptance letter. It’s obviously implied with the term “offered a full scholarship,” but Carson appears to have meant that he was told by his ROTC superior he would be accepted, or very likely to be accepted. 

In an interview with The New York Times on Friday, Mr. Carson said: “I don’t remember all the specific details. Because I had done so extraordinarily well you know I was told that someone like me – they could get a scholarship to West Point. But I made it clear I was going to pursue a career in medicine.”

“It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.’”

Some folks have argued that Carson’s use of the term “scholarship” doesn’t really fit, as West Point attendees don’t pay; if you’re accepted, tuition, room and board and expenses are covered:

Being accepted for admission to the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point is an exceptional honor reserved for our nation’s most promising students. But it takes more than excellent grades to be accepted for admission. West Point wants leaders who are not only intelligent, who are physically fit and of outstanding character. Those who are selected to attend USMA receive a college education that is unparalleled in the world with tuition, room and board, and expenses fully paid.

It’s easy to picture a teenage Ben Carson not understanding the precise details of the West Point application process — particularly if he wasn’t interested in going down that path – and it’s easy to picture the adult Carson getting the details wrong when he wrote Gifted Hands, which was published when he was almost 40. In his description of meeting General William Westmoreland, it appears Carson is blurring his attendance at an event in February with events he describes “at the end of my twelfth grade,” such as the Memorial Day parade.

(One of the medal of honor winners honored at the event in February, Dwight Johnson, met a particularly tragic end; he was shot and killed after allegedly attempting a robbery in Detroit in 1971. At the event in Detroit, Westmoreland said, according to press accounts, “The unsurpassed heroism of this medal of honor winner has reserved for him a special permanent place in the annals of history.”)

Would it be better if Carson had gotten all of the details correct in his autobiography? Sure. But these were events that were twenty years old when Carson first wrote about them, and they’re forty-five years ago. This isn’t a stolen valor situation; Carson isn’t making up tales about honors and acceptances he didn’t earn or deserve.

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