It takes a soldier...: The effects of post-Cold War military socialization on the identity of West Point cadets

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Gavan Duffy


Cold War, US armed forces, effects of post-Cold

Subject Categories

Political Science | Social Psychology


Since the end of the Cold War, US armed forces have participated in an increasingly complex array of military operations. As missions change, military leaders must frequently shift focus and adjust between warfighting and peacekeeping. This study examines the extent to which future officers are prepared cognitively to accommodate rapidly changing roles. Using survey methods, the analysis assesses the effects of military socialization at USMA on the identity and the value-orientations of cadets based on a model of military identity that merges adherence to combat and non-combat values.

Based on social identity theory, this study conceptualizes identity as an interactive process of self-categorization and social comparison reflecting individuals' self-evaluations in terms of social groups, and assumes that identity, values, attitudes, and behaviors are mutually interdependent.

The analysis suggests that military socialization at West Point shapes cadets' identity and their value-orientations. Based on their survey responses, most cadets were very patriotic and strongly committed to the warrior spirit. Overall, cadets' level of warriorism increased significantly as a result of their West Point experience. Although many cadets recognized the need for military involvement in peace operations, they showed less positive attitudes toward peacekeeping missions and decreasing support for global institutions the longer they had attended West Point. Also, the study found that cadets' social (especially their military and national) identities significantly affected their value-orientations. These findings suggest that, if US forces continue to be charged with peace operations, USMA should enhance the cognitive preparation of its cadets for these missions.

In addition, the data provide evidence in support of the interactive identity model. The results confirm that, in any given social context, members of the same social group (e.g., cadets at West Point) can perceive particular social identities as more or less potent and that potency of an identity can significantly affect attitudes and influence behavior.


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