- From Rat Pants to Eagles and Tweeds: The Memoirs of a Soldier-Teacher
Unless you have had the good fortune of reading his earlier work on the antebellum United States Military Academy, The Best School: West Point, 1833–1866, you may not be familiar with the work of soldier-scholar James L. Morrison, Jr. In his most recent book, From Rat Pants to Eagles and Tweeds, what clearly begins as an autobiography of a career soldier and college professor evolves into a personal study of the post–World War II U.S. Army. Morrison explains that "a deep-seated conviction that history not only conditions but also dictates our thoughts, actions, and viewpoints whether or not we are aware of that fact" moved him to write in this style. The blending produces a volume which transcends the interest of a family memoir to provide personal insight into the critical era of Army Cold War doctrinal development.
James Morrison graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1947 as the top ranked cadet—Regimental Commander. He entered the U.S. Army at [End Page 559] a time when the world was attempting to incorporate the atomic era into defensive and offensive weaponry. The 1950s brought a series of routine assignments and duty stations to the young armor officer. His candid reflection on his misgivings regarding the concept of tactical atomic weapons provides insight into the dilemma of the new era of Cold War.
Earning degrees from the University of Virginia and Columbia University, Morrison was assigned to the West Point History Department. His time there was interrupted in 1964 with a two year tour as a military advisor in Vietnam just prior to the introduction of American ground forces. Morrison's experiences and perceptiveness offer a clear view of the challenges that faced the U.S. forces.
Morrison's dual careers as an Army officer serving in planning and doctrine commands and thirty-seven years as a professor of history (first at West Point, then at York College in Pennsylvania) prepared him to be a keen observer and commentator on twentieth-century American culture. His conversational writing style, clarity, and frank critique of American military and academic life combine to provide a valuable analysis.
From Rat Pants to Eagles and Tweed will be of interest to military educators and modern American historians as well as alumni of VMI and West Point.