US President Donald Trump has preached unity to the latest cohort of US troops, reminding them of past soldiers who fought “a bloody war to extinguish the evil of slavery”.
More than 1,100 army graduates, including citizens of 11 other countries, listened as the president confronted the topic of race which has gripped the western world since the death of George Floyd in May.
The ensuing demonstrations have presented Mr Trump with challenges, dividing opinion between the White House and the Pentagon.
During his 22-minute speech, Mr Trump reminded newly commissioned officers at West Point of the base's history in the war against slavery.
It was the US military academy, he said, that “gave us the men and women who fought and won a bloody war to extinguish the evil of slavery within one lifetime of our founding”.
In the past two weeks, the president has denounced Defense Secretary Mark Esper for publicly opposing his call to use active-duty troops to quell recent protests.
He also shut down Mr Esper’s attempt to open a debate on removing the names of Confederate Army officers from military bases.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also admitted it was “a mistake” to accompany Mr Trump on a walk through Washington DC earlier this month.
The trip ended with the president holding up a Bible and posing for the news media outside St John’s Church, which was damaged by fire during the unrest.
General Milley said it created the perception of the military becoming embroiled in politics, which in his view would be a threat to democracy.
The events have stirred debate within the military and among retired officers.
More than 500 West Point graduates from classes spanning six decades signed an open letter reminding the Class of 2020 of its commitment to avoid partisan politics.
The letter, published this week on Medium, stated the actions of "fellow graduates serving in senior-level, public positions" were threatening the "credibility of an apolitical military".
“Sadly, the government has threatened to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests," the letter added.
“Worse, military leaders, who took the same oath you take today, have participated in politically charged events.
"The principle of civilian control is central to the military profession. But that principle does not imply blind obedience.”
Despite pre-speech handshakes with generals on stage, the president delivered his message to socially-distanced cadets in the outdoor ceremony.
Mr Trump vowed to eliminate the coronavirus, which he once again called an “invisible enemy” that came from China.
He also reiterated his goal - to end the "era of endless wars" - telling the new soldiers it is their job is “not to rebuild foreign nations" as the US continues to plan troop withdrawal from regions in the Middle East.
Cover image: Donald Trump speaking at the West Point military academy graduation ceremony (Picture: US Department of Defense).