As usual when I'm looking looking for something else, I happened on something more interesting, a curious document titled Information Relative to the Appointment and Admission of Cadets to the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. This edition was published in 1942, with the war already underway. In the “Validating Examinations” section is a sub-section titled “English Grammar, Composition, and Literature.” Take a look at what the U.S. Department of Defense considered essential knowledge for its future Army officers. In the multiple-choice section, applicants are given four options for identifying twenty book titles and authors, including:
“Moby Dick is a (1) detective story (2) whaling story (3) history of a drug addict (4) book of early experience in the form of an autobiography.”
“Essays of Elia was written by (1) Elia (2) Stevenson (3) Robert Benchley (4) Lamb [obviously, a trick question].”
“Samuel Johnson is known for his (1) early dictionary (2) his careful attention to fashion (3) his love lyrics (4) his French novels.”
Subsequent exercises are devoted to basic grammar. The final section calls for applicants to write an essay of at least three-hundred words on one of the following subjects:
“1. What I have gained from reading Shakespeare.
2. Why I have selected the Army as a career.
3. How the depression affected my home town.”