The Code: Duty, Honor, Country

One of our most prominent recollections from our cadet days at West Point is the farewell speech by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur to the Corps of Cadets when he received the Thayer Award on May 12, 1962. It is one of the most eloquent speeches we have ever heard — and we can only imagine what it must have been like to have been in the audience on that remarkable day.

The focus of General MacArthur’s presentation was the hallmark of the West Point ethos: Duty, Honor, Country. Here is an excerpt of his remarks:

Duty-Honor-Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points…they make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, nor to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge…the code which these words represent embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong…

We don’t believe he was only talking to the audience assembled on that Spring day in 1962, or just to the cadets of West Point — he was talking to ALL of us. Now some 53 years later, you can still feel the power of his words, the call to action in his message. Yet, somehow the West Point code of Duty, Honor, Country that General MacArthur spoke of so eloquently then seems far removed from what we hear, see, and read today.

Instead, we’re surrounded by opposite behaviors. In The Wall Street Journal this past week, two of the headlines from the July 30th edition included: “A grand jury indicted Representative Chaka Fattah (Democrat from PA) and four associates on racketeering and conspiracy charges,” and “A University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted on a murder charge in the fatal shooting of a black motorist.” The list goes on and on, in politics, law enforcement, sports, entertainment, religion, business. It’s as if we have lost our focus, turning away from the leadership values of Duty, Honor, Country that created our Nation and have kept us together through times of crisis, war, and other trials. Today some view leadership as an entitlement, giving one the “right” to do whatever he or she can get away with. Level Five leaders know nothing could be further from the truth.

General MacArthur’s words deserve far more prominence in America today, and should serve as the clarion call to all of us as leaders and team members to demand we embrace and live the values of Duty, Honor, Country. We must hold our leaders accountable to represent us with those values. It’s time for us to take America forward with leaders who get it, and use the West Point leadership code to guide all of us throughout our daily lives. We’ve gone backwards far enough — we have lost too much ground. Let’s recapture our values-based leadership embodied in that famous speech  at West Point in May of 1962. Time to answer the call to action Level Five leadership represents – the servant leadership General MacArthur spoke so movingly of that day.