Where is the Honor?

A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.
— Cadet Honor Code of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point

Honor has not to be won; it must only be lost.
— Arthur Schopenhauer

U.S. military academies have codes of honor that encompass the principle of non-toleration “wherein failure to report an honor violation is an honor violation in itself.” The codes pertain not simply to cadets and midshipmen but are to become integral to the lifelong value systems of officers who should therefore not only refrain from direct participation in dishonorable conduct but also not tolerate such behavior within their ranks, those ranks including commanders all the way to “the Commander in Chief”. Dwight Eisenhower, Class of 1915, and 34th President of the United States, felt so strongly about West Point’s Honor System that he was moved to say that “… it occupies a position in his [a cadet’s] mind akin to the virtue of his mother or his sister.”

The oath taken by officers of the U.S. Army is straightforward: “I (name) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.” (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)

In his May 26, 2007, commencement speech at West Point, Vice President Dick Cheney, stated “On your first day of army life, each one of you raised your right hand and took an oath. And you will swear again today to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That is your vow; that is the business you are in”.

Cheney’s omission of the primacy of the Constitution in the oath is of more than passing interest. Just seven weeks later, on July 17, President Bush issued an Executive Order that would freeze the assets of anyone interfering with his foreign policy — a policy now known to be based on lies and one that continues to plunge the country ever more deeply into ruin (“Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization of Efforts in Iraq” ).

This order could, and certainly would, be used to identify as “domestic enemies” U.S. citizens dissenting according to liberties guaranteed by the Constitution if the Bush Administration considered them a threat to his policies. By having their “property” blocked, citizens, no longer able to access their money, would immediately be thrown into a desperate survival situation. It would not even be necessary to round up and imprison dissenters whose sudden priority would be finding shelter and food to eat.

An American military officer’s first duty is to the U.S. Constitution, not, primarily, to the current occupant of the Oval Office whose violations of the Constitution have been reported so widely for years on virtually a daily basis, that they need not, in the interest of brevity, be ticked off here. The question is where is the honor within the upper ranks of the U.S. Military upon which the larger U.S. population depends?

Military honor that is being put into overt practice, it seems, resides largely with three West Pointers, Class of 1962, who have created a website in which they state that “America stands shamed in the eyes of the world thanks to the Bush Administration; … Lying, cheating, stealing, delivering evasive statements and quibbling not only has demeaned these deceivers and the United States of America, but has placed vast numbers of innocent people in deadly peril. We will not serve the lies.” The website is a good place to learn what the U.S. Military is supposed to be.

Walter Lippman once wrote “A man has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable or dangerous to do so.” America’s military officers will either line up like tin soldiers to perform unquestioningly the bidding of an Administration they know continues to lead the country toward an abyss, or they will act according to the needs of this nation as defined by the Constitution they are sworn to defend. In any event, their action or inaction will reveal the honor code to be either substantial or simply wind.

Bill Willers is an emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. He is founder of the Superior Wilderness Action Network and editor of Learning to Listen to the Land, and Unmanaged Landscapes, both from Island Press. He can be contacted at willers@uwosh.edu. Read other articles by Bill.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. gerald spezio said on September 5th, 2007 at 9:14am #

    When paraplegic Vietnam veterans in wheelchairs threw their awarded medals at the White house in contempt and disgust, all the expensive peeyar in Christendom couldn’t cover up the foul stench.

  2. gde said on September 5th, 2007 at 10:07pm #

    Every institution teaches certain things explicitly, some by osmosis. At the service academies, it is vital to learn the bug lies in order to later succeed. Some don’t until too late (e.g. Westhusing).

  3. gerald spezio said on September 6th, 2007 at 12:30pm #

    And Major General Tuguba, who was told to investigate the torturing at Abu Gharib prison and get to the bottom of it.

    The conscientious General took his solemn oath and difficult task so seriously that he made a failing grade in career because he succeeded in ethical commitment.

    Any smart yuppie lawyer could have told him.