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March 14, 2024

Today’s headlines are dominated by video of sniveling teenagers drawn from all ages, sexes and orientations bemoaning the allegedly imminent demise of Tik Tok, the Red Chinese social media platform; the truly uneducated among them describe this outrage as “Like, you know, censorship.” Nonsense, you spoiled, over-privileged toads!

Today the only headline you should be reacting to with fury is the inexplicable decision by those multi-starred, costumed non-entities known as the Army brass to change the iconic West Point motto from “Duty Honor Country” to something warmer, fuzzier and far less confrontational: “Army Values.” Now isn’t that special? Just witness the great improvement in the contrasting mission statements:

Old speak: “To educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army.”

Newspeak: “To build, educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets to be commissioned leaders of character committed to the Army Values and ready for a lifetime of professional excellence and service to the Army and Nation”

Bretibart quoted West Point Superintendent Lieutenant General Steve Gilland as wanting to “focus more on the “mission essential tasks” (to) “build, educate, train, and inspire” versus “duty, honor, country.”

Of course, Army generals have long been notorious for using seven generic terms to replace three compelling words. Maybe that is why General Gilland felt compelled to explain himself in a letter primarily intended for the Long Gray Line: “Our responsibility to produce leaders to fight and win our nation’s wars requires us to assess ourselves regularly…Over the past year and a half, working with leaders from across West Point and external stakeholders, we reviewed our vision, mission and strategy to serve this purpose.”

Skeptics naturally abounded. Former Marine Gabriel Atchinson commented furiously on Linked In, “And there you have it...the use of the word "stakeholder" gives it away. Your US Army has officially been given over to woke ideology. Duty, Honor, Country has been replaced with "Army Values", a vague and corporate-speak term that has little actual meaning and provides subterfuge for the real new ideology.”

One of my closest Army buddies, Jim Bowden, of the West Point Class of 1972, may have put the controversy in its best overall context:

“The Army Values may shift with any new administration.  West Point shouldn’t. As tempting as making a new word salad or slogan soup is to Army executives, they should be discouraged from doing so.  No one can improve on the Gettysburg Address as a statement of America’s national purpose.  Likewise, no one can improve on the bedrock values of Duty, Honor, Country for West Point…”

My friend is entirely correct in conceptualizing West Point as a repository for the bedrock values of Duty-Honor-Country. I had already grasped those ideals as a lowly Vietnam-era draftee and OCS graduate, seeking their guidance during the Cold War when the Army was an institution in agony. Another distinguished West Pointer, General Barry McCaffrey, told me of listening as a young cadet in 1962 to General Douglas MacArthur’s epic Farewell Address. For a generation that would later be tested from Vietnam to the Berlin Wall, can you possibly imagine how these words resonated. 

“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: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.”

We now live in a history-impoverished era where those Tik-Tok-deprived denizens neither serve nor care very much about those who do. Most probably have no clue that, before there was a United States (July, 4, 1776) there first had to be a United States Army (June 14, 1775); or that the Declaration of Independence had no meaning without a decisive military victory at Yorktown. I sometimes think that if MacArthur were alive today, he might ask the 99% of Americans who never bother to wear the uniform, “My fellow citizens, please tell me why you expect to remain free?”



Colonel (Ret.) Ken Allard is a former West Point faculty member, Dean of the National War College and military analyst for NBC News.


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