“Duty, Honor, Country” Status?

The United States Military Academy at West Point was established on March 16, 1802.  “West Point grads designed almost all early American railways, roads and bridges as it was the only engineering college in the country until 1824.”  The Academy remains today as a prominent education and training resource for future leaders in America’s Army. In his 1922 speech to the Cadets, General Douglas MacArthur made reference to “the institution’s traditional motto of “Duty, Honor, Country.”  Said MacArthur: “Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.”

As we all know, things do change over time.  One change, not sitting well with some, was the recent removal of those “three hallowed words” from West Point’s mission statement.  Now replacing “Duty, Honor, Country” in the Academy’s new mission statement is the term “Army Values.”

Responding to those who might be questioning that change, West Point Superintendent, Lieutenant General Steve Gilland, indicated that in the past century, the mission statement had been changed several times.  LTG Gilland then stated: “Duty, Honor, Country is foundational to the United States Military Academy’s culture and will always remain our motto.”  For clarity, the updated mission statement now references the “Army Values,” which are said to consist of: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

There are some prior military members duly concerned that the mission statement’s transition from “Duty, Honor, Country,” to “Army Values” may reflect a not-so-subtle shift from an historic warrior competency and commitment intent, to what may be viewed as a more liberal-feeling set of perhaps somewhat lesser ideals and expectations for the future combat arms soldier.  In that regard, author Samuel Huntington (The Soldier and the State) has written that “liberalism is the gravest domestic threat to American military security, due to its anti-military character…. undermining the military virtues necessary to ensure military effectiveness.”  Added commentator Mackubin Owens, former Marine Corps officer and long-time U.S. Naval War College professor: “The goal of military policy must be victory on the battlefield. The military, of necessity, must maintain an ethos distinct from that of liberal society.”

Former Army Ranger and director of The American Military Project at The Claremont Institute, Will Thibeau, stated his feelings about the change: “The West Point mission statement is the cornerstone of everything that happens at the preeminent institution of our nation. (It was) Army civilian and military leaders’ decision to expunge the timeless principles of ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ from that motto (?) in favor of a reference to the Army Values. On the surface, this change is a benign semantic tweak from leadership. In reality, this is a rhetorical revolution in West Point’s culture. ‘Values’ are subjective cultural preferences that, for the Army, while important concepts, were the product of corporate counseling and endless bureaucratic revision.”

In fairness to these stated concerns, we do need to remember the firm reassurance from West Point Superintendent LTG Gilland that: “Duty, Honor, Country” is foundational to the Academy’s culture and will always remain our motto.”  While General MacArthur’s “those three hallowed words” have been removed from West Point’s mission statement, they will most certainly remain the traditional and proud motto of the United States Military Academy.  We can, therefore, be thankful, along with generations of West Point’s graduate-officers, that those three historic and powerful words will, indeed, remain sacred as the identifying motto for America’s Military Academy at West Point.


(Fact Sources: West Point history and impact via foxnews.com, Kerry J. Byme. 3-16-24; General MacArthur speech elements via chroniclesmagazine.org, Mackubin Owens, 3-19-24; Army Values defined via breitbart.com, Kristina Wong, 3-13-24; Concern about liberal society impacting the military via chroniclesmagazine.org, Mackubib Owens, 3-19-24; Former Army Ranger’s reaction to the changes via breitbart.com, Kristina Wong, 3-13-24).