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Duty, Honor, Country

  • Duty, Honor, Country

By Capt Joseph R. John, December  31, 2019, Op Ed #461

My New Years wish is that the nation's youth may be made aware of the below listed superb explanation of the timeless motto of the US Military Academy at West Point, submitted by Colonel Sam Holliday, USA (Ret), West Point Class of 1948.


It is our hope that the nation's youth, especially the 51% of them who now support Socialism, instead of The Free Enterprise System and the United States Constitutional Republican form of government, can be made aware of the meaning of the motto, Duty, Honor, Country by those who receive this Op Ed.


Unfortunately for the last 12 years, radical leftist teachers in middle and high schools have been using the Common Core Curriculum, with the fake and dishonest replacement US History textbooks, funded by Nazi collaborator George Soros, to indoctrinate students that Socialism is a much better system, than The US Constitutional Republic.  Those indoctrinated students go on to colleges and continued to be indoctrinated by radical Marxist professors, who degrade the US Constitution, and celebrate the wonders of Socialism. 


Naive students seem to be unaware that Socialism has failed in the 37 countries where it once governed over the last 100 years.  Socialism has been responsible for suppressing individual freedoms of the citizens in those 37 countries, and those Socialist governments have murdered hundreds of millions of former free people and destroyed their economies.  


The failures of Socialist governments can be easily observed by naïve and indoctrinated high school and college students, if they simply open their eyes, and observe what is happening to the citizens in North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, China, Russia, and Iran today.  They should compare the lives of the people in those countries, with their own lives under the Free Enterprise System and democracy.


Today, the economies in the nations of the world are floundering, while the USA's Free Enterprise System is the most robust and successful economy in the world, with a record 7 million job openings.


Copyright by Capt Joseph R. John.  All Rights Reserved.  The material can only be posted on another Web site or distributed on the Internet by giving full credit to the author.  It may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without the permission from the author.   



Duty, Honor, Country 


Most West Point graduates revere the timeless motto of the United States Military Academy: Duty – Honor - Country. For them it is not an issue of intellect, politics, laws, or rules—it is a matter of convictions. Yet there is little understanding of how that motto relates to Secular Authority and Sacred Authority. Nor understanding why all true Americans should also revere this motto.


Most people have never heard of Sacred Authority as contrasted with Secular Authority. Authority to most people is something those in a hierarchy use to control others, i.e. rules, regulations, and laws of government. That is Secular Authority, which is necessary for all organizations. But what is Sacred Authority? With regard to authority, ‘sacred’ means that which must not be violated or disregarded. It comes from customs and traditions. Thus there is a direct connection between Sacred Authority (what is right) and the motto of Duty – Honor – Country, but not to Secular Authority (what is legal).


Both Secular Authority and Sacred Authority can be found throughout history in all cultures; however, they are given many different names. ‘Secular’ and ‘sacred’ are the terms used by the ancient Greeks. Secular Authority is specified in rules, regulations and laws. Sacred Authority shapes the inner compass of individuals through beliefs and civic virtues based on customs and traditions. 


Secular Authority (what is legal)


West Point cadets have always been taught the importance of Secular Authority through a myriad of dos and don’ts: how to make beds, shine shoes, how to stand, when to go where and do what, when and how to speak, how to march or perform in class, and much more. Compliance with these rules brought rewards, but noncompliance insured punishment. Many other Americans have been taught the same.


Secular Authority is essential for the efficient and effective functioning of any organization. It is rational knowledge. It discriminates, compares, and categorizes. Without rational rules, regulations and laws there is no organization, there is only the chaos of a mob. Secular Authority is part of a legal system established by the Social Contract (Compact), that includes both Secular Authority and Sacred Authority. 


Sacred Authority (what is right)


An inner compass (based on morality and ethics) allows individuals to make their own judgments between right and wrong, and to discriminate between good and bad. What shapes the inner compass of each individual? Sacred Authority. It is intuitive, and is often called belief or civic virtues. Sacred Authority allows individuals to value behaviors that are good and to shun behaviors that are evil. Sacred Authority requires moral individuals to be judgmental.


At West Point prior to the 1960s Sacred Authority was just as important as Secular Authority. Then Cadet Chapel was mandatory, and it was expected that this would enhance belief. However, it was from the concepts of Duty, Honor, and Country that cadets were expected to understand civic virtues. Sacred Authority is not taught in an academic sense; it is intuitive knowledge, not intellectual, or rational, knowledge. It is the ultimate reality arising from experience. It just is.


Whenever someone speaks about Sacred Authority, that person has strayed from its essence. It is the outcome of enlightened experience, regardless of the rationale developed to justify its meaning. 


Throughout most of West Point’s history the concepts of Duty, Honor, and Country were ill-defined civic virtues, which cadets were expected to internalize. Those virtues were not to be questioned, or subjected to logical analysis. It was expected that they would guide overall behavior, which everyone would recognize as virtuous. While these concepts have been found in many Americans since the birth of the American Nation in 1776, they were never defined as clearly as they were at West Point. Thus West Point can be a model for all true Americans.


Belief and civic virtues do not meet the standards which academics, scientists, and lawyers demand. They are too vague and too imprecise to be scientific theories or to be resolved by a legal system. The truth of these virtues is not determined by logic; they are intuitive. They are unchallengeable absolutes. They are convictions—not rules. But the behavior of many of those living in the USA are only governed by the rules, regulations and laws of government rather than by the convictions gained from custom and tradition. They can enjoy the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but they have not earned the privilege of being an American.


Civic Virtues


Civic virtues have motivated many throughout history--they are the most common form of Sacred Authority. The actions of Horatius at the bridge, the Spartans at Thermopylae, the five good emperors of ancient Rome, our founders who pledged their lives and sacred honor, those who remained in the Alamo, the soldiers in Pickett’s charge and the cavalrymen of the Light Brigade, brave P.O.W.s, and many others who were guided by civic virtues to do what was right, good, and honorable.


Duty, Honor, and Country are meaningless if they are merely flamboyant words. Only when internalized as civic virtues do they gain significance. The intent of these words is not the expression of an intellectual idea; rather they are to influence and shape behavior.

· Duty is an obligation to do what ought to be done in accordance with your position and the ethics of your profession.

· Honor means honesty, virtue, and conscience; it might be called rectitude, moral sense, or the moral faculty.

· Country is simply a pledge to insure the security and interests of your nation against all enemies foreign and domestic. 


Prerequisites of Sacred Authority


Sacred Authority becomes merely an adjunct to Secular Authority without belief in the free will of individuals. In that case it would support submission to those in a hierarchy. However, West Point cadets prior to the 1960s understood Duty, Honor, and Country to be the convictions of individuals with free will. These civic virtues provided the basis for individuals to make the judgments needed to do the harder right rather than the easier wrong.


History has repeatedly demonstrated an important reality about the relationship of Secular Authority and Sacred Authority: each must be kept strong enough to check and balance the other.

·  If Sacred Authority dominates Secular Authority the outcome is a theocracy.

· If Secular Authority dominates Sacred Authority the outcome is a totalitarian regime.


Changes at West Point 


In the 1980s and 1990s the Superintendents had to make changes in order to meet challenges from outside of West Point that resulted from the Countercultural movement of the 1960s. Duty, Honor, and Country had to be defacto “legal” enough to withstand assaults from those who would question their utility and fairness in courts, yet still retain their significance as means for shaping the inner compass of each cadet. This required cadets to accept personal responsibility for Duty, Honor, and Country, rather than it being something all cadets enforced on each other. How well this has been accomplished is the key question that must be answered. Those in the West Point classes of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s must reflect on their experiences and render a judgement.


Nevertheless, one thing is clear. These changes have the potential of converting Duty, Honor, and Country from Sacred Authority to Secular Authority. If they were converted they would no longer be civic virtues. They would no longer shape the inner compass of individuals with free will. They would just be additional rules to be obeyed. This is a change that is going on in the society at larger with a weakening of belief, national identity, and patriotism.


A goal of the Duty – Honor – Country motto is to integrate the truths into a quest for a way of life. The motto is the basis for a common identity known as the Long Grey Line. All graduates of West Point, alive and dead, form the Long Gray Line; it links the past, present, and future with shared beliefs, values and attitudes. A common understanding of Duty, Honor, and Country is needed to provide the necessary linkage. Yet one can spiritually depart this ghostly assemblage by rejecting the convictions of the motto. On the other hand, these same convictions can be expected of all true Americans, i.e. all of those willing to support and defend, against all enemies foreign and domestic, the principles and ideals upon which the American nation was founded, with their lives,  fortunes and sacred honor.














Dr. Sam C. Holliday, Armiger Cromwell Center. Atlanta, GA

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