March 15, 2024

What Happened to West Point?

Our nation’s military academy has curiously stripped “Duty, Honor, Country” from its new mission statement.

When we think of West Point, we think immediately of its graduates. We think of Grant and Sherman and Lee and Jackson. We think of Pershing and MacArthur and Patton and Ike.

We also think of lesser-known warriors, like Carl Robert Arvin, the First Captain and Brigade Commander of the Corps of Cadets for whom the largest building at West Point is named. The 497,000-square-foot Arvin Cadet Physical Development Center, otherwise known as the Arvin Gym, was renovated and rededicated in 2005 to commemorate the young captain’s too-brief life. Bob Arvin was the best man to ever come out of Ypsilanti, Michigan, or practically any other American town, for that matter. His accomplishments are too numerous to cite. He was wounded in Vietnam while earning the first of two Silver Stars, then, upon returning to the field, killed in combat just days before being transferred to General William Westmoreland’s staff in Saigon.

Lastly, and naturally, when we think of West Point, we think of that three-word motto: Duty, Honor, Country. And we wonder what on earth has transpired there on the banks of the Hudson for the academy to have removed the rhythmic triad from its mission statement.

West Point adopted Duty, Honor, Country as its motto in 1898, and those three words figured most prominently in General Douglas MacArthur’s 1962 farewell address to the cadets: “Those three hallowed words,” he said, “reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point 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.”

So it’s odd indeed that they’ve been stripped out of the academy’s shiny new mission statement, which states that West Point’s goal is “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 service to the Army and Nation.”

Apparently, Duty, Honor, Country were shoved off the page by the term “Army Values.” We wonder what MacArthur would make of this. Or Bob Arvin.

“As we have done nine times in the past century,” said Colonel Terence Kelley, an academy spokesperson, “we have updated our mission statement to now include the Army Values.” Kelley adds that those values, which are spelled out in other documents, are “loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.”

“Duty” and “honor” are there all right, but glaringly absent from that list is the word “country.” Why might that be? And what kind of message does that send to the Corps of Cadets, to the American people, and to our nation’s friends and especially its foes?

West Point has weakened its once-vaunted standards. This is sad but inarguably true. One need only reflect back on the way the academy handled a massive cheating scandal just a few years ago. As columnist Lee Miller, himself a West Point graduate and combat veteran, wrote soon thereafter:

In May 2020, some 73 cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point cheated on a calculus final exam. Fifty-five of those cadets were athletes and 24 of them football players. This isn’t the first time West Point has dealt with large-scale cheating on exams and not even the first time it was mostly athletes. In 1951, 90 cadets, mostly football players, were expelled for cheating. In 1976, 153 cadets resigned or were expelled for cheating on an electrical engineering exam. This is the first time, however, that West Point has tolerated cheating by softening the punishment and even removing the standard consequences for committing an honor violation.

The academy’s more recent but no less disturbing dalliance with critical race theory is only further evidence that wokeness has worked its way into West Point’s fabric.

Never fear, says Lieutenant General Steve Gilland, “Duty, Honor, Country is foundational to the United States Military Academy’s culture and will always remain our motto. It defines who we are as an institution and as graduates of West Point. These three hallowed words are the hallmark of the cadet experience and bind the Long Gray Line together across our great history.”

Yes, fine, all well and good. But what about “Country”?

The MacArthur Society of West Point Graduates has criticized the change as a symptom of something larger: “Like in many great institutions in the United States of America, progressive ideology is eroding away at West Point and doing so in a slow but methodical march, co-opting our good intentions through the specter of cultural Marxism. Our adversaries are unscrupulous but sophisticated and very patient.”

Indeed, they are. As William F. Buckley once rightly noted, “Without organized force, and a credible threat to use it as required, there is little prospect of sustained freedom.” That, sadly, is the way of the world. But that, thankfully, has been the charge of West Point since its inception.

May it continue to be so, regardless of what a handful of unpatriotic wokesters and busybodies say about its mission statement.

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