Duty, honor, country: Remembering MacArthur’s words
On the heels of the 51st anniversary of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech to the West Point Corps of Cadets and on this Memorial Day, it is appropriate to contemplate the profound and prophetic nature of his words. The speech was delivered at the general’s acceptance of the Sylvanus Thayer Award presented annually to distinguished citizens personifying the USMA’s motto, “Duty, Honor, Country”. What would become his farewell address to the Corps, as well as to the Army of his service of 52 years, implored the cadets to focus on their sworn duties as defenders of our democratic principles. “Let civilian voices argue the merits or demands of our processes of government: Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing indulged too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as firm and complete as they should be.”In concluding his remarks, Gen. MacArthur reminded the assembled cadets, “You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds.” “The long grey line” he continued, “has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and grey, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: duty, honor, country.” Fifty-one years after MacArthur’s poignant words, the political and military leadership at the Pentagon is awash in alleged scandals, from sexual misconduct to dereliction of duty in its failure to respond to the Benghazi debacle. The current crop of armed forces flag officers would do well to rededicate themselves to MacArthur’s principles on a most solemn holiday.
Gerald Michael Law Leonard is a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Sons of Union Veterans and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He lives in Temple Terrace.