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Whatever Happened to 'Duty, Honor, Country'?

By Gerd Schroeder

General Douglas MacArthur in his final address given to the Corps of Cadets at West Point on May 12, 1962, spoke these words that every officer in the military knows by heart:

Duty, Honor, Country -- those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want 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.

MacArthur was the Chief of Staff of the Army in the 1920s. Later he retired, but was recalled to active duty by President Roosevelt to fight in WWII. He rebuilt Japan, and then fought the Korean War at the pleasure of the President. Ironically, President Truman relieved him from command for gross insubordination in his conduct of the Korean War.

Why was it ironic? Although MacArthur encouraged faithfulness of the Cadets at West Point, a decade earlier he faltered in weakness that he -- no doubt at the time -- viewed as strength, but was weakness nonetheless. He disobeyed his Commander in Chief. As a result Truman relieved him of command, and MacArthur retired in disgrace. It was a tragic way for perhaps the greatest warrior in U.S. history to fade into retirement.

I am not trying to impugn MacArthur. Nor am I just reciting history that most Americans have forgotten. I have a purpose, not just a history lesson.

It is a little known fact outside of the military that commissioned officers can be called back to active duty at anytime and for any duration. They serve at the convenience of the President. So, I was dismayed, saddened, and enraged when two activists/journalists named Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks quoted Marine General (Ret) John J. "Jack" Sheehan. Apparently, in response to President Bush asking him to be the "War Czar," Gen. Sheehan said:

So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks.'

The first coherent thought that I mustered after recovering from the rage and embarrassment that I felt upon reading those words was the quote from General MacArthur 45 year ago: "Duty, Honor, Country."

Generals, officers, and enlisted are looked at as men dedicated to "Duty, Honor, Country" above the ulcers. Willing to give a full, honest effort, or die trying. When the President calls, we answer the call. These generals that withhold their advice from the President, retire, and then put forth a full effort to ridicule the President, have, in my view, retired like General MacArthur: in disgrace. Notwithstanding their brilliant careers they throw their reputation to the dogs of journalism. The words are used as a weapon against the just war we are fighting.

The words of these retired generals are used abroad by our enemies to support their fight against us and at home against the American people to demoralize and persuade them to slowly withdraw their support from the military. A media induced hopelessness fed by the words of the very men and women that were trusted with the defense of this country.

It seems that every week some retired General is voicing to the media his or her displeasure at the President's policies. They are authorities in military matters. They have a deep wealth of knowledge that has been gained by intensive study and practice over decades of service. However, rather than commit that knowledge to the war, they commit it to enriching themselves in retirement; and when asked to continue to serve they, instead give a snide, sophomoric, smart-mouthed answer to the President.

Many military members have served under presidents that they didn't agree with. I have served under President Clinton and President George W. Bush. While I am a conservative, when it comes to serving my country I serve the President of the United States, whoever that may be; in whatever mission my commander in chief asks. But it is clear that many of our retired officers have forgotten the words of General MacArthur. The words that got many of us through the countless hardships of being a fighting man for this country. It is as if they think that they can take off the coat of "Duty" when they retire. This is false.

When the President calls you must answer. If you don't, then don't wear the title you took when you were honorable. No more books with your name followed by "General Retired."

Instead, remember how you spurred us to courage and faithfulness? Do not now falter in weakness, thinking that it is strength. Serve the Commander in Chief or quietly retire. If you don't have the courage to get an ulcer in service, then why would we place any confidence in what you have to say?

What do the American people think of us, the military, when our most decorated, experienced, and wise officers quit fighting; or worse, fight against us with their words? How can we keep the faith and confidence of the American people that is key to our winning, if those that lead us, willingly and publicly, ridicule our efforts in war as hopeless?

For God's sake, remember the ideals of your youth: "Duty, Honor, Country" -- "those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want 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." (General Douglas MacArthur, 1962)

Gerd Schroeder is a Major in the United States Army. His views are his own. He does not speak for the US Army or Department of Defense.

American Thinker

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