“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”
This is one of the first things imprinted on New Cadets when they arrive at West Point for Beast Barracks. Along with such tantalizing bits as “How’s the cow?” and “How many gallons in Lusk Reservoir?” You know, important stuff. There was also grazing fire range for the M-60 machinegun, which is kind of useful and I still know.
Latest kerfuffle is that a bunch of beanheads, plebes, smackheads, whatever you want to call what other schools call freshman, got caught cheating because all got the same answer wrong on a test. The first thing that leaps to mind is a great lack of imagination on part of those caught in that they could have switched things up a bit. But I regress.
The Honor Code? Never was a big fan. Why? Let me count the ways.
Do you think you can teach honor or are you born with the fundamentals and develop it and by the time you’re a plebe at West Point it’s either there or not?
I believe the honor code made cheaters either suspend their cheating for four years, or be really good at it. After all, how many graduates have been caught cheating? Gen. Petraeus for one, who is now rehabbing his public persona, yet was certainly dishonest. And broke UCMJ. Yet has been invited back to the Academy to speak and I predict will be on the political horizon soon. Sec State Pompeo graduated first in his class. Does that mean he’s extra-honorable? His actions and words seem at odds. He’s publicly been caught lying. Oh well. No honor board for either of them. The civilian world acts with reverence toward the “generals” yet I can’t name a one alive who has won a war. But there’s a whole ‘nother subject.
You know another intriguing bit of plebe poop we had to memorize that really made me think:
There were 60 important battles of the War. In 55 of them, graduates commanded on both sides; in the remaining 5, a graduate commanded one of the opposing sides.
Whoa! That means the Civil War was a West Point war. Which is big reason it lasted so long since they all knew each other and had been taught the same tactics. Hell, in First Bull Run, the commanders on either side had the exact same tactical plan. But because the Confederate commander was a little slow on his execution, he actually managed to win the battle. You can research that one. The blurb was the impetus for me to write a trilogy, titled, brilliantly, Duty, Honor, Country where I examined the concept of honor and loyalty.
More important, where was the HONOR there? Where was the loyalty? A shitload of graduates tossed their oath of office out the window and fought against the very entity they’d sworn to defend. Major disconnect. I don’t think the Academy has ever really looked in the mirror about that, despite all the time that’s passed. Colonel Lee (he was never made a general by a country I acknowledge) has his portrait hanging there and a barracks named after him; right across from Sherman Barracks, where I spent four years. Alanis Morrisette anyone?
Let’s back up from there—what is ‘honor’? The definition as a noun:
- High respect, great esteem.
- Adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct.
The first doesn’t seem to apply. More an opinion rendered by others. I watch Army football games (Pavlovian response after standing for every home game for four years) and hear the platitude of the announcers. “America’s game.” Army was recently snubbed for a bowl game and the coach went off on a tirade that it was an insult to everyone in uniform, which I thought a bit much. But not to worry. Here in Knoxville, the hottest COVID spot in the world, the UT football time had too many come up positive and had to drop out of their bowl game so Army gets to play. Rest easy all you in uniform.
So what is right? And is it conventional? When I was in Special Forces, and to this day, I developed what I call the 3 rules of rule-breaking:
- Know the rule.
- Have a good reason to break the rule.
- Accept the consequences of breaking the rule.
After all, we practiced unconventional warfare. Did I throw my honor out the window? Or did I do what is right when we made sure we were armed on a deployment where rules of engagement literally forbade ammunition in weapons? The Marines in a big building in Beirut followed the rules.
I bet some of those plebes who were caught will make great military leaders and care about their troops and maybe, someday, win a war. But maybe they just aren’t good at calculus (I guess they shouldn’t go Field Artillery). But others are shits who cheat all the time and just go caught this time (their future for stars is bright). I don’t know.
I’m not aghast at the scandal. We live in a country where honor at the highest levels is in tatters along with truth. Maybe they were just following the example of their Commander-in-Chief. Hey, that’s not political, folks. I just like being in reality, not alternate reality.
We got bigger problems and the Academy needs to get up to speed and take a long, hard look in the mirror at traditions that need to be revamped along with doctrine that is long outdated, based on our track record since 1945. The very concept of war is different, but you’d be hard pressed to see it in the way our military procures, plans, and trains. Let’s focus on the big picture.
And let the ones who got caught accept the consequences of breaking the rules.