Duty, Honor, Cowardice: What those outraged over West Point’s new mission statement don't understand


In replacing the words “Duty, Honor, Country” with “the Army Values,” the United States Military Academy at West Point has caused a flurry of controversy. Officials from West Point have stated explicitly that “Duty, Honor, Country” remains the motto of the Academy, and fundamental to its mission and its culture.

Yet there are those who believe there is something rotten going on. They’ve taken to X to decry wokeness, pandering, Marxism and globalism. A war on the foundation of America’s fighting force. For them, this change is cause for panic, both moral and existential.

Forgetting that the mission statement has changed nine times since 1925, it is this graduate’s opinion that anyone who takes issue with the substitution for reasons other than the aesthetic (“Duty, Honor, Country” has a nicer ring than “Army Values”) is either being thoughtless or disingenuous; an opportunist so desperate for an enemy that they have turned their sights on one of the last bastions of the values they claim to hold dear.

The “Army Values” are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Duty and honor are in there, plain as day. Do the keyboard warriors think so little of America’s best and brightest that they assume cadets will shirk their duties and lie at every turn if those tenets are not written in the mission statement?

The absence of “Country” must be the issue of the day. If it is, the insult to the members of the Long Gray Line, past, present and future is even graver. But we must say “Country.” As though flag waving or chanting, “USA!” is the mark of a true patriot. There is no single thing that makes a patriot, but volunteering for a “lifetime of service to the Army and the Nation” is a good start.

Any cadet who attends the Academy signs a blank check for the value of their lives. Before they are inculcated with the school’s values, they have already displayed uncommon courage. It’s a courage that few of those railing against the change can claim.

But the detractors are not just pundits who have never served a day in uniform, or trolls whose livelihood relies on spouting odious and foolish opinions. Graduates have spoken out, as well. It’s an understandable reflex. Even among upperclassmen still at the Academy, “the Corps has” is a ubiquitous refrain. It means that when we were there, when we were underclassmen, things were harder. Our rite of passage made us better leaders.

When I was a senior, I took a class called Military Art and Science. Every “firstie” or first class cadet takes it. My instructors, both lieutenant colonels, asked the class to write an essay about how West Point had changed us. I wrote about how my 47-month experience had broadened me. I had met people from all 50 states and 50 countries besides. I could hold opposing ideas in my head and consider them with equal earnestness. I was calm under pressure. I was fierce. I felt prepared to lead soldiers in combat, no matter who they might be.

Those sentiments earned me an A+.

I graduated from West Point in 2009. One year later, in Kuwait, I met my platoon for the first time. The day after, we choppered into Iraq for a year-long deployment. Mine was the story our leadership tried to hammer home from “R Day” or reception day until graduation. It was frightening, exhilarating, momentous.

When we touched down in the desert, “Duty, Honor, Country” was fresh in my mind. But at war, the Army values meant more. They were something I shared with my soldiers and my non-West Point peers. And what of my squadron commander? He was one of the brightest and most capable officers I’ve ever known — himself a 1992 West Point graduate. Was I, a cherry lieutenant, a better and more prepared leader than him? After all, those three hallowed words only made it into the West Point mission statement in 1998.

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I care deeply about America. I care deeply about the state of my alma mater. There is much about both that should be maintained, and much about both that must be improved. Changing West Point’s motto won’t solve many problems, but the idea that it’s cause for alarm is insincere at best. It’s certainly not “woke,” and to imply that a deeper understanding of humanity in all its forms precludes the ability to manage violence is shortsighted. The truth is, cognitive empathy, maybe even pure empathy, is a necessary competence for leaders of every stripe.

By including the Army values in its mission, West Point is looking to the future, both of cadets soon to be leading soldiers, and of itself, as an institution. For an army that has been accused of always fighting the last war, the change is refreshing.

Robert B. Miner is a New York City native, West Point graduate, author and occupational dilettante. You can find him at robertbminer.com.

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