MacArthur: Duty, honor, country
(On May 12, 1962, Gen. Douglas MacArthur delivered the following speech at
the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. We reprint it in observance of
No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this,
coming from a profession I have served so long and a people I have loved so
well. It fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not
intended primarily for a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -
the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of
culture and ancient descent.
"Duty," "honor," "country" - those three hallowed words
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
Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of
imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant
phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every
troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different
character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and
But these are some of the things they build. They build your basic
character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the
nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and
brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.
They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and
gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path
of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to
learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to
master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is
clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep;
to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet
never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember
the simplicity of true greatness; the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness
of true strength.
They give you a temperate will, a quality of imagination, a vigor of the
emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental
predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love
They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what
next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be
an officer and a gentleman.
And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are
they brave? Are they capable of victory?
Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at
arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years
ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one
of the world's noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military
characters, but also as one of the most stainless.
His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth
and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He
needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own
history and written it in red on his enemy's breast.
In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I
have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and
that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of
From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the
courage. As I listened to those songs in memory's eye I could see
staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many
a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep
through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack,
blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain,
driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their
death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts,
and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.
Always for them: duty, honor, country. Always their blood, and sweat, and
tears, as they saw the way and the light. And 20 years after, on the other
side of the globe, against the filth of dirty foxholes, the stench of
ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of the
relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the
loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long
separation of those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of
tropic disease, the horror of stricken areas of war.
Their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their
indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory - always victory,
always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision
of gaunt, ghastly men, reverently following your password of duty, honor,
You now face a new world, a world of change. The thrust into outer space of
the satellite spheres and missiles marks a beginning of another epoch in the
long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists
tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years
of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or
We deal now, not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable
distances and yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out
for a new and boundless frontier. We speak in strange terms of harnessing
the cosmic energy, of making winds and tides work for us; of the primary
target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but
instead to include his civil population; of ultimate conflict between a
united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy;
such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all times.
And through all this welter of change and development your mission remains
fixed, determined, inviolable. It is to win our wars. Everything else in
your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All
other public purpose, all other public projects, all other public needs,
great or small, will find others for their accomplishments; but you are the
ones who are trained to fight.
Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in
war there is no substitute for victory, that if you lose, the Nation will be
destroyed, that the very obsession of your public service must be duty,
Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international,
which divide men's minds. But serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's
war guardians, as its lifeguards from the raging tides of international
conflict, as its gladiators in the arena of battle. For a century and a half
you have defended, guarded and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty
and freedom, of right and justice.
Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of
government: Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing
indulged in 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.
These great national problems are not for your professional participation or
military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the
night: duty, honor, country.
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 gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts
in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white
crosses, thundering those magic words: duty, honor, country.
This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier
above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the
deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous
words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen
the end of war."
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old
have vanished - tone and tints. They have gone glimmering through the dreams
of things that were. Their memory is one of wonderous beauty, watered by
tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen then, but
with thirsty ear, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille,
of far drums beating the long roll.
In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the
strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory
I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: duty, honor,
Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I
cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the
corps, and the corps.
I bid you farewell.