In the Spring of 1965, like all high school seniors, the young men who had applied for admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point were watching the mailbox for their acceptance letters. Little did they know that when the acceptance for admission letter came, it would not be the only communication that they would receive. West Point is not like other colleges; not only does it teach classes in academic and military subjects and has collegiate sports (“every cadet an athlete”), but it also endeavors to teach good character traits that will be necessary for leadership in the American military. Below is one of these communications all the potential cadets received. It explains the Honor Code that they will live by in their four years at West Point. The Honor Code will shape their lives while cadets at West Point and throughout their military service and for the rest of their lives.
Though they received this letter introducing them to the West Point Honor Code, most of them didn’t know the long history of the Honor Code at West Point – they would learn, of course! The Cadet Honor Code is as old as the U.S. Military Academy itself. From 1802 forward, the prevailing understanding for an American military officer was simply that his word was his bond. When Sylvanus Thayer was the Superintendent (1817-1833), he emphasized that cheating was not allowed. It was one hundred years later, when Douglas MacArthur was the Superintendent (1919-1922) that an honor code was formalized prohibiting lying, cheating, stealing and tolerating those actions in others. This guide was to encourage an ethic in the cadets that they would use in their military careers and throughout their lives. Later this professional ethic would be presented as seven Army Values:
Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage
Read about the 7 Army Values in one of our primary source stories.
Soon after their arrival at West Point on Reception Day (R-Day), the new cadets would be given the cadet “Bible” called Bugle Notes where they would find and study all the details of their upcoming Cadet experience. They found in Bugle Notes the words of former First Captain, Class of 1903, Douglas MacArthur as he spoke to the Corps of Cadets in 1962 about the Honor Code.
The code which those words (Duty Honor Country) perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand
the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirement are for the things
that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong…Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon
in the night – Duty, Honor, Country.
Indeed, the members of the Class of 1969, believing in the need for and importance of the Honor Code and the professional ethic for future cadets and graduates, decided upon a Class gift for West Point. At their 40th reunion, they decided to fund and support a new entity at West Point: The Simon Center for the Military Ethic (SCPME) which provides classes for cadets to develop into leaders of character.