General MacArthur's duty, honor, country: another officer's perspective, interpretation

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rick McCool
  • 88th Flying Training Squadron
When Gen. Douglas MacArthur delivered this famous speech at West Point in his farewell address, he summarized what he called his "guidepost." 

Although some critics have remarked the speech was one dimensional, General MacArthur was very careful to make the point this guidepost was for the purpose of action in the profession of military arms. So even though he claimed a lack of eloquence, poetry and brilliance to effectively pass the concept's total meaning, he in fact did convey the concept as beautifully as any writer or orator before him. 

"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. 

"Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: duty, honor, country."
Everyone, in life and careers, absolutely must have a guidepost or compass. Drivers use street and roadway signs to get from point A to B; technicians and crew chiefs use technical orders to make sure the job is done correctly the first time; aviators use navigational aids to accurately navigate their craft through air and space. 

These are but a few examples of the simple fact all humans, no matter what profession or place in life, need a guidepost or compass to direct them in correct judgments and decisions and to serve as a beacon to find a way to correct and press forward from errors. 

Here are mine: God, family and country. 

For me, each one builds upon the other, much like the foundation and framing of a building. Each provides its own support to the next, as well as a philosophical basis for direction and many daily decisions. 

I am not trying to send a religious message or promote any religious belief over another. It is just a simple fact people, especially professionals in military arms, have to have a foundation and compass to direct their actions; these are mine. 

One of the best examples I have read describing a warrior's relationship with his God and family as it relates to his part in the execution of combat arms came from a young lieutenant querying his commanding officer because he was worried his his bond with his wife and children would lead him to poor decisions in combat. 

In the book and movie "We were Soldiers Once ... And Young: Ia Drang - The Battle That Changed The War In Vietnam," then Lt. Col. Harold Moore, portrayed by Mel Gibson, conveyed he felt his relationship with God and his family was not only in alignment with his military service and combat actions, but it made him a better and smarter soldier.
When you retire, your family and what you have built together is what you have to look forward to for the rest of your life. 

It gains nothing to meet and exceed all professional duties, be professionally or personally rewarded, or be the definition of officer or enlisted success if you can't enjoy it with your family during and after a well-served career.
I have learned ways over the years to balance my family and values to help make me a better Airman, warrior, aviator, instructor and commander. 

General MacArthur's "duty, honor, country" effectively encapsulates my third foundation of country, but it does not stand by itself. All of my professional and technical training is only of use if I can consistently act and think in a manner that is commensurate with our service and country's objectives. 

The concept of "duty, honor, country" has to be held up and supported by other aspects of my personal, professional and philosophical development.
What makes you follow tech orders every time, live by the rules ... even when no one is looking? 

Whatever your foundation and guidepost, it is certain without some form of support and a compass, we would eventually lose our way. 

All momentarily lose their way at times; a guidepost provides the direction to find your way back. Ultimately, my feelings regarding my faith and family are the foundation that supports my other guidepost: duty, honor, country.