Small Wars Journal

Tone Deaf at West Point – Once again, the Army fails to “read the room.”

Tue, 03/19/2024 - 9:32am


Tone Deaf at West Point

Once again, the Army fails to “read the room.”'

By Martin Stanton


I wasn’t commissioned out of the United States Military Academy / USMA (given my habitual truancy and dismal academic record in high school, I wouldn’t have been accepted even if I’d applied) but I have a lot of respect for West Point as an institution.  Sadly, it’s gotten to the point that whenever I see that the USMA is in the news, I inwardly cringe before I even read the story.  Watching West Point step on rake after rake these past few years has been painful.  Nobody likes to see an old friend fallen on hard times.

The latest public relations debacle is taking “Duty, Honor, Country” out of the school’s mission statement. 

Granted, “Duty, Honor, Country” is still the motto of West Point and it’s carved into all sorts of edifices up there and on uniform patches and for all I know it’s embroidered on each cadet’s underwear.  “Duty, Honor, Country” isn’t going away.

            So why take it out of the school’s mission statement and replace it with “Army Values”?  Sure, mission statements get re-written from time to time, but why drop the school’s motto from the mission statement?  It’s three words and two comma’s – they couldn’t have been that hard up for space on the document.  Here’s the change:

“To build, educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets to be commissioned leaders of character committed to the Army Values and ready for lifetime of service to the Army and Nation”.

             Could the authors of the updated mission statement not have embraced the healing power of “and”?  for example:

“To build, educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets to be commissioned leaders of character committed to Duty, Honor, Country and the Army Values, ready for lifetime of service to the Army and Nation”.

            More importantly, why change the mission statement now at all?  Why was it necessary?  Day to day nobody looks at the mission statement.  I doubt anyone is doing a thing different at West Point because of this change to mission statement.  Why did they pick this moment to change it?  Did somebody need the OER bullet that bad?

            It’s hard to imagine the leadership at West Point (or on the Army staff) is so out of touch as to not be aware of the mood of the nation.  West Point is a touchstone to the American people.  An increasingly large segment of the population is becoming convinced that the government and its institutions no longer share their values.  A story about “Duty, Honor, Country” being removed from the school’s mission statement at this particular moment just adds to this sense.  The fact that the Superintendent felt it necessary to send out a letter explaining the change to the community of West Point graduates (but not the public at large) only adds to the impression of haughty, elite, insularity.

            In baseball terms – It was an unforced error.  It was a 1962 NY Mets kind of move.

            You have to feel sorry for General Randy George.  He’s a good man playing the bad hand that’s been dealt to him.  His people failed him on this one.   With collapsing recruiting, overextended forces, multiple potential conflicts, diminishing resources and obtuse civilian leadership the Army needs all the friends it can get.  In this election year where the entire country is dialed up to 11 on the rage meter, removing the words “Duty, Honor, Country” from any policy document at West Point was bound to be incendiary.  Holding off on changing the mission statement until next year would not have impacted any aspect of USMA operations.  Now he has this needless distraction to deal with.

            He’s probably looking at West Point and channeling Casey Stengall right about now…

            You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, "Can't anybody here play this game?"


(Editor's Note: Also consider the Superintendent's letter at this link: 

About the Author(s)

Martin Stanton is a retired Army officer currently residing in Florida.  The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect any official DOD or USG position.