Thank you Cadet Booth for your introduction, and your invitation to speak to the men and women of the 2002 Cadet Honor Committee - and especially the newly elected company honor representatives from the class of 2004. General Lennox, General Olson, Colonel Haith, all who serve in the Center for the Professional Military Ethic, Cadet Booth and men and women in the classes of 2002, 2003, and 2004: I'm humbled by your invitation. Never did I consider that one day I might be standing before a 21st century Cadet Honor Committee, talking about the 1951 honor incident, and some of its lessons.
When Cadet Booth first called with an invitation to speak, our country was one day into the war against terrorism. Now, as I look back at the events which prompted me to write A Return to Glory, I'm struck by the irony of the setting for this evening's talk. When the 1951 honor incident exploded into public view on August 3 of that year, America was also at war, in Korea, and had been for fourteen months.
In Korea, the United States and seventeen other member states from the United Nations sent combat units to fight alongside the South Koreans in a conventional war fought by armies, navies and air forces almost entirely on and above the Korean Peninsula, and in adjoining waters.
Today, after brutal, destructive, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - with massive loss of life in the continental United States not seen since the Civil War - we have a large international coalition of nations joined together to fight a new and different kind of war against an even more reprehensible form of totalitarianism than Kim Il Sung's North Korean brand of Communism.
As commissioned officers in the Army, you will face a different, more cunning, and yes, evil enemy than this nation has ever encountered. Morality. Truth. Integrity. Honor. Loyalty. Courage. These are but a few of the virtues, principles and ideals of an officer's individual honor, leadership, and command needed to fight and win this war - and any war. Fifty years ago those same virtues, principles and ideals were needed in the officer corps leading the fight in Korea. That's
merely one reason the tragic honor incident of 1951 provides invaluable
lessons every bit as relevant today as they were fifty years ago.
The "incident" as it was officially called, wasn't an incident at all. It was an unprecedented, avoidable, man-made tragedy, and to many a disaster. Due to the Academy's place in history and role in our nation's security, it became a national scandal. To that time widespread cheating in academics was unheard of at West Point, and when announced to the public on August 3 of that year, plunged the Academy, its Corps of Cadets, honor code, football team, and Department of Athletics - and the United States Army - headlong into heated public controversy. Organized cheating in academics had grown over a period of years, the result of incipient, insidious weakening of the cadet honor system, particularly that part of the code and system now called non-toleration. Tonight I want to touch on some of the most important lessons of 1951, about non-toleration and the closely related virtues, loyalty and courage.
Non-toleration has always been, and remains, the most difficult to explain, widely misunderstood and controversial imperative of the cadet honor code. In speaking to the subject I'll use some examples of events and people from the 1951 incident. But first, a bit of history.
In the Korean War era, 1950-53, non-toleration was expressed differently than today. Today, non-toleration is expressed in the code. "A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do." The 1951 honor code said, "A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal." In Bugle Notes and in the honor training we received were six principles underlying the honor system. The fifth principle was the forerunner of today's non-toleration clause contained in the code, and stated: "Every man is honor bound to report every breach of honor that comes to his attention."
Confronting and reporting what we believe are honor violations, is THE imperative of honor which is the most difficult to put into practice. Everything about confronting and reporting violations, on the surface, appears to sharply contravene the virtue of loyalty. Yet the code's unique strength - non-toleration - is absolutely imperative, and is the one which steels each graduate for the higher standard of honor and the tough decisions we are expected to make as commissioned officers.
The higher standard, the ideal, is the individual officer's honor, which is
the second principle of officership described in the Academy's
professional military ethics training guide. The description reads as follows:
"An officer's honor is of paramount importance, derived through history from demonstrated courage in combat. It includes the virtues of integrity and honesty. Integrity is the personal honor of the individual officer, manifested...in all roles. In peace, the officer's honor is reflected in consistent acts of moral courage. An officer's word is an officer's bond."
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word loyal as: "1. Steadfast in allegiance to one's homeland, government, or sovereign. 2. Faithful to a person, an ideal, a custom, a cause, or a duty. 3. Of, relating to, or marked by loyalty."
As did classes of a half century ago, you came to West Point with powerful loyalties, which for many, will linger throughout your lives. There is the power and influence of loyalty to family, friends, high school teammates, the high school you attended, perhaps your hometown and state.
At West Point you've learned much more than the dictionary definition of the word loyal. You've learned and expanded its practical, day to day meaning, and you daily apply this powerful virtue in your work. Right from the start in Cadet Basic Training, you began learning about loyalty to classmates, roommates, the squad as a team, the platoon, the company, the intramural and intercollegiate athletic teams of which you are members, the battalion, regiment, brigade, the Corps, the Academy, the Army and the nation. In so doing you were learning to give to others, to the team, for others, to sacrifice - to give yourself.
In the team, unit, or group setting, the more intense, demanding, difficult and threatening are our experiences the more intense and lasting individual and group loyalties become. Classic examples are in veterans' organizations and reunions which meet and celebrate their nation, their services, their units, and patriotic endeavors - and remember those who, in wars past, gave their last full measure of devotion. Their members are men and women whose camaraderie, individual and unit loyalties congeal in the fire of war, then are quietly put away in memories when they return home to start their lives anew.
As years go by the closely held memories and loyalties resurface,
primarily in the retirement years, after lifetimes walked down different paths.
For the soldier, loyalty has enormous implications. It has been said over and over again, that the greatest, enduring quality of American soldiers in combat is, above all else, they fight for one another. When you graduate, you will carry the soldier's loyalty as an everlasting virtue into a life of service in the officer corps. It is the form of loyalty of which Woodrow Wilson spoke when he said: "Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice."
There is, however, a right kind of loyalty, and a wrong kind. There can be a dark side to any virtue, a dark side that gives the lie to the ideal. Loyalty must be tempered and balanced by the ability to know with certainty when loyalty is being blinded to corruption. History is replete with examples of loyalties gone terribly wrong, entire nations caught up in following the siren calls of the demagogue and tyrant, calls laced with hate and reinforced with terror, and can lead to catastrophe. The 20th century had far more than it's share of them: Imperial and Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Japanese militarists, the Soviet Union and its Red Revolution, and more recently the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, and the Serbia ruled by Milosevic. These nations were - and Iraq still is - ruled by dictators and their regimes, whose fiercely loyal followers were blind to moral bankruptcy at best, and were themselves, evil at worst. And now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we have another example of blind loyalty to maniacal urges to power, this time a loosely affiliated web of international terrorist cells connected to al Qaeda.
Closer to home, on the domestic front, powerful and potentially deadly loyalties, blind to immoral and corrupt practices, operate in organized crime; bizarre religious cults; ordinary families who know they have a killer or habitually violent criminal among them; white collar crime conspiracies; and colluding, corrupt public officials. At the same time, individuals who are found to have participated in such activities, in every profession and walk of life, have repeatedly stunned us with their ability to conceal - even from their closest friends and loved ones - an astonishing dark side in their personalities, thoughts, and actions. As these examples illustrate, loyalty blind to individual and collective extremes of self-concern, ambition, greed, immorality, and demagoguery, far too frequently also lead to disaster. In many examples
I just outlined, death by assassination or execution can be the price of
breached loyalty, disagreement, opposition, or divulging the existence of corrupt practices.
Now, let's look at loyalty from another perspective. I dare say everyone in this room grew up with the admonitions, "Don't tattle. Don't be a mole. Don't tell on, rat out, or squeal on your friends, buddies, girlfriends, roommates, classmates, teammates, your fellow workers, your boss - and most assuredly don't do it to any member of your family." Those words are buried deep in the American psyche, and come from our history and it's standing invitation to people "...longing to be free." Millions of our ancestors fled to this land, and continue to do so, from oppressive or tyrannical regimes, regimes which kept their power through networks of internal spies, secret police, and state sponsored terror against their own people.
But democracy is different, entirely different. We have a system of self-government like none ever seen in the history of the world, and a system of checks and balances to keep us from becoming a police state. Individual responsibility is the hallmark and reverse side of the coin of freedom. And we, individually and collectively, as citizens, are responsible for helping to design, build, strengthen and clean our own house. There are times, as painful as they might be, when we, as citizens, must, as the cadet prayer so eloquently says, "...do the harder right." Hard decisions. Painful decisions. Agonizing decisions - like the one the unibomber's brother made not long ago. He became convinced the unibomber was his brother, a serial killer, and volunteered his conclusion to the FBI. That was the end of a terrorist's deadly career.
"See no evil, hear no evil" doesn't work in a democracy. If it did, this nation wouldn't be a democracy. And most assuredly "See no evil, hear no evil" is totally unacceptable in America's armed forces. The history of military dictatorships throughout the world teach us that lesson. "Tell it like it is", truth, honesty, integrity, clean our own house - the imperative of honor American style - is our calling, and our way of life.
A fundamental duty of every commissioned officer is to enforce the standards of the profession. Integrity, the personal honor of the individual officer, is one of the standards we are obligated to live and enforce. Honorable behavior by commissioned officers is not optional. The reasons we hear and read about officers in serious trouble, who
bring discredit upon themselves and the profession in which we serve,
are others have found them out and come forward with the facts, or by the officers' actions they have publicly marked themselves as less than honorable. They are found out and exposed because we, as a free people
and professionals are obligated to clean our own house in the performance of our mission, and in America's armed forces we routinely do house cleaning, every day, in many ways. Unit training and readiness evaluations, joint and combined training exercises, individual performance evaluations, promotion boards, accident investigations, administrative investigations, safety surveys, routine law enforcement, criminal investigations, court martials, non-judicial punishment, after action reports, and combat lessons learned - just to name a few. And I'd like to emphasize - in our routine house cleaning activities, every single method we use affects professional and personal lives, and mission performance.
Having presented you with two views of loyalty, and the imperative of the individual officer's honor, let me now tell you briefly about some of the events, and the people who lived them, in the honor incident of 1951. It's a story of the wrong kind of loyalty, and toleration of progressively corrupt practices. But far more important, it's an inspiring story of the right kind of loyalty, non-toleration, courage, honor, leadership, command, and an honor system that, in the end, worked.
At West Point, within the Corps of Cadets, in a three to seven year period leading to the spring of 1951, misplaced, misguided, and blind loyalties fueled the step by step growth of individual and collective toleration, which, viewed from another perspective, was the progressive weakening of the honor system.
When the fact finding board of three officers, all World War II combat veterans and graduates from the class of 1938, convened on Tuesday, May 29, 1951, to conduct a formal, fact finding investigation into evidence of organized cheating in academics, they weren't prepared for what followed.
As a result of some of the Corps' and Academy's senior officers' sensing and acting on indicators of trouble, courageous disclosures by two third classmen, and an approximately six week undercover investigation, the
Board began the formal investigation with hard evidence against three
third classmen, and the names of 51 more cadets from all four classes, believed to be involved. The Collins Board, as it was later called, headed by its president, LTC Arthur S. Collins, Jr., was methodical and
thorough in asking the basic investigative questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why?
In the twelve days the Board was in session, they interviewed 137 cadets and found 94 guilty. By December 10 of that year the last of 83 had resigned and received less than honorable discharges from the Army. As a result of further investigation after the Collins Board, plus subsequent Staff Judge Advocate reviews, 11 of the 94 were reinstated in their graduating classes. Nine of the 11 graduated. All 83 discharged were from the classes of 1952 and 53, yearlings and cows at the time the cheating ring was first disclosed on April 1, 1951, by a yearling in Company K-1.
Twenty-one of twenty-four cadet companies lost one or more cadets to resignation. Sixty were intercollegiate athletes, thirty-seven football players. Among the thirty-seven were twenty-three returning lettermen, including two All-Americans and the captain-elect, the holdover nucleus of a 1950 football team that had been ranked number two in the nation.
The tragedy reached for the heart and soul of the Academy. Two class presidents, star men, academic tutors, and twelve new first classmen who likely would have been cadet captains, were also among those who resigned. Among the twelve, one would have probably been the Corps' First Captain, and another, a Regimental Commander. Some of the most admired cadet leaders in the Corps of Cadets had been deeply involved in organized cheating.
Still, these statistics appear benign, and seem to speak only of personal tragedy and lives changed. But testimony from the Collins Board revealed more, much more - which graduates of that era, and all who followed, were completely unaware. Not only did most participants
cheat in academics, they conspired to cheat. They watched, and listened to their classmates, roommates and teammates, to learn who would support the honor code and system, and who, in their judgment, wouldn't. At first they were careful to select the men who would be invited into their circle. They were equally careful to hide their activities from those they believed wouldn't tolerate their behavior.
They stole written general reviews and daily quizzes, reproduced and passed copies to other members of the ring. In addition to passing information in cadet barracks rooms during academic tutoring and
group study sessions, they passed it verbally in hallways, locker rooms, at training tables, in the library, and during extracurricular activities. In the cadet area they used runners between companies, battalions, and regiments. Although a growing number of cadets were participating in the ring, and others were suspect of what they were seeing and hearing, "see no wrong, hear no wrong, take no responsibility, take no action," continued to prevail.
But that was only the beginning. To compound the offenses of conspiring to cheat, and cheating, they conspired to lie if ever confronted with evidence of their activities. During the Collins Board, twenty-two of those later found guilty lied under oath, some repeatedly. Why? Leaders and hard core members of the group agreed in advance, that if confronted with questions about their activities, they would deny knowledge or involvement. In conspiring to lie under oath, they were also conspiring to obstruct the investigation.
Even more astounding, Board testimony revealed that in the spring of 1951, about the time the first disclosure of organized cheating was brought to the Commandant of Cadets, in three cadet companies, yearling participants in the group schemed to nominate one of their members for election as honor representatives. In two companies their nominees were elected. In testimony before the Board, they admitted the intent was to block possible guilty verdicts in honor hearings when they became first classmen barely fourteen months in the future.
Acting contrary to the Board president's instructions not to discuss their testimony with anyone, a group of approximately twelve convened a meeting the evening after the first day's Board proceedings. The purposes were to learn what questions Board members were asking, the responses to the questions, then decide how to respond in future testimony. When they learned that the first cadet to testify had told the Board everything he knew because of the overwhelming evidence against him, they were furious. The meeting turned ugly. They threatened him and one other cadet with physical harm if they didn't return to the Board, recant their testimony, tell the Board that they were the only two involved in cheating, and "take the fall" for everyone else.
To say the least, any attempt to intimidate or threaten witnesses in an investigation, board or court proceeding is a serious offense - today a felony.
The threats got worse. Before the Collins Board completed its first week of work, some of the ring members had passed among themselves the names of the two yearlings who participated in the undercover investigation, one of whom was the cadet who first disclosed the ring's activities. He too was threatened. As a result the FBI detained the classmate who communicated the threat, questioning him for several hours.
A small number of ring members decided they would discredit the Board. They complained they hadn't been advised of their rights against self-incrimination under Article 31 of the Articles of War, that Board members had used intimidation and coercion to obtain answers and confessions of guilt. After the public announcement on August 3, though the Academy steadfastly resisted intense pressure to release the cadets' names to the press, some immediately identified themselves to the press, and continued to criticize the investigation's conduct, saying they had received a "raw deal."
On August 14, as the first of 83 cadets began resigning, the cadet who had been a leader in the attempt to discredit the Board came to LTC Collins' office and apologized, telling the Board president what they had done. He explained to LTC Collins his actions were because he "...would do anything to stay at West Point."
As I said earlier, the Collins Board was very methodical in probing for
answers in the investigation. The last key question - why? - "Why didn't you report the cheating?", and the answers given, point directly to the underlying causes for progressive, infectious breakdowns in personal and collective responsibility for the code and system, and the failure, for years, to halt the growth and spread of corrupt practices. The answers to the question, also exposed the rationalizations for tolerating serious, corrupting actions by officer candidates, actions which would be career ending, or worse, for any commissioned officer. Listen carefully to voices from a half century ago as they answered:
- "...loyalty, friendship..."
- "...I didn't want to affect someone else's life..."
- "...so many close friends involved I couldn't bring myself to tell..."
- "...Loyalty to my teammates seemed bigger..."
- "...I know that it was wrong, but, after all, people cheat in civilian colleges so we thought it was O.K. to do it at West Point..."
- "...would get us all in trouble. I couldn't turn all these people
in...Besides when you see all those upper classmen who you worship doing it, you don't think it's so bad."
These are only a few of the voices. There were many more. However, if
we listen and closely study the answers, behind every response to the "why" question is overriding self-interest, expressed as fear, fear of: lost friendships; individual, group or team condemnation; isolation; perceived threats; or failure.
With rare exceptions, fear for one's self is, in fact, the central motivating force for toleration of corrupt practices. And fear for one's self is exactly the same fear an officer or any leader must routinely overcome to lead successfully, hold the respect of those the officer leads or serves, while holding fast to the virtues of loyalty, courage and honor - sometimes under the most chaotic and life threatening conditions imaginable.
Now, listen carefully to acts of moral courage by four young officer candidates of long ago.
After supper the evening of April 1, 1951, a nineteen year old yearling from Company K-1 asked to see the company's second class honor representative, privately, after release from quarters, thirty minutes before Taps. For Cadet Richard J. Miller, the honor representative, the third classman's disclosure later that evening was shocking. Over a period of about two weeks, the third classman had become aware there was an organized ring of cadets cheating in academics. The information had come from his friend and classmate in company K-1. His friend had been aware of the group's activities since the fall of 1949, his plebe year, and first became involved in organized cheating the spring of 1950.
How close were the two friends? The cadet who was now deeply involved in cheating, and cautiously encouraging his classmate to join the group, had been in his home on summer leave and dated his sister. The man involved in the ring was also the son of an Academy graduate, a World War II veteran and brigadier general serving in Germany in the occupation forces.
To make matters more difficult, the cadet who reported the ring to his second class honor representative had been told "...this is big. It includes
name athletes, and there are honor committee members involved."
Cadet Dick Miller, the second class honor representative, slept restlessly that night, turning over in his mind what he must do. By morning, the
enormous implications of the third classman's disclosure were clear. Dick Miller's decision was made. He would go directly to the Commandant of Cadets, after informing his company tactical officer. Thus began the chain of events leading to an approximately two week preliminary investigation by the K-1 first class honor representative, Cadet Daniel J. Myers, and a six week undercover investigation that unearthed hard evidence against three cadets, and implicated fifty-one more.
Who participated in the undercover investigation? Reluctantly, following a request by the Commandant of Cadets, the third classman who first disclosed the existence of the cheating ring, agreed to accept the invitation to join the ring. A few days later a classmate in Company H-2, a teammate on the Academy swimming team, agreed to join the undercover investigation. One of his H-2 roommates, who was an academic tutor for a football player in another 2d Regiment company, had approached him with the offer of academic assistance. The roommate's tone, inflection and words indicated the assistance was coming from other sources and was improper. The two K-1 honor representatives supported the two third classmen in the six week investigation, which was approved by the Superintendent and guided by the Commandant and Assistant Commandant.
When the undercover investigation began, none of the four cadets knew the depth, breadth, seriousness, and consequences of their undertaking. One third classman already knew a friend and classmate was deeply involved. The other knew one roommate was involved and correctly believed his other roommate knew of the activity.
Not in the slightest did the two third classmen consider themselves morally or physically courageous throughout the investigation and its aftermath, and still don't - but they were. By coming forward with their
disclosures, they did what hundreds of officer candidates avoided doing over a period of several years. Both overcame their fear of consequences to themselves. They set aside self, and figuratively said, "No, I will not participate in cheating. Neither will I ignore nor accept it. I will act to stop it." And they did.
They were never called heroes, never received awards or decorations, never publicly recognized or thanked. They both experienced unwarranted, unjust criticism in the years that followed, some not too subtle forms of retaliation, threats, and name calling by supposedly
intelligent people clearly exhibiting ignorance of the facts. To this day, the two graduates ask their real names not be disclosed.
Invariably, honor's greatest tests come at times least expected, from people believed honorable. Difficult choices and beckoning temptations appear throughout our lives, without warning, in all manner of unexpected situations. When we are alone, or believe we are alone; from among close friends or family; from professional colleagues we believe we know, for certain, are honorable; in large groups when people such as the men involved in the tragedy of 1951 discover they are recruited, unwittingly enmeshed in, or invited into organized practices they learn too late are clearly less than honorable.
In 1874, during the period when cadets at West Point formed their Vigilance Committee to examine matters of honor, Thomas Henry Huxley wrote in his work Universities, Actual and Ideal, "Veracity is the heart of morality." As would be written years later, the Military Academy's honor code, given life and meaning by the Corps of Cadets, and sustenance by the institutions which educate and train the Corps, is "...a minimum standard of moral and ethical behavior." It is only the beginning, the foundation for what follows. For graduates, as officers, leaders, and commanders, there is inevitably much more required - and hard work to reach for and hold the necessarily higher standards and ideals of honor that will be asked of them. Beginning your first day at West Point, those higher standards and ideals were asked of you. Tonight is another important step along the way.
The truth may sometimes hurt, but it's always right. As one of the finest Army officers I ever served under used to say when we thought we'd performed a mission exceptionally well, "Raise the shot group."
Non-toleration may sometimes hurt, but it's always right.