Douglas Macarthur farewell speech at West Point in 1962 (which was intended to as a ‘last’ address of a 82 year old ‘General of the Army’. Just for old times’ sake that address is placed below, considered as it is as among the 20 greatest speeches of all times. “Hold the Line” used by Mattis seems a rather pedestrian phrase repeated as a cornerstone.
Duty, Honor, Country” — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought 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.
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 ridicule.
But these are some of the things they do They build your basic character. They mould 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 temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigour of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease.
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 battlefield 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 birth right 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.
But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. º
In twenty 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 his people. From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage.
As I listened to those songs, in memory’s eye I could see those 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 the 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, Honour, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as we soughtº the way and the light and the truth. And twenty years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of dirty foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those broiling suns of 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 tropical 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, Honour, Country.
The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral law and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promoted for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong. The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training: sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he disposes those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in His own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the divine help which alone can sustain him. However hard the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind. º
You now face a new world, a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite spheres and missiles mark 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 staggering evolution. We deal now, not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as 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 creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining the ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of spaceships to the Moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.º
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 purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment; 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, Honour, Country.
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, Honour, 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, Honour, 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 tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous 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 always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honour, Country.
Today marks my final roll call with you.
Below is the text of the noteworthy speech delivered by, Marine Corps General Jim Mattis at the West Point graduation parade earlier this week.
Mattis spoke Saturday to the graduating class at West Point and sent a clear message to the entire military, as well as to our allies, friends and competitors: “free men and women will volunteer to fight, ethically and fiercely, to defend our experiment that we call, simply, ‘America.’” Here’s the speech, as prepared:
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: what a day…
It is a great honor to be here today at West Point, one of the foundational keystones of our nation, and to join you on behalf of our commander-in-chief, President Trump, to pay his respects, and the respects of the American people, to the Military Academy’s class of 2017.
I would never have imagined when I joined the military at age 18 that I’d be standing here, nor can you anticipate where you’ll be many years from now.
By the time this class was in first grade classrooms in every state in our union, our country had been thrust into a war by maniacs who thought by hurting us they could scare us. Well we don’t scare, and nothing better represents America’s awesome determination to defend herself than this graduating class.
Every one of you could have opted out. You’d grown up seeing the war on ‘round-the-clock news. There was no draft. Colleges across this land would have moved heaven and earth to recruit you for schools that would never make such demands on you as West Point, starting with Beast Barracks, an aptly named introduction to the long gray line, creating American soldiers who are at their best when times are at their worst…
Today in honoring you graduates, in celebrating your achievements and giving thanks for your commitment, we can see clearly your role in our world.
You graduate the same week that saw the murder of 22 innocent young lives. Manchester’s tragic loss underscores the purpose for your years of study and training at this elite school.
For today you join the ranks of those whose mission it is to guard freedom and to protect the innocent from such terror.
We must never permit murderers to define our time or warp our sense of the normal.
This is not normal and each of you cadets graduating today are reinforcing our ranks, bringing fresh vigor, renewing our sense of urgency and enhancing the Army’s lethality needed to prove our enemies wrong. you will drive home a salient truth: that free men and women will volunteer to fight, ethically and fiercely, to defend our experiment that we call, simply, “America.”
You graduates, commissioned today, will carry the hopes of our country on your young shoulders.
You now join the ranks of an army at war. Volunteers all, we are so very proud of you, cadets, for taking the place you have earned in the unbroken line of patriots who have come before.
Your oath of office connects you to the line of soldiers stretching back to the founding of our country…and in the larger sense, it grows from ancient, even timeless roots, reflecting the tone and commitment of youth long ago who believed freedom is worth defending.
In terms of serving something larger than yourself, yours is the same oath that was taken by the young men of ancient Athens. They pledged to “fight for the ideals and sacred things of the city…to revere and obey the city’s laws and do [their] best to incite a like respect” in others, and to pass on their city-state as “far greater and more beautiful” than they had received it.
In that sense, it is fitting the cadet cover you wear today, for the last time, features the helmet of the greek goddess Athena, echoing respect of civic duty found in a democracy, and of a nation, in President Lincoln’s words, of the people, by the people, for the people.
After four years at West Point, you understand what it means to live up to an oath; you understand the commitment that comes with signing a blank check to the American people, payable with your life.
My fine young soldiers, a few miles northwest of Washington at Antietam battlefield cemetery is a statue of a Union soldier standing at rest, and overlooking his comrades’ graves. It is inscribed with the words, “not for themselves, but for their country.”
How simple that thought. so long as our nation breeds patriots like you, defenders who look past the hot political rhetoric of our day and rally to our flag, that Army tradition of serving our country will never die.
To a high and remarkable degree, the American people respect you. we in the Department of Defense recognize that there are a lot of passions running about in this country, as there ought to be in a vibrant republic.
But for those privileged to wear the cloth of our nation, to serve in the United States Army, you stand the ramparts, unapologetic, apolitical, defending our experiment in self-governance…you hold the line.
You hold the line…faithful to duty…confronting our nation’s foes with implacable will, knowing if there’s a hill to climb, waiting won’t make it smaller.
You hold the line…true to honor…living by a moral code regardless of who is watching, knowing that honor is what we give ourselves for a life of meaning.
You hold the line…loyal to country and Constitution, defending our fundamental freedoms, knowing from your challenging years here on the Hudson that loyalty only counts where there are a hundred reasons not to be.
Behind me, across Lusk Reservoir, stands a memorial dedicated to the American soldier. On it are inscribed the words: “the lives and destinies of valiant Americans are entrusted to your care and leadership.”
You have been sharpened through one of the finest educational opportunities in America,
given to you by the American people via General Caslen’s superb faculty, who expect admirable leadership by example as soldier leaders.
My view of a great leader is the player-coach. We need coaches, men and women who know themselves, who take responsibility for themselves, coaching their soldiers to the top of their game.
Every soldier in your platoon will know your name the day you step in front of them.
Your responsibility is to know them. Learn their hopes and dreams. teach them the difference between a mistake and a lack of discipline. If your troops make mistakes, look in the mirror and figure out how to coach them better.
And while we never tolerate a lack of discipline, we must not create a zero-defect environment, because that would suffocate initiative and aggressiveness, the two attributes most vital to battlefield success.
In leading soldiers, you will have what F. Scott Fitzgerald called, “riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.” So recognize you should never permit your passion for excellence to neutralize your compassion for the soldiers you serve, and who will follow you into harm’s way.
Remember that when the chips are down, it will be the spirits of your often rambunctious soldiers that will provide the reservoir of courage you will need to draw upon.
Rest assured that nothing you will face will be worse than Shiloh. Nothing can faze the U.S. Army when our soldiers believe in themselves.
The chips were down in the freezing cold days before Christmas, 1944, when the Nazi army was on the attack in the Ardennes.
A sergeant in a retreating tank spotted a fellow American digging a foxhole. The GI, Private First Class Martin, looked up and said to the sergeant in the tank, “are you looking for a safe place?”
“Yeah,” answered the tanker.
“Well, buddy,” the private said with a drawl, “just pull your vehicle behind me…I’m the 82nd Airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are going.”
On the battlefield, no one wins on their own. Teams win battles, and if you can win the trust and affection of your soldiers, they will win all the battles for you.
If you wish to be a credit to our nation, you must carry West Point’s ethos everywhere you go and practice every day the integrity that builds your character.
When destiny taps you on the shoulder and thrusts you into a situation that’s tough beyond words…
…when you’re sick and you’ve been three days without sleep…
…when you’ve lost some of your beloved troops and the veneer of civilization wears thin, by having lived a disciplined life, you’ll be able to reach inside and find the strength your country is counting on.
You are privileged to be embarking on this journey. You will learn things about yourself that others will never know.
We can see the storm clouds gathering. Our enemies are watching. They are calculating and hoping America’s military will turn cynical. That we will lose our selfless spirit.
They hope our country no longer produces young people willing to shoulder the patriot’s burden, to willingly face danger and discomfort. By your commitment you will prove the enemy wrong.
We are not made of cotton candy.
You are a U.S. soldier, and you hold the line.
The class of 2017 now joins an Army that left bloody footprints at Valley Forge…an army that defeated the Nazis’ last gasp at Bastogne…
Your class will be remembered for an Army football team that took to the field of friendly strife and beat Navy… but you will also be remembered for the history you are about to write, and when you turn over your troops to their next commander, they will be as good or better than you received them.
I may not have had the pleasure of knowing each of you personally, but i have very high expectations of you…
Your country has very high expectations of you…
And we are confident you will not let us down because while we may not know you personally, we do know your character, West Point character.
So…fight for our ideals and sacred things …incite in others respect and love for our country and our fellow Americans…and leave this country greater and more beautiful than you inherited it, for that is the duty of every generation.
To the families here today, I can only say: apples don’t fall far from the tree. Thank you for the men and women you raised to become U.S. soldiers.
Thank you too, General Caslen and your team, who coached these members of the Long
Gray Line. they will write the Army’s story, and in so doing will carry your spirits into our nation’s history.
For duty, for honor, for country…hold the line.
Congratulations, class of 2017, and may God bless America.