(Quoted in Santayana and the farewell address of General Douglas MacArthur.)
Whether or not Plato actually said those words, they describe a truth woven into humanity's history as far back as our ancient historians reached. Why is this true, that human fascination with and participation in war remains constant in our endeavors? We fight over disputed territories, resources, and persons. We employ our best minds to develop more devastating tools for war; we fashion our statecraft toward the end of preparing armies to fight immediately if our country is threatened in any way.
And why should we not? How otherwise might we counter the threats and actions of tyrants and dictators who pose like the playground bully strutting with words and actions, innuendo and manipulation, gossip and cunning?
Because it is the case that bullies exist. Apparently, some individuals bully others to demonstrate superiority, perhaps because of a deeply felt inadequacy. Others bully simply for the thrill of domination. And there are individuals who bully in order to acquire something they want but do not possess for whatever reason. And still others dominate because of a mental/neurological maladjustment. And let us not forget that some people possess characterological disorders; they feel driven out of a toxic narcissism and absence of a moral center. In other words, they do not care if they hurt, shame, deprive, or even destroy other persons—and animals.
Yes, such people do exist. And we fear that our children may encounter them on the playgrounds, in the classrooms, on the street, in places of worship, in the offices of government and authority, in military commands of foreign countries who do not operate within the norms of humanitarian values. As we shall see, these norms of humanitarian values arise from human character molded by "duty," "honor," and "country."
The words—DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY—reverberate within the halls of our military academy, West Point. In fact they are the academy's motto. A graduate of West Point himself, Douglas MacArthur went on to become a fiver-star General of the Army, a Field Marshall in the Philippine army, Supreme Commander of allied forces in the WWII Pacific campaign, and leader of the United Nations Command in the Korean War until he was relieved of duties by President Truman.
Returning to the US after years of service in the Pacific, having presided over countless battles and world-changing events, MacArthur settled into a quiet retirement in Manhattan, out of the public eye. However, in the last year of his retirement, returning to West Point that had done so much to shape his character, he addressed the cadet corps for a final time. In his moving remarks, he stressed the motto of the school, the motto which had become his credo.
"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." ...........................................................
They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave
enough to face yourself when you are afraid.
These are the words, the qualities, the constructs of character that the framers of our Constitution projected into our nation's democracy when they penned the Second Amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Does the reference to "arms" pertain only to the standing militia? Or are they the "arms" of citizens in general? These questions fuel the present furor in our halls of government and the social media regarding gun ownership.
William Berger, a retired Supreme Court Justice, as well as a hunter and gun owner, in a PBS Newshour broadcast, 12/16/1991, said he found no support in the Second Amendment for individuals having a right to own and bear arms. In 2008, Justices Scalia and Stevens clashed over the issue of gun ownership. Justice Scalia supported private ownership of guns, whereas Justice Stevens argued that gun ownership was supported only in the service of a "well regulated militia."
This lingering debate over the intention of our Second Amendment intensifies within the political division in our country today. One source that supports individual gun ownership is the article by Ronald Reagan in a 1975 issue of Guns and Ammo magazine which affirmed the right of the individual to own and bear arms. Then, in the 1990's, and in later legislation, Reagan supported the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban, both of which reflect a more measured Reagan. Nonetheless, within the ideology of gun-rights advocates today, Reagan remains a hero in their cause.
Which brings me back to General Douglas MacArthur, the veteran of world wars on a massive and international scale. I will let him have the last words. In his words of farewell to Congress in April 1951, he spoke of the legacy of war. However egocentric he may or may not have been, his words ring true.
If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon
will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a
spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will
synchronize with our almost matchless advance in science, art, literature,
and all material and cultural development of the past 2000 years. It must
be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.
A Personal Retrospective:
In my senior year of high school I wrote a term paper on MacArthur. While my family would in no way have been considered generally interested in the military, nonetheless my uncle was a prisoner of war in Germany, and my father served under MacArthur's command in the Pacific. I became interested in West Point for college while in high school and asked my advisor about applying to West Point only to be told that my family would need political connections for such an appointment, which they did not have. Turning aside the possibility that I might ever attend West Point, I committed myself to the ROTC program at Clemson University from which I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, eventually serving as an artillery officer in Korea before returning home and requesting a transfer to the Chaplain's Corps, in which I completed my military duty.
Along the way, I gave thought to MacArthur from time to time. And although he had returned home to the US as a military hero, hailed by Congress and others world-wide to be one of the great strategists in military history, at the hands of a growing number of individuals who studied the man and his record of military service, MacArthur came to be considered by some as a narcissist. Strange, I thought, that he should be so diagnosed from afar after his death. In any case, from my small corner of the world and my relatively minuscule experience, I continue to respect the man and his faithful following of a credo that would serve us all today: Duty, Honor, Country.