When Duty Conflicts with Honor

Lieutenant Colonel George M. Hall, U.S. Army

SOME years ago, Army magazine published a whimsical account of a supposed nomination for the Roman Medal of Honor. The paperwork went through some "XXIII endorsements," during which time the former enemy had become an ally. The original recommendation was sequentially downgraded from the intended high laurels to a report of survey charging the hero with loss of his shield on the field of battle.

By exaggeration the ironies of philosophical humor tend to illustrate underlying truth. This example is no exception. The Medal of Honor is not lightly conferred in wartime, and in peacetime only under the rarest of circumstances. The Army and the Air Force combined can claim but three of the latter plus one more whose award in part covered peacetime accomplishments. Unfortunately, each of these recipients suffered erosion of his reputation when his values and judgment came in conflict with the mores and the concept of duty then or now current. Three were sacked. The fourth would be posthumously damned with faint praise in the only widely disseminated Department of Defense reference to him. We are justified in asking why.

The Medal of Honor, by statute, recognizes conduct above and beyond the call of duty; but there is no such thing as conduct that rises above and beyond honor. Under ideal conditions, duty and honor are inseparable components of mission accomplishment and the standards of conduct for the profession of arms. In practice, and given that the call of honor can exceed that of duty, they can and do conflict. They conflict because loyalties and commitments often militate against one another. The individual who responds to the imperatives of honor under circumstances when honor encompasses duty may be tempted to act against the grain of duty when it does not coincide with the same imperatives.

When confronted with these circumstances, the man at arms must face up to a most difficult moment. The decision or indecision will tend to anchor or leave adrift the parameters of one's judgment and personal integrity. It will foreshadow future conduct. In some cases, the decision may be at the price of one's career.

To ameliorate the difficulty of such decisions, a centuries-old maxim advises that "the better part of valour is discretion." Unfortunately, this maxim is too often interpreted as justifying situational ethics, of adjusting honor to the requirements imposed by duty, as did Shakespeare's Falstaff who first spoke those words.1

Such ethical fluidity is rightfully condemned by the armed services. The more acceptable interpretation is that the standards of honor are essentially fixed. The application of those standards to circumstances in any situation may require judgment but without compromise to those standards per se. It is as if the standards of honor and duty comprise a body of tradition almost to the point of being common law, within which specific cases are to be adjudicated--not in a courtroom, or there only rarely, but rather in the exercise of command.

Thus, the intent remains to ameliorate the difficulty of deciding between honor and duty when they do conflict but never at the price of personal integrity.
Nine Stars and Four Fates

The four principals of this essay are Charles Lindbergh, William Mitchell, Douglas MacArthur, and Adolphus Washington Greely. There is some debate whether Mitchell's award was a "standard" Medal of Honor, but the resolution would be immaterial to the thesis.2 Of more significance is the fact that these four men knew one another; and, to some extent, the interweaving of their careers had mutual influence on at least two if not three of the awards. All were or became general officers.

Of the four, Lindbergh's award is the best known, stemming from his solo flight across the Atlantic in May of 1927. It was also the first peacetime award of the Medal of Honor for the Army Air Corps.3 Lindbergh was a reserve captain at the time, but the flight was not part of a military mission. On the contrary, it was performed in competition for a prize of $25,000. At least one pilot lost his life in an attempt to win it, and a number of others were waiting for better weather in which to make the attempt.

Lindbergh's fall from grace is less well known. In the late 1930s, he publicly admired the air power of the Third Reich, accepted awards from them, and preached isolationism to the point that President Roosevelt took umbrage. Like most people of similar mind, Lindbergh (by then a colonel) reversed his opinion on 7 December 1941. He applied for active duty, but Roosevelt personally turned down his request. "Mr." Lindbergh then went to work in his civilian capacity as a consultant for Lockheed Aircraft in the Pacific theater and flew a substantial number of combat missions. In 1954, President Eisenhower promoted him to the grade of brigadier general, United States Air Force Reserve.

The second general of the story, William "Billy" Mitchell, was awarded the medal posthumously for his actions after World War I. He had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in the war itself. These "actions" terminated in the famous court-martial that found him guilty of insubordination and sentenced him to five years suspension from rank, duty, and pay. The critical incident was his premeditated condemnation of the War Department as published in Aviation following the crash of the dirigible Shenandoah. He wrote:

These accidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence, and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments. In their attempts to keep down the development of aviation into an independent department, separate from the Army and Navy and handled by aeronautical experts, and to maintain the existing systems, they have gone to utmost lengths to carry their point. . . . The bodies of my former companions in the air molder under the soil in America, and Asia, Europe, and Africa-many, yes, a great many sent there directly by official stupidity.4

Every attempt to have the findings of that court-martial reversed has failed. But one member of the court appears to have voted "not guilty."5 Like Mitchell, he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (twice) in World War I, would go on to win the Medal of Honor, and eventually be relieved of command. He was, of course, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur's own award arose from the defensive preparations made in the Philippines and for leading the heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor until repeatedly ordered by the President to evacuate himself.6 His relief from duty ten years later, in another war, was the consequence of continued and increasingly serious public disagreement with the express wishes and directives of his Commander in Chief, President Truman.

This disagreement concerned MacArthur's desire to bomb bridges over the Yalu River and Chinese bases in Manchuria and to blockade the China coast. The last straw was his thwarting of peace feelers initiated by the Truman administration. Clearly, MacArthur wanted to carry the war to total victory. But the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at that time, General Omar Bradley, said: "This strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

The last of the four men, General Greely, stands in considerable contrast to the other three. Never relieved of command, he had a career of increasing responsibility and recognition until he passed away. Indeed, the citation accompanying his Medal of Honor states: "For his life of splendid public service. . . ."7

General Greely enlisted as a private in the Army in 1861, joining the same brigade as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Like Holmes, he was thrice wounded during the Civil War. By 1865, he had risen to the rank of brevet major, and by 1867 gained a second lieutenant's commission in the signal service of the Regular Army. Many of his next fourteen years were spent constructing transcontinental telegraph lines under hostile conditions. At the end of this period, he advocated and was appointed leader of the successful but ill-fated Lady Franklin Bay Arctic Expedition of 1881-84. Presumed lost in 1883, Greely was passed over for promotion to captain. In mid-1886, after reconsideration, he was given the promotion.

Nine months later, his immediate superior, Chief Signal Officer Major General William B. Hazen, died suddenly. Greely was given his job along with the most spectacular promotion in the history of the Army.8 Brigadier General Greely maintained this position for nearly twenty years. In 1906, he was made Commanding General, Western Department of the U.S. Army, with advancement to the then senior rank of Major General. * During his long tour in Washington, Greely laid the foundation for the Army's assumption of an air service.

*Four-star rank had not yet been created, and the third star had been awarded only eleven times in the history of the Army, mostly to senior commanders in time of war. No duty assignment called for more than two stars. Major General Arthur MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur's father and also a Medal of Honor recipient, was one of the eleven, but it appears the motive was "to kick him upstairs" and thus remove him from the normal chain of command. To this day, three- and four-star rank is always temporary.

He retired by operation of law on his sixty-fourth birthday, but it was really only a formality. His public service expanded to absorb his time, and he was always addressed as General Greely. In 1935, on his ninety-first birthday, he was presented the Medal of Honor. Brigadier General David Brainard, to be encountered again shortly, was there as was Billy Mitchell. Greely had been Mitchell's mentor, a loyalty which the latter repaid by successfully advocating the unique award.9

Greely's literary eclipse came in 1950 with the publication of The Armed Forces-Officer. In referring to the ill-fated Arctic expedition, the chapter entitled "Human Nature" describes him thus:

Until the end, discipline was kept in Greeley's [sic] force. But this was not primarily due to Lieutenant Greeley, the aloof, strict disciplinarian who commanded by giving orders, instead of by trying to command the spirits and loyalties of men. That any survived was due to the personal force and example of Sgt. (later Brig. Gen.) David L. Brainard, who believed in discipline as did Greeley, and supported his chief steadfastly, but also supplied the human warmth and the helping hand which rallied other men, where Greeley's strictures only made them want to fight back. Brainard was not physically the strongest man in the Expedition, nor necessarily the most self-sacrificing and courageous. But he had what counted most--mental and moral balance.10

The example cited of "stricture" was that Greely forbade the men to go more than 500 yards from base camp without permission. Anyone familiar with Arctic conditions knows this to be a sound rule, even today, intended to prevent loss of life and balance resources in order to provide rescue effort if necessitated.

More seriously, the account in The Armed Forces Officer is silent on other pertinent facts. For example, Lieutenant Greely put his own career on the line by publicly criticizing Congress for not commissioning Sergeant Brainard. He wrote:

It is inevitable in most great undertakings that the subordinates should be relegated to secondary places, but I cannot believe that our great nation, which spent money so lavishly to save these men, will allow their heroic endurance and manly virtues to pass unrewarded. Lieutenant Lockwood and the Eskimo Christiansen have unhappily passed away, but Sergeant Brainard, who strove with them successfully to gain for the country the honors of the Farthest North, yet remains, after eight years of stainless and extraordinary service in the ranks, a sergeant. His manhood, courage and self-sacrifice, displayed on the polar sea and at Sabine, would have gained him a commission at once in any other service in the world.11

Granted, the above facts do not necessarily counter the allegation that Greely was too aloof and too much of a disciplinarian to provide the "mental and moral balance" necessary for effective leadership. The Armed Forces Officer states:

When the Greely Expedition was at last rescued at Camp Sabine June 22, 1884, by the third expedition--the Revenue Cutter Bear and the Thetis under Commander Winfield S. Schley, USN--only seven men remained alive. Even in these, the spark of life was so feeble that their tent was down over them and they had resigned themselves to death.12

Commander Schley saw it differently. He wrote:

My dear Greely:

On the occasion of your rescue on the evening of June 22nd last, by the relief expedition under my command, I saw no indications of insubordination nor of division among your party. On the contrary, I was much impressed by the salutes of Brainard; Frederick and Biederbick when I approached your camp. This one slight feature bore its own testimony to the condition of your command.

Very sincerely yours,
W S. Schleyl3

Beyond this, substantial written evidence indicates that Greely saw to the needs of the Arctic survivors for life. As a subsequent honor, a small Army post in Alaska is named for him. Greely's son, John Nesmith Greely, also rose to general officer rank.

But let us turn to an examination of the factors underwriting the fate of these Medal of Honor recipients.

Loyalties and Conflicts

The study of loyalties is inherently a study of conflict, but the experience of the four principals of this essay provides ample proof why one loyalty in particular is the fulcrum by which military conduct is to be weighed, balanced, and adjudged. That loyalty is duty, and the reason is simple. Military authority is of necessity despotic. A commander within limits is legislator, executive, and judge--more so in war than in peace. Consequently, this authority must be severely circumscribed by both statutes and by a tradition immune even to momentary injustice. History compensates for such injustice, but it is the exception that proves the rule.

To be sure, there are occasions when duty is not well defined. And at times it is difficult to distinguish this primary loyalty from loyalty to seniors and subordinates. But when one's sense of honor and loyalties veers from a foundation other than duty, it can more often weaken than strengthen one's integrity. It is like that poor fellow in the asylum who believed he was George Washington. The staff was amused but at least respected him for his choice of so exemplary a personage to absorb. Then one day he announced he was Napoleon. When asked if he was still Washington, he replied in the affirmative but explained that it was by a different mother.

Of the four principals, Lindbergh's loyalties were furthest from duty. His flight had no connection with a military mission, seniors, subordinates, peers, or family. No one was rescued. The $25,000 prize money would today be the equivalent of $250,000 before taxes. As far as a demonstration of air power was concerned, the Navy had flown one-stop across the Atlantic eight years earlier and nonstop round trip to the North Pole one year before the Lindbergh flight.14

Lindbergh's achievement was in keeping with his reputation as a loner. Ten years later, relying solely on his own counsel, he seriously misjudged the intent and purposes of the Axis powers prior to the outbreak of war, notwithstanding he believed he was advocating the best interests of the country. Only the traumatic shock" of Pearl Harbor caused him to shift his loyalties to a pervading sense of military duty.

General Mitchell followed a different path. His loyalties during World War I were clearly to duty first and to all others second without serious conflict. He was one of the few to retain temporary star rank after the Armistice, having been appointed Assistant Chief of Air Service. In the absence of war, however, his other loyalties quickly exerted themselves. Gifted with the attributes of both leader and prophet, he turned his energies to advocating a separate air arm for national defense. And unlike Lindbergh's, Mitchell's warnings proved deadly accurate. Thus, it is fair to conclude that his conduct did not so much violate the mandate of duty as go beyond it more than his superiors could tolerate--in a word, a violation of protocol.

General MacArthur is often compared with Mitchell, but the former offers a more complex study in loyalties. After Henry Luce, editor-in-chief of Time, had interviewed the general in the Philippines in 1941, the famed journalist exclaimed to his wife Clare, "Either he is the world's greatest strategist, or the world's biggest egotist, and I suspect he is both!"

MacArthur's apparent willingness to exonerate Billy Mitchell at the latter's courtmartial foreshadowed MacArthur's own decision to exceed the limits of authority for what he too believed was in the best interests of his country--that "in war there is no substitute for victory." As we shall see later, his loyalty to country edged far enough away from that to duty to engender unfavorable consequences.

In contrast to Lindbergh, Mitchell, and MacArthur, Greely provides the model for balancing conflicts among loyalties. Whatever those conflicts may have been, he steadfastly put loyalty to duty-and its protocol-first. Yet he bent every effort to honor the imperatives of competing loyalties. His efforts to persuade the Congress to grant Sergeant Brainard a commission and his mentorship of Billy Mitchell are but two examples.

Emotions and Commitment to Duty

All these loyalties involve commitment. Commitment to anything is an emotional investment. Manifestation of that commitment, however, may display a broad range of emotions, from abrasiveness to stoic patience. If the commitment to duty becomes too emotional, it is likely to suffer "stonewall" reactions.

This appears to explain the difference between Greely and Mitchell.15 Rarely does a lieutenant criticize the Congress in a published book written on duty time and then, after a few months as a captain, get promoted to brigadier general. But it did happen. Mitchell, Greely's protégé, also sought redress of wrongs via the published word, but he met the opposite fate. Venom is not the weapon of the fox.

The fates of Lindbergh and MacArthur followed suit. MacArthur lost his equanimity only at the end of his career, and that end was after many decades of distinguished service as a senior commander and statesman. For Lindbergh, the loss came without a background of public service. He had stood on the narrow pedestal of a singular historical achievement. It could not sustain emotions that ignored reality. Not surprisingly, General MacArthur, whatever occasional tendency he may have had toward the grandiose, was a gentleman with manly charm and charisma, while Lindbergh was essentially acerbic, if not abrasive.

That their common or fundamental commitment to duty could produce such a broad spectrum of surface emotions requires an underlying reason. That reason appears to arise from the scriptural injunction: "Before honour comes humility." In this sense, humility is subservience to a calling higher than oneself without degeneration into self abnegation or meekness. It is the emotive gyrocompass when duty conflicts with empathy "for the troops."

General Greely exemplified this forceful humility. During the halcyon days of the Arctic expedition, a Private Maurice Connell staged a skit to honor Greely at Christmas-time. The scene was that of the remains of a soldier being borne out on a stretcher after having just done himself in. The "officer" on stage surmised, "Sad, a very sad case indeed. Sergeant, charge his account with two rounds. "

Connell was one of the seven survivors. Both he and Greely were at the point of death at the moment of the rescue, but Greely declined the last swallow of medicinal brandy, offering it instead to Connell. Yet for years afterward, Connell threatened to "expose" Greely with facetious tales of the trying days at the end of the expedition. Greely was most patient with him. While not condoning this disgraceful behavior, he gradually brought him to understand the meaning of soldierly conduct. At the end, Connell spoke with affection "of my former commander."16

Greely's patience had its limits, of course. He ordered one member of the expedition shot after the latter was repeatedly caught stealing from the meager rations available. Even in this instance, however, his conduct was deemed exemplary. Upon his return, he requested the Secretary of War to conduct a board of inquiry. Robert Todd Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln's only surviving son) declined the request as unnecessary. The facts spoke too clearly for themselves.17

Thus, what may appear as Greely's lack of warmth was in fact an understanding of human nature deeply rooted in many trials. He understood the limits of human ability in its mass as well as the inevitable inhumanity of war and some peacetime missions. Accordingly, he made no pretense of weakening the call of duty in favor of humanism, yet it is equally clear that his empathy for the troops was inexhaustible. In the Arctic, he shared the hardships of his men by accepting those hardships in like manner. But as for the emotions of his men, he shared these by respect, not duplication, and not at the cost of mission accomplishment.

This attribute of General Greely and its subsequent disparagement in The Armed Forces Officer brings us to the secondary objective of the essay. The armed forces of late seems to have misperceived of itself as something other than a profession dedicated to a straightforward concept of duty. Concern for the individual at times is deemed more important than mission. This camp-counselor approach to maintaining the morale of servicemen has reverberated throughout the ranks. The profession of arms, to an unfortunate degree, has become a process of "careerism" and "ticket punching."

The price for this disjunctive approach is self-evident. Victims of fragging incidents in Vietnam were posthumously faulted for showing less than compassionate leadership in dealing with markedly insecure individuals. Yet the research indicates that these incidents were few in number when the units were well trained and had adapted to the military way of life.18

In peacetime, an untoward number of officers and noncommissioned officers retire Soon after completing twenty years of service. The majority of trained pilots leave long before that, a fact not fully explained by monetary considerations alone. The situation has reached such extremes that a young man felt impelled to write to a news magazine:

I am a 17-year-old who, through my entire senior year of high school, received numerous mailings from the local recruiting center. Not one of those mailings mentioned the possibility of active duty; rather, they stressed the chances for travel and jobs. Well and good, but how can the armed forces expect to train the volunteers in the necessities of combat if all the soldier really expects is a vacation and some employment.19

This trade-off of service obligation for sociology, however noble the goal, has nearly destroyed a long tradition, That tradition, of course, is still there, but it is hard for promising and dedicated individuals to grasp it early enough in their careers. Honor has become something apart from duty, a gap which obscures the path to integrity.

The Appeal to Higher Ethics
Versus Effectiveness

The preceding sections examined the psychological roots of conflicts between duty and honor. This should be balanced by a review of the ethical parameters. When the imperatives of honor override duty, it is the military application of the civil disobedience doctrine promulgated by the nineteenth-century transcendentalists. This school of thought argues that obedience to conscience is more civilized than obedience to certain laws; and only one's conscience can determine the criteria, or so went the theory.

But the man at arms is neither scientist nor philosopher charged with seeking absolute truth. He is primarily a doer who must live and function in the mainstream of the real world, warts and all. As such, the factor of effectiveness must be considered in resolving these conflicts. If precedence to honor is invoked at the price of duty or protocol, will the net result accomplish its purpose, and is that purpose worthy of the ideals of military service?

Because of his immense popularity, Lindbergh's outspoken plea for isolationism was indeed effective, but World War II proved it to be less than ideal for the military. Every degree of unpreparedness was paid for in human life. Unpreparedness was also Mitchell's argument. Although his lack of protocol resulted in his being court-martialed, his actions were effective in dramatizing the need to develop both tactical and strategic air power.

Herein lies the crux of the ethical issue. Lindbergh interjected his own personal ethics on the world scene and was proved dead wrong. Mitchell, albeit a prophet, was motivated by a more objective assessment of facts. The bronze plaque in front of Quarters 14 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he resided when he wrote the Aviation article, tells the story:

General Mitchell, probably the most controversial military figure of the twentieth century. . . champion of air power, strategic bombing and a unified air defense, was convicted, vindicated by history and finally awarded a posthumous special gold medal by Congress. He risked his life in war and his reputation in peace in defense of his country.

The old story about being court-martialed and awarded the Medal of Honor for the same act had finally come true. *

*The "'special gold medal"' is listed as a Medal of Honor in the authoritative congressional publication listing all awards of the Medal of Honor. The Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon and the display at the C.S Air Force Academy also portray it as the standard pendant. None of the other approximately forty special gold medals awarded by Congress are so listed. See Note 2.

The point is that effectiveness, at least for the profession of arms, is possible only when honor and duty overlap in considerable measure, the drama of the conflict arising more from emotional overtones than from any fundamental dichotomy of purpose. By way of further proof, it should be noted that a number of Mitchell's colleagues stood by him during and after the court-martial, notwithstanding that each of them had been warned by their superiors that this might jeopardize their careers. The threat did not materialize. Three of them would go on to earn a total of twelve stars--"Hap" Arnold, Carl Spaatz, and Ira C. Eaker.20

In applying this argument to General MacArthur, we must first admit that his strategic ability, his forceful and effective leadership, his ability to minimize casualties while inflicting maximum damage on the enemy, and his absolute fearlessness in the face of danger mark him as probably the first captain of the annals of military service. The inordinate eloquence of his final address, "Duty, Honor, Country," left its mark on all who have heard or read it. But MacArthur's relief from command and his Medal of Honor did not evolve from the same act or even the same war.

Having served five years as the "surrogate Emperor of Japan" and compiling a distinguished record in the process, MacArthur then tried his hand at being "surrogate President." His "fatal defect" then surfaced, and it was not his running battle with Truman per se. MacArthur Jailed either to attack or otherwise contain the massed Chinese troops emplaced but quiescent in the mountains of North Korea astride the U.N. forces. Instead he devoted his energies to the ethical conflict involving destruction of enemy force not yet committed to battle, marshaled in a country with which we were not at war.

In ignoring this clear-cut duty, he invited defeat. He even ignored his own intelligence reports. The heroics of his personal courage had entirely disastrous results. William Manchester stated the case this way:

In the Attic tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, the hero is a figure of massive integrity and powerful will, a paradox of outer poise and inner passion who recognizes the inevitability of evil, despair, suffering, and loss. Choosing a perilous course of action despite the counsel of the Greek chorus, he struggles nobly but vainly against fate, enduring cruelty and, ultimately, defeat, his downfall being revealed as the consequence of a fatal defect in his character which, deepened by tumultuous events, eventually shatters him.21

MacArthur paid the price of disobedience. He admitted as much in his autobiography and acknowledged Truman's right to relieve him of command.22 Yet, in the larger sense, we must ask if MacArthur was also a prophet. Was his dictum--that in war there is no substitute for victory--valid?

The doctrine stating that the potential for thermonuclear war makes victory unthinkable has not been accepted by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact leaders, nor has it found currency in the People's Republic of China (though China is becoming more of an ally than enemy). Commensurate with their respective resources and geography, both are committed to military victory in the event of global war. For General MacArthur, as for Billy Mitchell, an astute observation by B. H. Liddell Hart may apply in full:

The prophets must be stoned; that is their lot, and the test of their self-fulfillment. But a leader who is stoned may merely prove that he has failed in his function through a deficiency of wisdom, or through confusing his function with that of a prophet. Time alone can tell whether the effect of such a sacrifice redeems the apparent failure as a leader that does honour to him as a man. 23

If MacArthur's prophecy proves correct, history will duly honor his foresight. Future statesmen may have to resurrect it as a general policy. In the meantime, one can only try to learn from these cases the essence of accurately discerning real from apparent conflicts between honor and duty and then, in the real conflicts, exercising judgment so as to preserve personal integrity while attending to the job at hand.

To be sure, this unswerving loyalty to duty in the face of conflicting claims may war greatly with one's private feelings. It is not unlike the poor old Irishman who lay dying in his bedroom. Detecting an unmistakable aroma emanating from the kitchen, he cried out, "Oh, Mary, before I pass on, I must have a bowl of that chowder." Came the instant reply, "No you don't, McGinty, that's for the wake!"

The Exercise of Judgment

The official emblem of the Army's Criminal Investigation Directorate bears one command, and one separate word: Do what must be done and Integrity. This implies that there should be no conflict between the two. But the fact that they are combined as a motto implies that achievement of both is more than an intellectual exercise.

Certainly these four medalists endeavored to maintain their integrity when making decisions to accomplish what they believed had to be done. Each demonstrated great courage and each received the nation's highest award for valor, though only in one case for the act of defiance itself. Yet close examination of each instance indicates that, except for Greely, their emotional commitments had won out over reason. In the most positive sense, they lacked discretion. In two cases this lack of discretion contributed to unnecessary loss of life, that is, without contribution "to the cause."

These circumstances strongly suggest that we reconsider Shakespeare's maxim about discretion. Discretion is not a substitute for valor. The maxim states that it is a part of valor. As such, discretion is not cowardice. On the contrary, the term implies the more comprehensive attribute of judgment. Judgment encompasses the choice of loyalties; it controls emotional commitment; it evaluates the question of effectiveness when honor does conflict with duty. Judgment is the architect of integrity.

Decisions involving conflicts of this nature commit the individual to a course of action. The pattern of these decisions, no doubt, contributes to the formation of character and integrity, which is the basis for honor. Each act of judgment comes full circle and affects the next. The sequence of our judgments tends with time to become either the flywheel or the kaleidoscope of our consciences.

While the armed services expect the highest integrity of their members, they do not obligate them to eliminate all of the shortcomings of human nature. The parameters of military judgment are not so much anchored to absolute theoretical truths but to the application of a relatively few standards to circumstances. The first priority is loyalty to duty-getting the job done. The second is to taking care of the troops. The third is to everything else. Every deviation from these priorities begs for trouble.

In rare cases, honor perforce must beg for trouble. In these situations, and if the individual seeks eventual exoneration, then his or her judgment must reflect an honest appraisal of the circumstances. The act of defiance must honor the call of duty rather than one's own predilections. Even here, full observance of protocol is likely to ameliorate the severity of the predictable reaction. When observance of protocol approaches the model of a General Greely, it may even stay the consequences (though one should not -anticipate immediate advancement to flag rank). This presumes that the concept of duty as understood by past generations still permeates the profession of arms.

Greely exemplified this priority, a trait which today may have yielded too far to career management and occasional force-feeding from the bottomless bowl of sociological pabulum. Though the author of The Armed Forces Officer gave it a negative interpretation, Greely stood to the duty required of each task and in perpetuity. Beyond this, and never in contradiction thereto, he bent every effort to honor his country, his seniors, and his subordinates, always going far beyond what is expected of a commander. It is not unreasonable to hope that some future edition of that admittedly august book will portray him and his distinguished record in a more favorable light.

We are relearning that too much emphasis on compassion at the expense of the well-founded discipline required by service obligations exacts a fearful price. We need to realign our most basic priorities. Until this is done, the conflicts between honor and duty, while perhaps less frequent and less intense than presumed, may nevertheless pose too great a challenge in the formative years of military service.

Saint Louis, Missouri


1. King Henry IV, Part I, act V, scene 4, line 120.

2. Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1973 (Washington: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1973) states: "Special Act of Congress. Mitchell, William C. AN ACT Authorizing the President of the United States to award posthumously in the name of Congress a Medal of Honor to William Mitchell" p. 728. The act does prescribe a special gold medal, but it is the only such "special gold medal" awarded by Congress to be classified as a Medal of Honor. The "standard" Medal of Honor is known officially as a "Medal of Honor Awarded in the Name of the Congress of the United States," All other awards cited in this reference are for the standard pendant in effect at the time of the award, Further, the fact that Congress passed a special act to authorize the award does not disqualify it as a Medal of Honor. The Congress normally delegates authority to make the award to the President and the Service Chiefs but reserves for itself the right also to make the award and has exercised this prerogative in both peace and wartime.

One may only conjecture why the standard pendant was not used in this one special case. Perhaps it was to avoid the statutory restriction barring the award if the intended recipient afterward dishonors himself with misconduct. Mitchell's court-martial qualifies as evidence of this, but here the act of valor and the reasons for the court-martial occurred simultaneously. Possibly the award was intended to recognize outstanding leadership and was so differentiated to keep it apart from recognition for acts of valor. But shortly before the award was made, the War Department disapproved a proposal for special Medals of Honor to be requested of Congress for Generals Pershing and Eisenhower (p. 1139).

In short, the Mitchell award remains unique-officially a Medal of Honor and officially a special gold medal. But the Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon portrays Mitchell's award as if it were for valor and as if it included the standard pendant. Perhaps the Congress will reenact the bill to formally recognize it as an act of valor and thus eliminate the anomaly.

3. Ibid., p. 478. Until 1942, the Department of the Navy was authorized to award the Medal of Honor for heroic acts in peacetime. In the 1920-40 period, 12 such awards were made, some by the Navy, others by special act of Congress. Most of these awards involved rescue operations. Four of them arose from a singular incident. Additionally, the Navy awarded Medals to Admiral (then Lt. Comdr.) Richard E. Byrd and his pilot, Machinist Floyd Bennett, USN, for their nonstop round trip to the North Pole in 1926. The awards were made prior to the Lindbergh flight and undoubtedly set the precedent.

4. Aviation, September 14, 1925. The article is reprinted in The Annals of America, 14 (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1968), pp. 482-92.

5. MacArthur's vote in that court-martial is disputed, but the evidence tends to support that it was "not guilty." A reporter at the trial rummaged through a trash can and found a slip of paper with the words "not guilty" written in MacArthur's hand. General Ira C. Eaker (in a letter to this writer and again in a personal interview) stated that after the court-martial, Billy Mitchell indicated his belief that MacArthur had voted "not guilty." And twenty years later, on Leyte Island, MacArthur, without being asked, remarked to General Eaker that he had voted "not guilty." General Eaker also stated that "Hap" Arnold and Carl Spaatz were witnesses to the statement by Mitchell, and that General George Kenney (MacArthur's air chief) was present when MacArthur made the admission. However, in his Reminiscences (p. 85), MacArthur only indirectly indicated that he may have voted "not guilty."

6. Medal of Honor Recipients, p. 616. The citation states, in part: "For conspicuous leadership in preparing the Philippine islands to resist conquest" General Wainwright, who succeeded MacArthur in command, received a similar award after the war. Some writers, William Manchester among them, concluded that MacArthur's award here was "political" in nature for the purpose of counteracting criticism that the United States was abandoning the Philippines and that MacArthur was "quitting." This may be true. For example, MacArthur visited Bataan exactly once during the entire siege. But it is also true that he was nominated twice before for the Medal of Honor based on battlefield heroism and both times denied the award for more-or-less "political" reasons (once in Mexico, the other during World War I). He was also awarded three Distinguished Service Crosses, six Distinguished Service Medals (four for battlefield leadership), and seven Silver Stars.

7. Ibid., pp. 477-78, The New York Times suggested that the award was really in recognition for his conduct during the Arctic expedition more than fifty years earlier; but it is equally true that the citation, as Stated, befits the record established by General Greely. See the editions for March 19 and March 22, and October 21 and 22, 1935. Not surprisingly, Greely's abiding philosophy reduced itself to one maxim: "Heights charm us, the paths which lead to them do not."

8. Official Army Register, December 1, 1918 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1919), pp. 5, 6, and 966. At least three other individuals were later promoted directly to Regular Army Brigadier General from Regular Army Captain. Leonard Wood was so promoted on 4 February 1901, and Franklin J. Bell fifteen days later. Both held the Medal of Honor at the time, both were serving in the Army of the United States [temporary] field grade rank, if not higher, at the time, and both were considered wartime promotions, i.e., the Spanish-American War and its attendant insurrections. Both became Chief of Staff of the Army, as did John J. Pershing, who received the direct promotion on 20 September 1906. Pershing had twice served in the grade of Army of the United States Major and had five years in grade as a Regular Army Captain. MacArthur was promoted from Regular Army Major to Brigadier General upon his appointment as Superintendent of the Military Academy, but he was serving as Army of the United States Brigadier General at the time.

9. A L. Todd, Abandoned (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1961), p. 315. Mitchell's father had been U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. MacArthur was serving as Chief of Staff of the Army at the time of the award.

10. The Armed Forces Officer, Department of Defense (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1950), pp. 100-01. In the 1975 revision (p. 63), the misspelling of Greely's name has been corrected. The account errs in another detail. Only one, not two, of the survivors died on the return voyage home. The other six survived for periods of ten to sixty-two years.

11. Adolphus W. Greely, Three Years of Antic Service, vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1886), pp. 336-37.

12. The Armed Forces Officer, p. 100.

13. Todd, p. 290. Commander (later Admiral) Schley, while serving in the rank of commodore, became the center of the most violent controversy in U.S. Navy history involving his own conduct during the Battle of Santiago in the Spanish-American War.

14. Steve Bellow, "NC-4: They Called Her a 'Lame Duck,' " All Hands, April 19, 1979, pp. 10-13. "NC" was the aircraft designation; "4" the specific aircraft. The flight from Newfoundland to the Azores occurred on 16 May 1919 and then proceeded to Portugal eight days later. A special "NC-4" medal was created for the veterans of this flight.

15. Some writers might claim that the times varied so that a comparison between Mitchell and Greely cannot be fairly made. This is not so. In 1885, Greely's immediate superior, General Hazen, lashed out against the Secretary of War in a published interview, charging that the Secretary was grossly negligent in earlier efforts to rescue Greely's party. Hazen was court-martialed and found guilty, based on the same charges that would be leveled at Mitchell exactly fifty years later. Sentenced only to a reprimand, however, he continued in office until his death two years later. By some accounts, Hazen's actions were an attempt to cover up his own malfeasance. See the New York Times, April 18, 1885, p. 4.

16. Todd, pp. 40, 115, 314. Connell did not remain in the service after the rescue, but he tried to reenlist at least once.

17. Greely, Three Years of Artic Service. Lincoln's reply is quoted in full.

18. Major W. Hay Parks, "Crimes in Hostilities," Marine Corps Gazette, August 1976, pp. 16-72, and September 1976, pp. 16-22.

19. Letter to the Editors, Newsweek, April 16, 1979, p. 10.

20. Letter from General Eaker to the author, cited in note # 5.

21. William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978), p. 716.

22. Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964), p. 393.

23. B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Frederick A Praeger, Publishers, 1967), p. 19.


Lieutenant Colonel George M. Hall, USA (USMA; M.A., Ed.D., American University), is Chief, General Officer Management Office, U.S. Army Reserve Components Personnel Administration Center, Saint Louis, Missouri. He has served with the 82d Airborne Division, Special Forces, the 1st Missile Command, the Army Engineer Center and School, and Hq Fifth Army. Colonel Hall has written for the Military Review and is a graduate of Air War College.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.