no spam, unsubscribe anytime.
War is hell. We all know that phrase, and those who have been to hell and back, know the truth of it. It is also true that we human beings have not, as yet, grown up enough morally to do what is necessary to avoid and prevent wars. Wars often come to us unbidden. The reality is that we must sometimes send our young men, and now our young women, off to war to defend the precious gift of freedom that we and all human beings naturally desire.
The nature of war is hellish precisely because it is rooted in things like fear, hatred, and revenge. Even when one is on the noble side of a war, the side that is defending itself against the active and persistent threat of violence and potential tyranny, can be caught up in the horrors of war and can be tempted to do things that are not morally acceptable by any calculation. The true warrior, then, must be one who knows the limits of behavior that morality places on each of us. He or she must be humble enough and courageous enough to refuse to deny those moral limitations even in the heat of battle. No human being can do this on his or her own. A truly humble warrior knows that he or she is dependent on a higher power for that strength.
This is why "The Cadet Prayer" at West Point is so important. It focuses the minds of our future military officers on what is most important, on the moral demands of life as a military officer. It recognizes the necessity of appealing to One who can provide the graces needed to be a good soldier, a good officer, a good person.
This prayer is well known by the Cadets at West Point. Its message and its petitions are profoundly universal. Moral behavior is the force that binds us together in our relationships, both personal and communal. It applies to the relations between individuals as well as those between nation states. There will be some today who will protest the use of a prayer of any kind at a federally funded institution. But the question is not whether our US Military Academy ought to be promoting prayer. This prayer is broad enough that even an atheist could embrace its intent. The real question is: Do we want our military officers to be guided by a moral code that embraces the universal ideas of truth, justice and honor, or not?
Now, the fact is that these young men and women who are trained at West Point are no more or less human than the rest of us, but they, at least, are hearing and being challenged by these ideals every day while they are at the Academy. This code of behavior is the environment that they live, eat and go to their classrooms in. They are supposed to be building the habits of moral character which are absolutely necessary in leadership roles. Some will fail in these things, just like so many of us do, but they, at least, will have been consciously shaped by such things more than most. It is an integral part of their training at West Point. You will see nothing like this at Harvard, or Yale, or most other institutions of higher education. Maybe we ought to, given the kinds of behaviors we are seeing in government and on Wall Street these days.
Below is the Cadet Prayer:
"O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.
Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer. Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country. all of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all."
You will note that nowhere in this prayer is there an appeal for victory over our enemies. There is nothing in it that is arrogant, or belligerent. These are not the bellicose words of a would-be conqueror. Rather, these are the words of a humble servant. It is a prayer that recognizes the demands of a moral life and the humble recognition of the need for aid from One greater than ourselves. This prayer is beautiful, but the ideals it expresses must be chosen, must be made into habits of behavior. Then, and only then, can one claim to be of moral character. Yes, some cadets will fail in these ideals, but that does not lessen the importance of the ideals. Rather, it makes the one who fails them even more culpable for the consequences of their failure, because he or she was not ignorant of the ideals, and because he or she defied those ideals knowingly. That is the very definition of a tragedy.
The better question to be asked here is: What would the world be like if all men and women developed the courage to 'live above the common level of life,' and more and more often chose 'the harder right instead of the easier wrong,' and were never 'content with half truths when the whole can be won?'
I, for one, am glad to see that the cadets at West Point are being educated in the ideals expressed in this simple prayer.