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Comentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation, Issue #08-11-- More Thought Provoking Commentary!
May 20, 2008
You are invited to read the latest commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation. It will make you think!
By Robert E. Freer, Jr., President of The Free Enterprise Foundation
A Cadet Shall Not Lie, Steal or Cheat...
4. The Honor Code: The Honor Code of, by, and for the Corps of Cadets. The code states that a cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do. The code is the heart of the honor system, and its purpose is to maintain honor and integrity within the Corps. (Citadel Cadet Honor Manual)
At about this time of year, my readers have come to expect a message to accompany the graduating class from The Citadel as they leave our hallowed halls, and their life here becomes but a memory of experiences shared. As I approached my office in Bond Hall on Wednesday of graduation week, that expectation was called to mind. There arrayed on Summerall field was the entire Regiment in formation, practicing for its final parade of the year.
What particularly struck me was they were at that point in the ceremony where all the seniors have fallen out of formation to line up from south to north along its barrack side boundary to receive full honors from the remaining Corps as they passed in review. Somewhere in antiquity, the departing seniors adopted a tradition of stepping from their shoes at parade’s end and leaving them behind. It is a hard observer who doesn’t have a lump in his throat at this point, and my duty to memorialize the event was clear.
It is said for many that their happiest memory of The Citadel is of Lesesne Gate in their rear view mirror. Regardless of any joy at departure, those same graduates are among the happiest to return from their life’s experiences to alumni reunions and become the most nostalgic at what The Citadel has done for them.
At this time of year, Universities across our broad land are sending millions of young Americans into life, their heads stuffed with new ideas, technology, processes, perspectives, and maybe even a little practical experience they can use in their first job as self supporting adults. Only in a few schools, however, has the product been so fundamentally transformed from the raw material received four years before as at The Citadel. How does this happen?
As the Citadel’s former president John Grinalds said in the introduction to my book Citadel Values, “The Citadel’s mission is “achieving excellence in the education of principled leaders.” To accomplish that task, The Citadel requires our students, “…do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” and, as noted by General Grinalds, “that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service…to be transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God” (St Paul: Romans, Chapter 12) Some of the cadets who commit to The Citadel - and commitment is what it requires- may fit General Grinalds’ description when they arrive, but the vast majority are typical high school graduates, most of whom believe the sun rises and falls to their tune. By the end of the first day of Knob Summer, I dare say, by the end of the first hour, they understand this is not anything like any summer camp they have experienced before.
By the time the full Corps returns, the seven hundred plus knobs understand their insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. They are starting to learn that any value they have in this world is to be earned by their adherence to certain rules of behavior that bind them to each other as recruits to The Corps. Unit success equals personal success.
At the center of this new world to which they have been introduced is adherence to the Cadet Code to which they swear: “A cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” Their whole new world is shaped around these principles. This initially shapeless reality begins to form into principles of rigid honesty, loyalty to their fellow sufferers, and respect both for their classmates and all with whom they deal in their 24 hour closely scheduled day.
As you might expect, fear alone is motivator enough at the beginning, but sometime between the beginning of class and winter leave, the majority have started to understand the role of self discipline in riding the emotional waves of adolescence to a more settled understanding that the emotions are as changeable as the sea and not a reliable basis to govern personal behavior.
As one of my students said in his final paper, “Virtuous action comes down to one thing: rational control of the irrational part of the mind.”The behavior that will best serve them is adherence to Corps Values. Each cadet comes to accept he or she is part of something far bigger than them. Alone they are lost, joined to a community of values, they can accomplish miraculous goals together. ME becomes subservient to WE.
Holding this new understanding of the guiding role of honesty, truthfulness, fairness in their world, cadets return home for midwinter leave with an altered view of their relationship to the uninitiated. To their old friends, their ramrod straight, short haired, soft spoken, respectful politeness is a basis for amazement, some jokes, I am sure, but also grudging respect at their maturity and leadership bearing.
Cadets learn to lead by first learning to follow. The engine of their new loyalty is Corps Values. Corps Values become their template for acceptability. Until they become second nature, a cadet is not prepared to lead.
The Corps is supported by Tactical Officers and a non student command structure that will hold them responsible for their departures from discipline and performance, but its laboratory of leadership is its Corps command structure which is student run entirely. Beginning in their second year, cadets who are interested may be chosen to work their way up the responsibility ladder by serving their Company, their Battalion and then the Regiment. Those who are successful are those who take what they have learned about service to their small company of knobs and turn it into a bigger constituency of their peers. As General Patton said, “The badge of rank that an officer wears is really a symbol of servitude to his men.” This is just as true in cadet life as in any prominence that comes their way after they graduate, and the papers they write for me indicate they clearly understand the difference between the true believer and the phony.
Another of my cadets, drawing on Aristotle, put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” In his own words he continues, “Making principled choices (ethical, effective, etc.) a part of our daily routine, to the point where our responses become a habit, is the goal.” That The Citadel has succeeded so well throughout its venerable existence is attested to by our country’s military commanders and business owners lucky enough to have a few good Citadel graduates in their companies and by the communities in which our graduates settle.
In living out their lives adhering to their principles, they also become the bedrock upon which our republic must rely for its continuation. Washington, Adams and Lincoln have all noted in one form or another that, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Until we accept that as a nation, we are destined to continue to flail about rudderless in a tempestuous sea.
May life’s trail be good to you. You have been indelibly stamped by this place and are sent into the world as but single candles to shine brightly for the rest of your contemporaries to follow.
Robert E. Freer, Jr., is president of the Free Enterprise Foundation, (www.FreeEnterpriseFoundation.org). He is a professor at The Citadel and was selected in 2005 to be their first John S. Grinalds Leader in Residence. A regular contributor to the Mercury, Prof. Freer may be reached at Robert.email@example.com. Copies of his earlier columns may be found at www.FreeEnterpriseFoundation.org. A new book from Professor Freer, Citadel Values, containing the wisdom of some of his most beloved columns, is available on Amazon.com, through the Foundation’s website and at The Citadel Gift Shop.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert E. Freer, Jr. All rights reserved
About the author: Robert E. Freer, Jr. is President of The Free Enterprise Foundation. He is a Visiting Professor, at The Citadel and elected in 2005 to be their first John S. Grinalds Leader in Residence. A regular contributor to the Mercury, He can be reached by E-mail at The Citadel . Copies of his earlier columns can be found The Free Enterprise Foundation.
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