by Andrew Lidden Pate, Jr.
A general fired by his president once gave an unforgettable farewell address which he delivered in the classic fashion of a great orator.
We refer, of course, to General Douglas MacArthur and his farewell address to West Point, broadcast nationwide on May 12, 1962. His superb speech gripped and inspired America with his closing reference to the three-word West Point motto,
It almost seems trite to say that Americans no longer understand the significance of those three words. Though he spoke directly to Academy cadets 56 years ago, MacArthur's words touched the hearts of every citizen who heard them. Could they today? That is questionable.
They were humble words spoken with great authority, grace and dignity— our historically accepted signs of strong leadership—such words have, in large measure, lost their meaning for too many of us, especially for those among us who today hear them as signs of elitism and hypocrisy among our professionals and the well educated
When we apply the old and respected rules of expected rhetoric to our usage of words today, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we have bastardized words to the ultimate. In the place of lofty inspirational words, are “put downs,” “lies,” “vulgarities,” and braggadocio. Gutter language has become the order of the day.
Whether we can return to the days when certain words represent true patriotism remains an open question. Realistically, we probably never will. For once history moves us in a certain direction, seldom do we turn back.
So, if lofty words no long matter, which, if any, do?
We badly need answers to this fundamental question. For like it or not, communication is perhaps the key to our holding our lives together as one nation.
Imagine if you will, you are hearing General MacArthur utter the closing words of his 1962 address to the West Point cadets:
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 I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.
Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.
I bid you farewell.