Honor is just one of many widely used terms in the English language that has multiple meanings. It is a noun where it represents the concept of a subject deserving great esteem or the strict adherence to a standard of conduct. Additionally, the word honor also functions like a verb when it refers to the act of conferring or adhering to those same concepts.
But what does it mean for an individual to have honor? To have honor requires action and a steadfast commitment to that action. A person can only earn honor when the commitment to acting with honor is faithfully practiced.
Within the United States Navy, the principles of honor, courage, and commitment are the faithful core values that guide every member of the Naval Service. It is a duty and a privilege to carry out the mission of the Navy while abiding by these core values. Midshipmen are first formally held to the principle of honor upon their entrance to the United States Naval Academy (USNA).
The importance of honor is not taken lightly at the Academy. It is included in the Academy’s Mission Statement, “to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty in order to provide graduates who are dedicated to a career of naval service….” The Academy holds itself accountable to a high standard of behaviors and ensures midshipmen are well-prepared for their future service as Naval Officers and the expectation that they lead in accordance with the Navy’s core values.
This charge to live a life of honor is documented in the living document known as the Honor Treatise of the Brigade of Midshipmen. Within this instruction, the Brigade has identified the positive and uplifting convictions that they, as a collective, have agreed to represent who they are and the goals they aim to achieve, both during their years as Midshipmen and as officers in the Fleet.
The USNA Honor Concept states:
Midshipmen are persons of integrity:
We stand for that which is right.
We tell the truth and ensure the truth is known.
We do not lie.
We embrace fairness in all actions. We ensure that work submitted as our own is our own, and that assistance received from any source is authorized and properly documented.
We do not cheat.
We respect the property of others and ensure that others are able to benefit from the use of their own property.
We do not steal.
It is noteworthy that the emphasis of the Honor Concept is on the characteristics central to who midshipmen are. Former Presidential candidate and USNA 1953 Class president, Ross Perot observed that a “defect of quite a few honor systems that seem to be working quite well to the casual observer is that the system is founded on fear. The persons under this type of system keep their standards high out of fear of dismissal.” In response to a system of cheating on exams, Perot and Midshipmen William P. Lawrence developed the Honor Concept. The Brigade pledged to end cheating and begin holding each other to a higher standard of honor.
While the penalties for violating the Honor Concept can be harsh, including expulsion, the focus is not on punishment. Instead, The USNA Honor Concept is a prescription for how midshipmen should conduct themselves. It is a personal moral compass and a code by which they can expect the rest of the Brigade will also live by. Midshipmen pledge to do the right thing, not out of fear, but because it is the right thing to do.