MacArthur – Duty, Honor, Country

26 04 2011

Where bombs and bullets pierce the air, General Douglas MacArthur’s spirit is alive and well.  According to Francis Miller, his name was so renowned that he was a common American household name.  Everyone knew of his tales from Asia (Miller 1).  Douglas MacArthur was born the youngest on January 26, 1880 as an army brat.  His father, Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., was a soldier at the time of Douglas’ birth.  When he attended his first military academy, he was valedictorian.  When he graduated from West Point, he was ranked at the top of his class.  Not only was MacArthur the youngest major general at that point in history, he was also the youngest Chief of Staff at 50 years of age.  His most famous speech was in 1962 with his acceptance of the Sylvanus Thayer Award, awarded to “… a citizen of the United States, other than a West Point graduate, whose outstanding character, accomplishments, and stature in the civilian community draw wholesome comparison to the qualities for which West Point strives, in keeping with its motto: ‘Duty, Honor, Country'” (The Sylvanus Thayer Award).  Clearly, the award is not given to just any person.

Imagine a massive room, smelling of old wood, and crowded with men in sharp suits and the glistening of hundreds of medals, badges and awards pinned to their chests.  You’ve just experienced West Point Academy, and Douglas MacArthur’s audience.  MacArthur’s audience was perfect for his speech.  They were soldiers and former soldiers who had tasted the terrors of battle as he did; they were recruits who had experienced the blood, sweat and tears that would make them soldiers as he had experienced; they were the families of soldiers who had fought and died for the betterment of their family’s safety and quality of life as he once fought.  MacArthur had to have known all of these things in his speech.  Not only did he know who his audience was, but the audience knew who he was.  No doubt, the soldiers had heard his name hundreds of times before.  Imagine the soldiers’ reactions when he summarized his conversation with a doorman:

As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, “Where are you bound for, General?” And when I replied, “West Point,” he remarked, “Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?”

Even without the audio from the speech, one can gather that the room probably erupted in laughter (in fact, it did).  He had a credibility that had already been built before he had stepped foot in the room.  Though many of these men had probably never seen nor heard MacArthur before, they appreciated and welcomed his presence.

While analyzing MacArthur’s speech, one can see many patterns emerge.  A key note is his use of repetition.  Throughout his entire speech, he uses many of the same words over and over again.  Now, mind you, that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective.  MacArthur uses a lot of the repetition to illustrate the same idea, but worded somewhat differently each time.  For instance, MacArthur said, “The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase.”  Most of the repetition that MacArthur uses is the repetition of the first word, such as “to,” “they,” “every,” and “are they,” to name a few instances.  But from all of MacArthur’s speech, his finest and most emotive moments are his regularized iterations of the West Point Academy Motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.”

This small, fragmented sentence that he repeated several times deserves an entire analysis of its own.  The fact that he used the motto over and over again demonstrates that MacArthur has a target audience in mind–those who know West Point first hand.  To the lay person, this sentence would mean only its literal interpretation.  But to anyone who has ever trained at West Point, including MacArthur, the words mean more than just the letters that form them, or the dictionary that defines them:

But this award is not intended primarily for a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code – the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the meaning of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always.

The words mean brotherhood, safety, discipline and integrity.  To some, the motto may conjure images of who they are fighting for.  To others, the motto may invoke images of battle, blood and bullets.  MacArthur knew the background of his audience.  He could identify with them, which is why he chose to repeat the West Point Motto.  By MacArthur repeating the West Point Motto, he incites a sense of pride–not only in the soldiers, but undoubtedly in himself as well, perhaps further empowering his speech that much more.

What emotions is MacArthur trying to induce in his audience, whom we’ve established as present and soon-to-be soldiers?  As the speech is analyzed, it’s found that MacArthur is endeavoring a speech of encouragement.  “This does not mean that you are war mongers.  On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”  In this passage, and at least one other, he is creating an identity with his audience.  He is saying, “I know what people say about you, but I know that you are not this way.”  His identification with the audience is a recurring theme, and he uses identification in conjunction with emotional appeal to make this speech one of the best speeches at West Point.

His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.

The soldiers probably were feeling rather betrayed by their countrymen.  War protests were becoming part of mainstream America (as they are today), and soldiers were not considered as dignified as they once were.  The timing for MacArthur’s soldier eulogy, another theme of his speech, couldn’t have been better.  America was in the middle of the Vietnam War.  Vietnam was considered the first public war, and every household had access to the insides of warfare and what it was really like.  Needless to say, the American citizens were not impressed.  The soldiers and soon-to-be soldiers needed some encouragement, and MacArthur delivered.

Lastly, MacArthur used various sensory imagery to relate to the audience.  He said, “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.”  One can extract auditory and tactile imagery just from this one section.  Clearly, “the crash of guns,” “the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield,” and “echoes and re-echoes” are all examples of auditory imagery.  Consider the example of tactile imagery: “the rattle of musketry.”  One could argue that it’s possible to use this example as an audio sensation, but rattling is also something that is felt.  The rattle of the muskets could be felt by his hands.

In the end, the biggest point that I want to make is that MacArthur was brilliant in his identification with his audience.  The setting was perfect, his use of his personal experiences on the battlefield helped his audience relate to him, and his use of the hardships the soldiers faced as they re-acclimated back into society was just what his audience needed to hear.  I really feel that, by far, this was the best speech I’ve studied so far.  Granted, there were a few elements missing that could have made it that much better, but the identification is the largest key to the audience’s attention.


Miller, Francis. General Douglas MacArthur: Fighter for Freedom. Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1942.

The Sylvanus Thayer Award. 2010. 19 October 2010 <;.




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