Until Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, who as a young Navy Lieutenant at Pearl Harbor was one of the few naval aviators who got his fighter plane into the air to answer the Japanese assault, I had NOT been taught that which sets us apart as Marines, the first principles of our Honor Code also known as “Exemplary Conduct.” Admiral Moore told me in 1993 that the Code hadn’t really been taught since the end of World War II.
In the fighting Spirit of Admiral Tom Moorer I want to introduce you to those soul-and spirit-strengthening first principles, the high standards of Exemplary Conduct for all of us and especially those in authority in the Naval Service and Marine Corps.
John Adams, later our second President, authored the Exemplary Conduct code while serving as Chairman of the Marine Committee during the summer of 1775. Adams was a visionary champion for the Navy and Marine Corps at a time when many thought the Colonies should only and could only support the Continental Army.
Our first two principles of virtue and honor were declared in 1775. The first was written as follows:
ART. 1. The Commanders of all ships and vessels belonging to the THIRTEEN UNITED COLONIES, are strictly required to shew in themselves a good example of honor and virtue to their officers and men, and to be very vigilant in inspecting the behaviour of all such as are under them, and to discountenance and suppress all dissolute, immoral and disorderly practices; and also, such as are contrary to the rules of discipline and obedience, and to correct those who are guilty of the same according to the usage of the sea.
The disorder resulting from not teaching Exemplary Conduct showed itself as early as the Korean War. For the first time, Communist psychological warfare or brain-washing was used to breakdown American POWs in North Korea and China, and to many U.S. servicemen did not stand tall to this new soul robbing warfare.
After the Korean War was over, several Pentagon study groups looked to pinpoint the hole in our military training. Just where had our training failed? It was determined that the services had lost touch with Exemplary Conduct, the code of honor. Under the extreme brain washing techniques used against our POWs, many could not differentiate between the U.S. Constitutional Republic, officially “One Nation Under God,” and the totalitarian communist systems they were sent to fight.
So in 1954, President Eisenhower, a former WWII five star general, realized this significant shortcoming in military training for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and, with his considerable experiences in WWII, saw how it naturally led to the poor performance of too many POWs in the hands of a merciless and manipulative enemy.
As remedy, in 1954 President Eisenhower began by adding “Under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance. Then in 1956, President Eisenhower signed a bill passed by Congress to create a Code of Conduct for the United States’ Fighting Forces:
Paragraph VI declares: “I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions and dedicated to the principles which make my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.”
This Code of Conduct required service members keep faith with their country under any and all circumstances of combat, including capture by the enemy. The Exemplary Conduct principles were deemed so important by the Secretary of the Navy and by the US Congress that the same year as the Code of Conduct was adopted in 1956, updated version of the first principle in virtually the same language as John Adams’, was adopted as Title 10 U.S.C. §5947. It reached down all the way to the Corporal, the E-4s, who were going to be held to this high, rigorous, and exemplary standard, which once had been attached only to commanding officers of ships of the line and commanding officers on shore duty. This was the Code of Honor that distinguished Marines from others. Our Code of Conduct helped, but it was not as specific as the 40 articles of the Navy and Marine Corps adopted by the Continental Congress, November 28, 1775. In 1997, the Congress alarmed by the growing sexual misconduct crisis in our forces adopted the very same Navy and Marine Corps standard for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, Title 10 U.S.C. §3583 and §8583, respectively.
Thus we freely accept the limitations our Code proscribes on our personal freedom to serve and defend others, to serve a higher cause, to serve a higher calling. “To keep our honor clean” means that we willingly submit to the standards of Exemplary Conduct, to show in ourselves the highest degree of virtue, the highest degree of honor, the highest degree of subordination, and the highest degree of patriotism, and specifically from Corporal and above, all are charged “to guard against and suppress immoral and dissolute behavior” anywhere, anytime, 24/7. Not just when you’re on duty. E-1s, E-2s, and E-3s begin by developing their own self-government, according to our Code of Honor, to make themselves ready to lead when they become Non Commissioned Officers, Staff Non Commissioned Officers, Warrant Officers, and Commissioned Officers.
With Virtue, Honor, and Patriotism taught and enforced, we do more to truly become a Force in Readiness able to deal with anything that comes our way, any mission, any challenge, if we’re truly self-governing, if we live 24/7 according to that Exemplary Conduct Code, which also means what you do when no one is watching. That guiding Spirit, our Esprit de Corps “so help me God,” enables us to adhere to our Code and uphold the principles of our oath, which truly binds us together as a Band of Brothers.