Honor, Courage and Commitment. You’ve no doubt heard countless definitions of these three values that we, as the Navy and Marine Corps, hold to be the primary driving force of what we do. Have you ever stopped to asked, however, why these values are correct, right and good? You see, there is more to it than simple definition, because almost any value, if misapplied, can become wrong… despite its definition.
Take the current War on Terrorism… our enemies are clearly committed, much of what they do requires a great deal of courage, and one could even argue that they possess a certain form of honor. So the question then becomes… why are our applications of Honor, Courage and Commitment right and “theirs” wrong? It is not simply a matter of defining these three terms, but the underlying assumption of why they matter, and it can be summed up in one word: life.
I hold the value of life and equality of people to be supreme. The Life Value states that life is the only prerequisite to all other values. Consider that you cannot have any other value if you are not living. It is, however, a dual value of self and others; the only thing that all humans value (outside of culture, religion and politics) is that we value our own life and the lives of our loved ones (or those we feel responsible for).
So again, consider why our versions of Honor, Courage and Commitment are right and the enemies wrong? The answer is simple… they hold to the equality, sanctity and respect for human life. All life. Even our enemies. You see, the reason we give an 18 year old the right to make a split-second kill or protect decision with regard to another’s life is because we trust that that young Warrior will risk his or her own life to protect another’s… even if they are an enemy (our ROE demands it, as well).
Why do we do this? Because “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Not simply all Americans. Not simply all people like us. All men. All people. All equal.
It is because of this belief that our Honor is clean. We “support and defend” in order to protect and defend life (even though it is sometimes necessary to take a life in doing this). Our courage overcomes what we might naturally want to do with what we actually will do… often risking our lives to protect others. Our commitment is demonstrated in our actions and in our follow through; the “rightness” of each value that we hold goes back to that basic respect for human life… that all people are created equal and endowed with the same inalienable Rights.
We, in the military, often say that we “take care of our own” but our actions often fail to meet our intent. Any value, misapplied, can turn against us, and though we will be professional and faithful in the execution of our duties, we must ensure that something as basic as a good “work ethic” does not turn us into a workaholic (impacting our home life). In the same light, high standards must be appropriately applied to prevent and attitude of impractical perfectionism and micromanagement.