Ethical Standards

By | January 3, 2021

[January 3, 2021]  In 1978, I was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army.  Part reward, part professional development, several sergeants from my unit toured the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY.  We were impressed.  Standards of ethical behavior were clear in their Cadet Honor Code.

A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”1

How could I ever achieve such a high standard?  It would be a challenging path to follow.  Their honor code serves as the foundation of character development and a baseline of honest behavior.  And, in doing so, the code encourages a culture that supports character growth.

It was as if a light had switched on in my head.

Speaking with many cadets, they were proud of their reputation and the fact that others take cadets at their word because of their adherence to the most strict ethical code one could ever imagine.  Cadets, I was informed, strive to internalize their honor code’s to become unquestionably trustworthy.

Much of the USMA tour still stands out in my mind.  Late on the first day, we visited cadets in their barracks.  Upon entering, we passed a soda machine.  A cadet was getting a Root Beer and was placing several coins on top of the machine.  I asked him why he would not keep the change.  He told me that the money did not belong to him and that taking it would be stealing.

Such honor codes only exist and remain relevant when leaders fully support and defend them.  This would mean that those who violate such codes must be strictly punished.  The punishment is best implemented impartially but quickly and publically.

Recently, the Academy’s Superintendent Lieutenant General Darryl A. Williams released a letter to The Long Gray Line2, which speaks to a major cheating scandal at the Academy.  A copy of the letter’s content can be found here (see link).  Read the letter for yourself.  I’m personally embarrassed for Gen. Williams and his weasel words justifying leniency.  Student cadets in the past would have been dismissed from the Academy for this behavior.  That should be the case now.

Lt. Gen. Williams offered a laughable explanation in a memo to the faculty at West Point.  He wrote that the Academy’s honor code “has resulted in an inequitable application of consequences and developmental opportunities for select groups of cadets.”  Clearly, Williams is concerned that the honor code has a “disparate impact” on some groups of cadets.  That’s why he is deviating from past practice.  His explanation is twisted logic and, of course, a non-starter.

When I attended the U.S. Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, GA, in 1983, two Lieutenants were caught cheating on a Chemical Weapons exam.  By that afternoon, all had been forced to resign their Army Officer commissions and were sent home.  The message was brutally clear, no cheating allowed.  If an officer – or any leader – cannot be trusted, then they cannot be counted on as a leader.


  1. The Cadet Honor Code (
  2. In its simplest definition, the Long Gray Line is the continuum of all graduates and cadets of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

48 thoughts on “Ethical Standards

  1. Jerome Smith

    Simple, if you cannot be trusted, you will never be a great leader, period.

  2. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

    The debate within the U.S. Army over the West Point cheating scandal has produced a much-needed dialogue. Here is a superb article that I recommend, “If West Point Tolerates Cheating, It Violates Its Own Honor Code.”
    However, for complete clarity, my position is that the punishment should be severe to those cadets who cheated (that does not necessarily mean expulsion for all). What I have lost all confidence in, is the leadership ability of West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Williams.

  3. Plumber Joe

    Sad, just so sad. I’m sure Gen. Williams will now be rewarded with a promotion by Joe Biden.

  4. Dale Paul Fox

    The fact that this is being debated is telling. The solution was obvious. The fact that Lt Gen Williams found out about the cheating in May but didn’t let it go public until November (I found out in December), is also telling. The football players had to get their games in. Letting standards slide is bad for everyone.

  5. Jonathan B.

    I think we all know what needs to be done if you want to uphold the ethical standards. That decision must come from General Paul E. Funk II (TRADOC Commander) who, I think, is the boss of Lt Gen Williams.

    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      Doesn’t mean that he has some influence. I say relieve Lt Gen Williams of his responsibilities immediately or the US Army will be seen as just another institution slowing sliding downhill into the political correctness morass.

      1. Nancy J

        Ridiculous!!!! Get rid of Williams now. That will restore faith in our military.

  6. Jackie MacMasters

    The best solution for this cheating scandal (which was known since May but not made public until recently) is to immediately relieve LT Gen Williams of his position as Superintendent of the USMA for lack of confidence in his ability to lead.

  7. Fred Weber

    I’m not surprised that our military has become infected by the PC ideology of leftists. It is a creeping disease that will continue to grow until good people stand up and resist its influence. When senior military officers do what Gen. Williams has done, we all must say NO and make it publically known. He should be removed from his position at West Point.

    1. Georgie M.

      Sadly, nothing will be done about him and the cheaters will be allowed to continue. The message is clear, cheat and it is okay.

  8. Army Vet

    “These Cadets chose the easier wrong over the harder right,” superintendent and Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams wrote. “As the Superintendent, I own this cheating incident. Furthermore, I and every leader at West Point own their role in developing leaders of character. The standards established by the Cadet Honor Code have not changed and the Honor System receives my personal investment of time and attention. West Point takes every Honor Code violation seriously.”
    Pretty words, no real consequences. Lt. Gen. Williams showed his true colors. He failed. He failed magnificently.

    1. Bryan Z. Lee

      Owwww, tell us what you think, Army Vet. Sadly, I agree with you. Gen Williams failed not just the cadets and the US Army, but he failed us all. And we can see it plainly.

    2. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      When senior leaders fail (by not taking immediate and harsh action on an ethical issue) bad things happen. This is just the beginning. If Gen. Williams were a real leader he would do one of two things:
      1). Admit he failed and resign.
      2). Expel all the cadets who cheated.

      1. Audrey

        Won’t happen. Gen. Williams is probably a “woke” liberal anyway. Nothing will matter and nothing will happen to him. I lost all confidence in our military. Gen. Williams is no longer a real leader but just a fan of keeping his job.

  9. Greg Heyman

    The academy’s website says the purpose of the honor code — “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do” — is “to foster a commitment to moral-ethical excellence and an insight into the more comprehensive military professional ethic.” This says it all.

  10. Randy Goodman

    Great leaders uphold ethical standards.
    Good leaders don’t shake in their boots when confronted by the need to enforce standards.
    Bad leaders equivocate, sputter around, and give wishy washy decisions.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Yep, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. And, that is the point, the punishment (being expelled) is a clear signal that “cheating” will not be tolerated, period.

    2. Edward Kennedy III

      Tim Bakken, a West Point law professor and the author of “The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris and Failure in the U.S. Military,” called the scandal a “crisis” with the potential to do damage far greater than the infractions of several dozen cadets accused of acting unethically.
      – from the NYT article and I agree!

  11. Sadako Red

    Enforcing ethical standards has never been easy. It must be done openly, fairly, and quickly. Gen. Satterfield made that point and he is right, of course. There is no alternative. There must be absolutely clear standards (and there is in the Cadet Honor Code). There should be no debate.

    1. Benny

      Hi RED, great to read your comment. We’ve not heard from you in a while and I miss your guest articles. You are correct, of course. This scandal at West Point is bad enough, but giving in political correctness is inexcusable.

      1. Wendy Holmes

        Yeah, where is your article, Mr. Red? I look forward to reading it as well. We all love your commentary; hard hitting, non-PC, and spot-on. Not like US ARMY Gen Williams. What a pussy that guy is.

        1. R. S. Disney

          Let’s not overlook Gen. Satterfield’s point or what Sadako Red is writing. There is no alternative that truly matters. Accepting lower ethical standards is truly a slippery slope that will not turn out well for the military in the long run. We will look back on this scandal in 10 years from now and say that Gen. Williams made a bad decision and it was obvious what he should have done.

        2. Albert Ayer

          This whole episode is bad news for any citizen of the US. Senior leader decisions matter. This one was a terrible.

  12. Kenny Foster

    How did the most trusted institution in the USA get to this point. 70 (or 73) cadets cheating on an exam? I can get two or three, but 73????? Can you ever trust these officers (if they get that far)? Nope!

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      I think they call it being relieved of command. I agree, show the world what it takes to stand up and be counted. Make the hard decisions now will make you life easier later. At least you will know that you had the chance to make the right decision and did so. Gen. Williams will live with the fact that he failed to uphold clear moral standards.

  13. Willie Shrumburger

    The debate on what should happen to the cheaters is playing out across online forums, message boards and social media, as well as in person. Ya THINK.

    1. Georgie M.

      Why is there a debate, period. Immediate termination from the USMA. Period. There is no other reasonable choice if you want to uphold the reputation of West Point Mil Academy and demonstrate clearly that trust is at the core of the Cadet Honor Code. Gen. Williams failed his team and his country.

      1. José Luis Rodriguez

        Gen. Williams just set a new ethical standard, LOW!

  14. Wilson Cox

    USMA Public Affairs Colonel Ophardt, attributed the misbehavior entirely to the cadets not taking the test in person. WHAT? Being trusted doesn’t mean being overseen by a monitor when taking an exam. You are trusted everywhere and at all times. We cannot trust these cadets, nor, as is apparent, their leaders as well.

  15. Eric Coda

    This is a sad commentary on the US Army. Gen. Satterfield has it right. Gen. William’s weasel words justifying leniency is embarrassing.

    1. old warrior

      Right, and I understand the Long Gray Line is rolling over to be butt f***ed on this one.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Old Warrior, you know how to be too brutal. But that is exactly what we need. There would be no controversy if 70 cadets charged (some cases were dropped) were removed from the program after a few months. Now the “we need a discussion on ethics” will go on and on.

  16. Harry Donner

    You want to read the dumbest comment on the cheating scandal. Read this one:
    “The honors process is working as expected, and there have been no exceptions to policy for any of these cases,” Colonel Ophardt said in a statement. “Cadets are being held accountable for breaking the code.”
    Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

    1. JT Patterson

      LOL, you nearly had me on that one. Cheating officers, gee, imagine that. Ethical standards are slipping.

      1. Honey Flower Betsy

        That is an understatement. This is bad, very bad. It does beyond the cheating. Way beyond it. Gen. Williams should be relieved of his command and done immediately. Nothing else matters at this point. The USMA officers who graduate or have graduated will no longer be trusted.

  17. Gil Johnson

    The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is confronting its biggest academic scandal in nearly five decades after more than 70 cadets were accused of cheating on a calculus exam last spring, officials said. Yeah! Tolerate cheating and guess what? You will get more cheating. Why did Lt Gen Williams allow them to get away with it and stay at West Point? Simple, most of the cheaters were on the football team.

  18. Max Foster

    Like so many good, productive institutions, West Point is on the decline. The scandals have been building for some time now and cheating on exams is just the tip of the iceberg. If Lt Gen. Williams wants to stop the unethical behavior and violations of the Cadet Honor Code, it would be best if he grew a pair and kicked all of the cheaters out and do so immediately.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Good point Max but like other US military generals, he has become a PC general and cannot himself be trusted.

      1. Joe Omerrod

        Right, lack of trust begins with the leader. Gen. Williams demonstrates why we cannot trust our military. And, he probably wonders why. Duh!!!


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