The Cadet Honor Code serves as the foundation of character development at West Point. Every Cadet is trusted not to lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those dishonest behaviors by other cadets. This creates a baseline of honest behavior and a culture that supports character growth.
The Cadet Honor Code states, “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Abiding by the Honor Code develops Cadets’ character by focusing their attention on the ethical aspects of every situation. This attuned focus equips Cadets to recognize and then to “choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong” whenever faced with a difficult decision.
Most people are honest most of the time. The Honor Code helps Cadets develop into people who are honest all of the time. Over their years at West Point, Cadets’ daily adherence to the Honor Code—on decisions big and small—forges strong habits of trustworthy character.
Cadets use the “Three Rules to Live By” to ensure that an action they are considering would not be dishonorable. The Three Rules ask:
Does this action attempt to deceive anyone or allow anyone to be deceived?
Does this action gain or allow the gain of privilege or advantage to which I or someone else would not otherwise be entitled?
Would I be dissatisfied by the outcome if I were on the receiving end of this action?
If a Cadet can answer “Yes” to any of these questions, the act would likely be dishonorable, undermining trust in that Cadet and tarnishing the honor of the Corps. An act that fails the “Three Rules” test is not necessarily a violation of the Cadet Honor Code. There is sometimes a gap between avoiding what is wrong and doing what is right.
The spirit of the Honor Code fills that gap. Cadets strive to internalize the Honor Code’s intent, which is to become unquestionably trustworthy. Cadets are said to live by the spirit of the Honor Code when they are truthful, fair, respectful, and responsible in all their actions.
The Cadet Honor Code has been a part of West Point for centuries. It emerged in the 1800’s from grass-roots efforts by Cadets to establish and enforce a code of honesty in their ranks. It was formalized in the 1920’s with the creation of the Cadet Honor Committee.
West Point’s Honor Code is run by the Cadets themselves. Each year, approximately 80 Cadets are elected or selected to serve as members of the Cadet Honor Committee. These Cadets teach their fellow Cadets about the Honor Code and System, conduct investigations of alleged violations, and supervise the “jury hearings,” called boards, at which Cadets from the Corps at large determine whether their code was violated.
Cadets who are found to have violated their Honor Code may be separated from the Academy, may have their graduation postponed for up to a year, or may be permitted to graduate on time with their classmates, depending on the circumstances of their action. The Cadets who are retained are enrolled in a special leader development program that helps them identify and correct their character shortcoming.
Despite its demands, living under the Cadet Honor Code is very rewarding for Cadets. Others take Cadets at their word, and they enjoy a trustworthy barracks environment, an honorable reputation, and the internal satisfaction of living with integrity.
Building trustworthy character is essential to West Point’s mission because trusted leaders are much more effective, especially in the demanding, morally ambiguous environments of war.
Learn the words of the Cadet Honor Code, the Three Rules to Live By, and other character-related Cadet knowledge if you are interested in improving your own character and preparing yourself to succeed as a West Point Cadet.
HERE’S ARE LINKS TO SOME CADET KNOWLEDGE: