Saturday, October 29, 2011

CODE OF A NAVAL OFFICER - Military Codes of Conduct and Ethics

Code of Conduct and Ethics


While clearing my bookcase I came across a booklet, we were given, about various aspects of Naval Life when I joined the Naval Academy way back in the 1970’s. In this booklet there was a quote by John Paul Jones - CODE OF A NAVAL OFFICER. These words made a lasting impression on me and I tried to imbibe and follow the spirit of the code in my career and personal life.

John Paul Jones, often called the Father of the American Navy, helped establish the traditions of courage and professionalism and is remembered for his indomitable will, his unwillingness to consider surrender when the slightest hope of victory still burned, and for promoting professional standards and training throughout his naval career.


Written by John Paul Jones

It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be, as well, a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.

He should not only be able to express himself clearly and with force in his own language both with tongue and pen, but he should be versed in French and Spanish as well.

("Own language" obviously means English, which is relevant even today as English is the universal language of officers and the reference to French and Spanish probably pertains to languages of the crew of those days and in today’s context may refer to the languages or mother tongues of ship crew).

He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, and charity.

No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward is only a word of approval.

Conversely, he shouldn’t be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though at the same time, he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error from malice, thoughtlessness from incompetence, and well-meant shortcoming from heedless or stupid blunder.

As he should be universal and impartial in his rewards and approval of merit, so he should be judicial and unbending in his punishment or reproof of misconduct.

In one word, every commander should keep constantly before him this great truth, that to be well obeyed, he must be perfectly esteemed.

Compare this with West Point's Cadet Honor Code which reads simply that
A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do

Both the United States Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy have adopted this Cadet Honor Code as a formalized statement of the minimum standard of ethics expected of cadets.

In contrast, the United States Naval Academy Annapolis has a related standard, known as the Honor ConceptUnlike the other service academies' honor codes, the Honor Concept allows a midshipman to confront someone committing an honor violation without formally reporting it. At the other academies, failure to formally report an honor violation is construed as tolerating it, which is itself a violation of the code. Penalties for violating the Honor Concept can be severe, up to and including expulsion from the Academy. 

Honor Concept

Midshipmen are persons of integrity: We stand for that which is right.
We tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known. We do not lie.
We embrace fairness in all actions. We ensure that work submitted as their own is their own, and that assistance received from any source is authorized and properly documented. They do not cheat.
We respect the property of others and ensure that others are able to benefit from the use of their own property. We do not steal.

Every organisation and institution needs a code conduct - it must be stated briefly in simple language, easily understood, realistic and implementable.

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