A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
In 2013, I wrote an article concerning honor. I did so, because I have come to believe that Americans have forgotten what honor is and why it is immeasurably valuable for individuals, organizations, and for countries.
I am unashamedly “Southern.” We Southerners used to be famed for our honor. Indeed, we had a Southern” Code of Honor”. It was real, not a myth, as many modern writers would have you believe. I grew up into manhood steeped in that code of honor and to this day, make every effort to live my life, including my dealings with others and even my conversation, within the bounds of that honor code.
Often thought antiquated, quaint, and even silly, the execution of my interpretation of the code of honor has served me well.
Having said all the above, allow me to say that I am deeply concerned for our country as I am convinced that our national leaders — from the Oval Office to the halls of Congress to the US Supreme Court — have lost sight of the lofty pinnacles of honor. Frankly, I question whether they even know what honor really is anymore.
The phrase: “I take full responsibility for (fill in the blank)” is, itself these day, a demonstration of their less than stellar understanding of what personal honor requires. It requires actually TAKING RESPONSIBILITY and then making every effort to repair the wrong or harm that has been done, and then, after making amends, removing oneself from the position of power from which one executed one’s less than honorable action, or inaction. Nowadays, anything past uttering the words:
“I take full responsibility…” never happens.
So, I offer again a piece entitled: “What Is This “Honor” Stuff, Anyway?” I offer it in the hope that somehow it will spark a return to an honorable America and leaders who understand and practice honor in their dealings with their constituents — and with other nations around the world.
Here then is: “What Is This “Honor” Stuff, Anyway?”
What Is This “Honor” Stuff, Anyway?
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
“Honor is simply the morality of superior men.” … H. L. Mencken.
“National honor is the national property of the highest value.” … James Monroe
Honor was a big thing in my family. Many were the times my father lectured me on family honor, on “reputation,” and maintaining a “good name.” He often explained to me that when all the extraneous stuff is finally boiled away, all a man really owns is his “good name.”
I am sorely afraid we Americans, as a people, have forgotten the importance of honor. In fact, I sometimes feel we have lost our connection to honor, somehow, and we don’t even understand the concept of principled uprightness of character and personal integrity.
We southerners seem to no longer have a connection to our oft-touted “Code of Honor.” When we refer to the Field of Honor these days folks automatically think of an athletic field rather than a remote area reserved for a contest of honor, a duel, to defend one’s honor, or the honor of a maiden fair, or something equally as important.
The Southern Code of Honor was a code of integrity, dignity, and pride, chiefly among men — but — it most assuredly applied to our women folk, as well.
The North had its code of honor, as well, as noted here in The Art of Manliness: “the Northern code of honor was very much like that of Victorian England: a standard predicated on civility, piety, morality, Stoicism, and hard work.” Source:
True to the multiple differences that divided the northern and southern cultures, however, there was a HUGE difference. The northern code allowed for a man to walk away from a fight with his honor undented, while just the opposite was true for the southerner. As we shall see, once challenged, for a southerner to walk away from a fight, a duel, was for more damaging to him, his reputation, and that of his family, than showing up for the duel and getting himself killed. Having a family member killed in a duel was a badge of honor for some southern families.
During the early days of the War for Southern Independence, a moderately sized town just twenty miles, or so, from my hometown was forced to establish what was then known as “Honor Courts,” in which disputes between two men — about to duel to the death — were tried. Both parties swore to abide by the Court’s ruling. The town’s crop of young men was dangerously close to being wiped-out by the combination of the war and duels.
To understand the importance of honor amongst the southern gentry, one must understand southern society.
Southern aristocracy was about one notch below European nobility. Some would argue it was the equal of European aristocracy.
There was very little cash money circulating within the southern plantation system. Monetary worth was based on ownership of land, on crops, cattle, and yes, slaves. Financing such huge operations often relied upon the barter system.
Contracts were often sealed with a promise (a man’s word) and a handshake. THAT was considered sacred. That promise, a man’s word, and that all important handshake, crossed all societal lines in the south. It was a measure of a man’s honor, his good name, how well he kept his word. Southern culture was, indeed, a culture of honor.
A southern gentleman exuded courtesy. Status, courage, family, and the all important relationship between shame and pride were all integral parts of the formula for the character of a true southern gentleman.
There was something else, something we have way too little of today. It was something called “R E S P E C T.” Respect is a form, a way, if you will, of demonstrating one’s honor for someone, some thing, or some entity, idea, or what not. Among men, respect is earned and not easily — or carelessly — given. It has often been said that to gain respect one must give respect.
Lest you think the southern code of honor is a myth, consider this statement from Wikipedia: “Laboratory research has demonstrated that men in honor cultures perceive interpersonal threats more readily than do men in other cultures, including increases in cortisol and testosterone levels following insults.”
A true Southern Gentleman would never insult a woman. He is always careful to be chivalrous towards women, in words and deeds. Insulting a lady in the presence of a Southern Gentleman has been known to bring violent retribution down on the heads of the offending low-life. Those who understand the southern culture of honor understand that the kind, courteous, respectful gentleman can, in the twinkling of an eye, bring down retributive violence, with great alacrity, and without notice. He is always prepared to resort to violence if, and when, the situation requires it.
Now, Gentle Reader, all the above is from the perspective of a born and bred, very proud, southern male … namely — me.
C. S. Lewis once said: “We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” (The Abolition of Man)
I broach the subject to remind us all that there is such a thing as national honor, too.
I have often thought that courage and honor are forever linked to one another. That would apply to national courage and honor as well as to that of individuals. Aristotle said: “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind NEXT TO HONOR.”
The state motto of the state of North Carolina is: “To be, rather than to seem.” I have often wondered if that motto was based upon one of Socrates’ pearls of wisdom — namely — this one: “The greatest way to live with HONOR in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”
It pains me to acknowledge that America’s national honor has been badly besmirched in the last few days by the actions — and inactions — of the one man responsible for protecting that honor.
It is our contention, President Obama should offer his resignation and step down from office. In doing so he would preserve SOME of the respect his fellow Americans had for him prior to the Syrian/Russia debacle.
“Obama is a symbol of much of today’s generation, which accepts no responsibility for anything. Therefore, when something goes wrong among his cockamamie plans, it must be someone else’s fault. Usually, of course, it would be George Bush’s fault, but even Obama couldn’t bring himself to tell that one again, not in this case. No, this time it’s the whole world’s fault. And Congress. And America. It’s American credibility that will suffer, he told the world, not his. Unbelievable.”
Mr. Patton is spot-on! Mr. Obama demonstrates ZERO knowledge of honor, personal and/or national honor.
Friedrich Schiller reminded us all that: “That nation is worthless which does not joyfully stake everything on her honor.”
America’s debasement in the eyes of the world is a stinging insult, a back-handed rebuke to every citizen of America.
Honor demands Mr. Obama step down.
© J. D. Longstreet