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Business Should Adopt Military's Honor Code

April 26, 1987

Douglas K. Ramsey's column ("Military Classics Useful in Waging Corporate Combat," April 5) on the use of military strategy in business illustrates the inclination of some business writers to rely on military writers for explanations of business strategies.

The column also provided advice to executives on appropriate methods for solving business problems.

I have never seen, however, the invocation of a key component of military life: the honor code. Business writers overlook this moral mainstay of military training. It is well to remember it during these troubled times on Wall Street.

Simply put, the honor code is a vow taken that binds the taker to the following rule: I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate anyone who does.

Easy to get your mind around that code, isn't it? No need for a Securities and Exchange Commission to explain it to you.

Now, there will be those who offer a law school analysis of the elements of the rule, and who will make arguments for the difficulties of applying it in the borderline cases.

But the current crop of insiders were not in the penumbra--no, these were in the deepest, darkest areas of the honor code. There is no need for an Oxford don or a Philadelphia lawyer to explain away bags of money in dark alleyways; it can't be done, no matter how many insiders can dance on the head of a pin.

In the post-Vietnam era, military tradition has been mocked by the media elite, that herd of free thinkers who take orders from no man.

There are rules by which one may live an honest life, and this is a simple one that has lasted over the ages in one form or another, no matter how many complexities are heaped upon it from the ivory tower. I learned this rule when I attended my first military school at age 7; perhaps I was brainwashed. But then a little brainwashing like that hasn't hurt me any.

So, when we think of business applications for military rules, let's not forget the honor code. It's not enough just to win, you have to play by the rules. And you shouldn't tolerate anyone who doesn't.



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