Our Army was born on June 14, 1775. Two weeks later, on June 30, 1775, the Continental Congress gave the new Army its first Articles of War, 69 rules of law under which the Army would live.
As a chaplain, it brought a smile to my face to read that Article 2 was this: “Go to church.” Article 2 recommends – but does not require – Soldiers and officers to attend what it calls “Divine Service.” The same article does require everyone, however, to behave decently and reverently wherever worship services are taking place. It imposes fines on those who misbehave, with the fines being used for the benefit of the sick and wounded.
Article 3 seems just as quaint: “no cussing.” Anyone guilty of “profane cursing or swearing” was also subject to a fine.
Go to church. Don’t cuss. All of this seems very old fashioned now, but it is part of our heritage as an Army. Of course a lot has changed since 1775. Our Army is more diverse and our understanding of religious freedom has evolved. Soldiers build their lives on a wide variety of deeply held beliefs from which they draw strength.
What I want to call your attention to, though, is that right from the beginning our Army was an institution built on values. Congress expected the members of the Army to be people who lived out of a strong value system and to be people of decent character.
Although the seven Army values, as we know them today, date to the 1990’s, we can see echoes of these values throughout the 1775 Articles of War.
Officers and Soldiers were required to remain loyal and perform their duties faithfully and courageously, even when engaged with the enemy.
Respect for human dignity is evident throughout. The sick and wounded were to be cared for. The possessions of the dead were to be properly accounted for and returned to their families. Leaders were to insure that their soldiers received wholesome provisions. Soldiers were not to beat up civilians or harass the people who brought supplies to camp.
Leaders were to serve selflessly. They were not to profit from the provisioning of their soldiers or from making decisions about the duties assigned to various units. Everyone was required to be a good steward of Army resources.
Soldiers and officers were not to wrongfully tarnish the honor of their superiors or their peers. And if they were wronged by another, they were not to fight a duel with those who had dishonored them, but to trust their leaders to give them justice.
Leaders were to be people of integrity. Reports to higher headquarters were required to be complete and honest, and members of court martial panels were to be fair and impartial.
If you have the opportunity to read the 1775 Articles of War, it would be well worth your time. At about 9 pages, it is a much shorter document than the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Some of the language and organizational structures will seem strange to modern readers, but even after 236 years many of its concerns sound very familiar. Most importantly, the Articles tell you where we came from. For 236 years we have been an Army built on values and character. May it ever be so.