Men of times

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Gaius Marius: Roman military reformer who brought discipline, parity--and victory back to Romes legions.
Gaius Marius: Roman military reformer who brought discipline, parity--and victory back to Rome's legions.

It’s interesting to look at the prominent people of history, to read their biographies and see what we already know: That no man is without fault.

I’m deeply interested in leadership psychology, what makes men do what they’re told and do it to the best of their ability. What kind of traits in a leader must possess in order that men will die for him. Does positive or negative motivation work best? The best leaders, I think, use both at the best possible times. I stand by my conviction that the best leaders are the best psychologists.

Reading recently about Roman generals, I found that the primary attribute of great leaders is bravery. He must be willing to accept for himself the same dangers that his men face. While most of the Roman generals were not like Alexander (they didn’t wade into battle at the front of the lines), they had good reason: In order to control the reserve units, he had to be at the rear of the formations. The Romans did not require that an imperator (general) fight to the death, but they did expect that he would reconstitute a fighting force after a defeat and begin again to hunt the enemies of Rome. Romans accepted that small defeats would occur, but the final victory belonged to Rome.

There are many men who we can look back on, the opaqueness of time bringing dreamy illusions of demi-gods that walked amongst men, heroes without fault casting aside America’s foes, subduing her own demons. But each of these men had his own demons. Most of these men could not exist in our times. Thank goodness their own times were more forgiving and had much thicker skin.

Patton for example. I’m not sure I would have wanted to work for him, except when it came to time for battle. Then I would ask for no other. He understood, unlike all of our leaders now, that war is hell and if you don’t bring the hell to your enemy, he’ll bring it t you. If it aint hell, it aint war.  Supremely arrogant, Patton seemed to think himself a reincarnation of Hannibal. He wrapped himself in the garb of a military fop–polished silver helmet, ivory handled pistol, high leather boots. His face held always in a grim caricature.

But no man could have motivated our troops to storm the heavily defended beaches of Normandy the way Patton did.

No man would be allowed to. Imagine this speech being given today. George C. Scott gives his award winning version of Patton’s speech to the Third Army:

We have become soft. Even the Army I see and serve in is soft, at least large portions of it. The Sergeant Majors strutting around and think that ensuring no privates sport logos on their white PT socks, makes this Army tough. They don’t know their heads from their posterior as far as I can see. Put a logo on my sock and watch me in a PT test or ruck march, blow the doors off the fellow who’s in line with AR 670-1.  

Going without food makes you tough. Fighting when you’re tired makes you tough. Having pride in toughness makes you like iron. Patton got it when it mattered. We’re at war and people in my own Army worry about the inane, while fat-bodied soldiers shuffle through the chow hall lines. A three mile ruck march is a real challenge for these poor folks. Meanwhile, our friends in the Taliban are living off a loaf of bread every two days  and negotiating mountainous terrain everyday to set up ambushes.

I know our infantry and Marines are tough. But the rest of us have to get in line. America’s fighting force is too small to expect the 11 Bravos and Marines to have to do all the heavy lifting.

We need Patton now, a modern Gaius Marius   to make us stronger. Like Marius he will need to be a man who has no political aspirations, because no one will vote for someone who’s a realist, not a populist, a man that knows true strength for the soldier is about being able to carry a ruck for miles, to go long stretches of time without food and to stoicly fight on when exhaustion sets in- fair but stalwart.  And like Patton, he must be able to inspire his men to push themselves, to become proud of their own abilities as warriors, a man who hates losing.

If that man steps forward, he will not be a man of this time, but a man out of time.  In an age of softness, he will be a man of iron who will probably be despised by many, but in the end, will inspire victory.

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One thought on “Men of times

    Amos Volante said:
    October 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Chesty Puller was fond of saying that there was an image the men expected of him and he planned to live up to it fully.

    A lot of people thought he was an idiot, but he was as tough as a Russian steel worker and that went a long, long way.

    He also ordered his men to shoot any friendly forces that attempted to retreat in one major battle. An unlawful order by today’s standards, but the mission priorities are still the same:

    1. Mission accomplishment
    2. Welfare of the troops

    Get those out of order and your force is a joke.

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