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The Book of ManReadings on the Path to Manhood
By William J. Bennett
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 William J. Bennett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMan in War
Spanning twenty-seven years, the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece forever transformed the landscape of the ancient world. Considered one of the world's first great wars, the Athenians and Spartans fought a bloody and horrific war for freedom. After the first series of battles and amid great sorrow and loss, the Athenian leader Pericles faced his fellow countrymen and delivered his famous funeral oration to memorialize and immortalize the Athenian lives lost.
Of his fallen comrades, said the great Pericles: "For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart. These take as your model and, judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom and freedom of valor, never decline the dangers of war."
Pericles' eulogy immortalized the virtuous ideals of war—the idea of sacrificing one's self for liberty, happiness, and state. Pericles understood that he was asking the men of Athens to leave their homes and families behind to die a painful death on the battlefield. He assured them that their death was not in vain. Because of their stoicism and sacrifice, their progeny would live to enjoy the precious right of liberty.
The history of man is rife with war of all kinds, but Pericles' message remains timeless. The actors and plots might change, from the ancient barbaric crusades of Genghis Khan to today's high-tech, super-trained military operations; but men still fight wars. At its core, war has, and always will be, a horrific act of violence between fellow men. The Greek philosopher Plato famously noted, "It is only the dead who have seen the end of war." By definition, war is one of man's most dangerous acts. To engage in war is to risk everything, including your life.
This is why history has long wrestled with the concept of war. What is casus belli? What is a just war? From Aristotle to Aquinas, civilized man has sought to define war as a means of preventing it. Yet, where laws and morals fail, war becomes the answer. It is the last resort for men to solve disputes and settle differences. In essence, war captures the best and worst traits of mankind.
As for the latter, war unleashes the worst violence man is capable of. Living through the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson admitted, "I have seen enough of one war never to wish to see another." Even if you haven't experienced war firsthand, you can understand the loss, the chaos, and the pain that emanate from broken families, blackened landscapes, and shattered psyches. Behind every war are men using their God-given intellects to plot and scheme the death and torture of other men. What started with hand-to-hand combat developed to spears to swords to bullets to bombs. As cruel as it sounds, war breeds its own culture of war. It should come as no shock that there has never been an extended period of world peace in human history.
With the worst of war, however, also comes the best of men. Often the darkest of moments and the worst of times bring out the finest in men. We will forever remember George Washington crossing the ice-capped Delaware River, the brave men storming the death-trap beaches of Normandy, and the tired, bloodied soldiers raising the flag over Iwo Jima. War provokes the highest virtues of man's soul: honor, fortitude, service, and sacrifice. It is no wonder that the greatest moments of manhood are often found in battle.
What is it about combat that would make a young man leave his home and family to risk death for a cause that is not entirely his own? What is war that a man would fall on an enemy grenade to save his comrades? Simply put, war restores in man the belief that there are some things worth fighting and dying for; things like love, liberty, and faith. Furthermore, it instills in men a notion of priorities (what Augustine called the ordo amorum, the order of the loves) and responsibility for the protection of the individual, the family, and the polis. Famous World War II general George S. Patton said, "Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base ... duty is the essence of manhood."
The fight between life and death has a way of turning boys into men and transforming mobs of untrained civilians into intelligent, coordinated military units. About the nature of war, H. G. Wells said, "One lives in a higher order of being." Philosopher William James taught that combat revived the "martial values" in men and forced on them "intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command." There may be no better trial by fire for a man's character than to subject himself to the rigors and abuses of war.
As iron sharpens iron, so also does war whet the rough edges of a man's soul. British minister Sydney Smith, quoted often by Teddy Roosevelt, recognized that "there are seasons in human affairs when qualities, fit enough to conduct the common business of life, are feeble and useless ... [when] God calls all the passions out in their keenness and vigor for the present safety of mankind ... all the secret strength, all the invisible array of the feelings—all that nature has reserved for the great scenes of the world when the usual hopes and aids of man are gone." When laws and morals fail, the strength and fortitude of human passions become nature's protector.
The test of war's virtue can be seen in its fruits—men like George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and countless others. These great men surrendered their own volitions to a higher cause, whether family, faith, or state. They did not fear death because they recognized the honor in serving and protecting a cause above their own. "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country," said the ancient Roman poet Horace.
Having said that, today's modern man remains mostly immune to war or combat. A vast majority of our generation's young men will never don a military uniform or take orders from a military commander. Let us never take war lightly, however, or take our military protection for granted. John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher, said, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
Some of the worst atrocities committed by mankind were done in the name of war. When entrusted in the wrong hands, the power of war has been the instrument of death for the world's worst men. But, remember, when civility, diplomacy, and the rule of law fail, it is only through war that good conquers evil and freedom crushes tyranny. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. told Harvard students in 1895, "War, when you are at it, is horrible and dull. It is only when time has passed that you see that its message was divine." Learn from men at war, pray for peace, but always be ready to fight.
* * *
Profile: Donovan Campbell
Donovan Campbell has always pursued excellence. After he graduated with honors from Princeton University, he finished first in his class in the Marines' basic officer course and later went on to graduate from Harvard Business School. Campbell served two combat deployments in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. He spent a little more than six months in Ramadi, Iraq, at the height of the violence, from March to September 2004. For his outstanding service in that war-torn city he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and a Bronze Star with Valor. His book, Joker One, is an account of his tour in Ramadi. Here, from an interview on my radio show, Campbell describes what he learned about leadership, sacrifice, heroism, and courage in his tenure there, embodying to the fullest what the U.S. Marine Corps stands for.
No person was ever honored for what he received," wrote Calvin Coolidge. "Honor has been the reward for what he gave."
For Donovan Campbell, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Ramadi during some of the most vicious fighting of Operation Iraqi Freedom, giving wasn't on his mind when he first enrolled in the Marine Officer Candidates School after his junior year at Princeton University. In fact, he was mostly focused on taking.
"I need to do something to get serious about my job and career after Princeton," Campbell recalls thinking, "but I wasn't ready to do a desk job. My mind-set at the time was, 'what will differentiate me from the other middle-of-the-rank students?'"
To Campbell, the Marines seemed like an ideal situation. He would use the honor and character building of military service as a springboard to worldly success.
"So I decided to enroll in Marine Officer Candidates School—that will show toughness—that will show that I'm dedicated, I have perseverance, and [it] will really stand out on a résumé. But I didn't get it at the time—it was mainly about me."
What Campbell did get was a rude awakening.
"Unsurprisingly, after ten weeks of being screamed at, bored, having my head shaved, and being terrified sometimes, I decided there was no way I would be a Marine. And I went back to senior year thinking, 'Fortunately I've crossed that one off the list—what else is there?'
"But as the year went on, the more I thought seriously about who I wanted to become. I'm a Christian and I had starting taking my faith more seriously—I knew my faith called me to do more than serve myself. It called me to put my words into action by serving others. I wanted something that would grow me up and allow me to give back."
So Campbell made the decision to join the Marines.
"If I join the Corps I can serve, I can give back. When I say I'm a Christian, people will know it means something to me because I'm sacrificing at least four years of my life. I knew I was young, I knew I wanted to learn to lead and I didn't see any way to do it [other] than to lead. I didn't want to spend fourteen hours per day in a cubicle behind a computer. I also knew I could have a little a bit of an adventure. So I accepted the commission I had earned the previous summer and became an officer in the Marine Corps the day I graduated."
* * *
Flash forward to the city of Ramadi, Iraq, 2004. One morning every minaret from every mosque in the city started yelling "Jihad! Jihad! Jihad!" Pause. "Jihad! Jihad! Jihad!" That day, violence exploded all across Ramadi. Campbell's unit ended up with sixteen Marines killed in action and dozens wounded. In the course of the day's events, three squads were separated from each other and were taking heavy casualties during house-to-house fighting. Shortly after the fighting started, Campbell, who had just fallen asleep after a thirty-six-hour extended night patrol with his platoon, was awakened by a young Marine informing him of the situation: "You need to go rescue them!" So Campbell, sleeping with his boots still on, rolled out of bed, marshaled his men, and headed straight for the gunfire. For Campbell, it was one of his greatest tests of leadership in the midst of battle.
"When you're in that situation as a young leader, all you can think is Where are my guys? Where are the bad guys? It's so chaotic and confusing. All you can do is try to figure out where the fighting is coming from and where all your people are.
"I don't think you're ever in control of the situation, you just do your best to manage the chaos to [the] best of your ability, keep your men safe, and achieve your mission. But keeping your men safe isn't the only objective, although you hope and pray you can do that. Otherwise why would you leave the states?"
For Campbell, the difficulty of keeping his men safe was exacerbated by the nature of urban warfare. One of the most important aspects of the mission was to limit civilian casualties, an extremely difficult task given the high population density of the city. This meant limiting the weaponry that could be used against the enemy—a decision that placed his troops in danger but was a necessary component of the mission.
"We had to do the best we could to protect civilians, in addition to finding those who wanted to kill us on a daily basis, so we voluntarily limited some of the tools we could use. We never fired artillery in the city, rarely used tanks; we didn't bring to bear the heaviest weapons we could in order that we wouldn't kill people indiscriminately. So we generally fought house to house with only what we can carry on our backs."
Complicating the issue was the ever-present uncertainty of who were friends and who were enemies. Often it took restraint to hold fire.
"It doesn't matter whether you think people love you or are against you. What matters is what you have to do. You cannot shoot indiscriminately. We made the choice as young leaders to risk our own lives and our men's lives more often than not, and it was very hard to err on the side of not shooting. Often the decision to not shoot is far harder than to shoot."
But not every lesson in leadership happened amid hellacious fighting. Captain Campbell learned quickly that the smallest things make the biggest difference.
"Originally, my thinking as a leader was, I need to make big decisions well, show heroism in combat, give the occasional great speech. But I didn't realize that my men watched everything. It didn't matter what I did with larger decisions if I wasn't consistent in smaller ones."
Before shipping out to Ramadi, Campbell and his men were stationed in Kuwait on a base that had very rudimentary facilities. Marines couldn't call home very often. There were two phones, but their use was restricted—one for Marines, one for emergencies. Eventually, officers began taking liberties with the emergency phone.
"Officers were calling home every two or three days, but my guys could only call every two to three weeks. One day one of my Marines, one of the best Marines I've ever met, pulled me aside ... and said, 'We notice that you use the cell phone a lot and we don't use it as often.' I felt about six inches tall at that point."
* * *
The U.S. Marines are known the world over for their lethal capabilities in warfare. But some of Campbell's proudest moments revolve around witnessing his men's acts of mercy, at their mortal expense.
One day while on patrol, a rocket from a group of insurgents had missed its target—Campbell's platoon—and hit directly in the middle of a group of children. The carnage of so many children slaughtered was ghastly, "A macabre tableaux from hell," as Campbell described it. In spite of the attendant danger, the first reaction of the platoon was to rush to the children's aid. The unit's doctors started working feverishly to help the wounded, not even bothering to put on latex gloves. The instinct of the Marines to help the wounded, even at great harm to themselves, was in full view that day.
"My guys were phenomenal—I love them so much. There's a moment of decision when something like that happens. We could have shut all the doors and driven away, knowing that it would have gotten us out of the line of fire and preserved us all, or [we could] jump out of the Humvee, run toward the fire, and help those who need help. And we just jumped out of Humvees and starting tending the wounded. I took part of the platoon and pursued part of those who attacked us but we couldn't get them.
"When I came back I faced another decision: Do we stay and wait for Iraqis to come with [an] ambulance for the children, or do we leave? If we stayed we would be there for a while and we would get attacked again. Ten minutes in the same place you will get attacked. But I made the decision to stay there and help them."
Excerpted from The Book of Man by William J. Bennett Copyright © 2011 by William J. Bennett. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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