In Paul's letter to the believers in Rome he, in encouraging the Roman believers to great feats in the faith, appeals to something, very, well, Roman, here in chapter 2 and verses 6-10:
"[God] Who 'will render to each one according to his deeds': eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness - indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
Historians are in agreement that the key to the legendary power of the Roman military were flexibility and organization. What ultimately made the Romans unbeatable were not weapons, or well-trained leaders, but the Roman genius for fighting as a unit. And nothing motivated these warlike Romans more than their martial values of glory and honor. Julius Caesar's work, The Gallic War is full of appeals to these values. [see my post from 2009 A Suggested Read for Your Next Deployment to Afghanistan] On one occasion after a military setback in Gaul, all of Caesar's legions except for one - the famous Tenth Legion, were faltering in resolve and courage to carry on and Caesar, in his truest form as a leader, chastized these legions by challenging their sense of glory and honor:
"Even if no one else follows, I shall march with the Tenth Legion alone; I have no doubt of its allegiance." It was his appeal to honor and glory that prompted the rest of his army to close ranks and their spirit "changed in a remarkable fashion; the greatest keenness and eagerness for active service was engendered (renewed)." (The Gallic War Book I, Sections 40 & 41)
So in reflecting on the apostle's own address to the Romans, I find it interesting that he appeals to these same virtues. May his words spur us on in our doing great deeds to seek His honor and His glory! And may a type of immortality come as our names and great deeds, performed in humble and selfless service to our King, echo down through the corridors of history...
This is Part Two in a series (so please read Part One first!) examining what a leadership case study of an all but forgotten WWII American Army general can teach us about the current leadership deficiencies in many organizations. The series was sparked by a CNN article I read outlining recent officer misconduct in the U.S. Navy.
Simply put, my thesis is that the technique-based, therapeutic style of leadership common in American culture is flawed and would be best to be discarded and replaced by a more classical leadership style based on values and character and exhibited by certain men and women of valor in history.
The person we are examining was the commander of the most combat effective American division of the Second World War, a man who was, ironically, a 1910 graduate of the United States Naval Academy: Major General John Emmit Sloan, a man so forgotten by history that he doesn't even have his own wikipedia page. But he's a man whose character would behoove us to study and emulate.
Sloan was an unlikely hero - at 55 years of age he was already too old to command a division but an exception was made for him and he was given command of the newly formed 88th Infantry Division in 1942. Sloan had little to do with the selection of other officers of the division and, of course, he could not exert direct personal leadership influence on the 13,000 enlisted men under his command. However, by example and by tireless supervision and guidance, General Sloan seems to have been able to instill his own high standards of conduct and leadership in all of the officers directly below him and, through them, in all other officers and non-commissioned officers of the division. This was manifested initially through zeal in training - something which paid huge dividends later when the division faced combat. The records show that leadership characteristics demonstrated in the 88th Division included:
Attention to detail
Inspirational talks and messages
Personal presence in the front line
Being sure subordinates had what they needed to do the job
Making sure every assignment was carried out properly, including those not immediately related to military procedures
Requiring strict adherence to established standards for military courtesy and proper uniform (remember - the division was composed of conscripts, not of professional soldiers)
Prompt relief of any subordinate who could not or would not do his job
Establishing rapport with subordinate commanders
Grasping and communicating the "big picture" and role of each unit in overall objectives
During lulls in battle and during rest periods, the division trained. One reason why his division ranked right up with the best of the German divisions was that Sloan carried out rear-area training programs and demanded standards of performance very similar to those characteristic of the Germans, while showing similar interest in, and concern for, his men. He also demanded of his officers a professionalism comparable to that of the Germans. Replacements were soon imbued with the spirit of the division. When the division was out on the line Sloan still insisted upon smart salutes and buttoned buttons, and got them from proud soldiers. By dedicated professionalism, inspiring leadership, and very hard work, General Sloan was able to raise his division to a combat performance capability much higher than that of any other American division. He was a man of character and integrity who led from the front and, like all the great military commanders of history, inspired courage and instilled loyalty by his own example. The United Staes Navy would do well to have men of General Sloan's calibre in their ranks - a man I call Annapolis' best general.
Yesterday I came across a CNN story ("14 Navy commanders relieved of duty, prompting conduct memo") which began with this line: "The Navy has already relieved so many commanding officers of duty this year that the chief of naval operations has written an unusual memo to all potential commanders reminding them of their responsibilities. The memo heavily emphasized professional ethics and personal accountability."
Just the night before, while reading Col. T.N. Dupuy's excellent tome Understanding War: History & Theory of Combat, I came across something pretty interesting that applies to the current U.S. military's crisis of leadership. One of the focuses of Col. Dupuy's book was on the combat effectiveness of the best combat divisions of the Second World War and what made them so effective. The top ten combat divisions in WWII, according to the Colonel's calculations, were all German except for one: the 88th U.S. Infantry Division, the "Blue Devils." World War Two history buffs might find this strange. Why would a relatively unknown all-draftee infantry division occupy fifth place on Col. Dupuy's list? What about the elite 101st Airborne or the 82nd Airborne? And wait! Did the colonel not consider Gen. "Blood & Guts" Patton's German-smashing First Armored Division? Of course he did - the famous 1st Armored comes in at number 14. So, the question is what makes the 88th Infantry Division so effective at combat?
At first glance it does not seem reasonable that the relatively unknown U.S. 88th Infantry Division should have such a high combat effectiveness. The 88th was one of fourteen new all-draftee divisions, activated in mid-1942 after the mobilization of all Regular Army, Organized Reserved, and National Guard Divisions. It trained for a year at Camp Grueber, Oklahoma, and participated in the Louisiana maneuvers during the summer of 1943. The division got very high marks from inspectors during its training and during the maneuvers, and as a consequence was the first of the new green divisions to be shipped overseas in November 1943. It was the first of the new divisions to go into combat, being committed to defensive positions about 50 miles south of Rome, on 1 March 1944. Three months later, the division, having proven itself in continuous combat, was the first to enter Rome.
In the ensuinig months of combat, the 88th division was noted by the German Tenth Army as a force to be reckoned with and as such the German commanders classified the 88th as a "shock troops" division, meaning they believed it to be an elite unit. Captured German war documents revealed that the Germans shifted their reserves whenever the 88th was committed to the battle line. Obviously, the enemy believed that the 88th Infantry Division was something special.
And the Germans weren't the only ones to recognize the excellence of the division. During its 344 days of combat in the Italian Campaign, the division was awarded 3 distinguished unit citations and its soldiers could boast of winning a remarkable 2 Congressional Medals of Honor (the highest and rarest medal awarded in the U.S. Army), 40 Distinguished Service Crosses, 66 Legion of Merit medals, 522 Silver Stars, and 3,784 Brone Stars. Perhaps the medal count speaks for itself.
But the key question, with great significance for future U.S. military doctrine, was why was the division so good?
The most important factor appears to be leadership. Let's examine this more closely.
In all other respects the 88th Division was similar to the thirteen other new divisions. The 88th had no particular advantages in the officers and enlisted men assigned to it. The training programs were identical as they were standard for all new divisions. However, when one looks closely, there were differences in both leadership and training. These can be mainly attributed to one man: Major General John Emmit Sloan, Commanding General of the 88th.
Next blog post: Part 2: "Annapolis' Best General: The Values-Based Leadership of Major General John E. Sloan (USNA 1910)"
One of the saddest results of war is what it does to the children who have experienced it. I don't intend this post to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject but rather to focus on one child in particular - my own 13-year old son. We have now lived for five years in what has become one of the most violent places on the planet. Over the last two and a half years especially, the violence of the Drug Wars has exploded all around us and we've had to endure living among everything that armed conflict entails: the many military and police checkpoints, grenade attacks, shootouts, kidnappings and torture of close friends, having mass graves and arsenals uncovered in our town - in short, we are living through a very difficult time in the history of Mexico. And this of course has taken a psychological toll on all of us but especially on our youngest son. Recently when I was checking his homework notebook from school I came across this drawing he had made on the last page:
He had made an imaginary island (which he named "Maniki") and had written "they're famous for their body armor and weapons - this is the safest island - there are no malitos." The word malitos, literally "little bad people," is a euphenism here for cartel gunmen - nobody dares utter the dreaded word Zeta in fact, besides malitos they also say, ellos de la letra (those of the letter). When I came across this it made me sad because to me it reveals that he's dealing with a certain level of insecurity which causes trauma. Fortunately we haven't had any personal run-ins with the bad guys, though we've seen them around numerous times and recently this same son was skateboarding with friends in a street when several cartel vehicles roared past. The boys quickly sought refuge in a carport as the vehicles passed. This is how this generation is learning to survive - they are growing up where violence and insecurity is their normal.
As parents we spend a lot of time talking things over with our three sons. We process things as a family and I think this helps them cope with what they've seen and heard in living through this mess. But there are many children who will face years of recovery from the trauma of living though this conflict. Peacemaking is a huge and necessary task which will take years of work.
A related story: last month a video of a kindergarten teacher in Monterrey keeping her class calm during a shootout went viral. The video is a striking example of what so many Mexican children have to deal with.
They can't kill us all, in our little church gathering
In this the poorest colonia because
How can you kill 50 people all at one time?
But then I was reminded about grenade attacks and
Not to mention the 30-round clips of 7.62 mm bullets
Being spewed out to silence us and drown out the gospel -
Hosing us down in a river of our own blood.
But we felt safe, comforting the servants of Elisha among us:
Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.
But I was wrong about one thing: they certainly could kill us all -
We learned that the audacity of evil knows no bounds.
Lined up against a wall and executed - bullets sprayed into them like
Zookeepers hosing down elephants, and their river of blood
Still cries from the ground.
Easter Sunday in the killing fields of northern Mexico
Gives me a new sense of the resurrection:
We've felt the sting but await the victory
If Christ has not been raised, then we are of all people
most to be pitied because that means Mao was right -
And ultimately power does grow out of the barrel of a gun
Or a cruise missile or a drone or even a clenched fist.
And when it's our turn to face the firing squad,
We are truly to be pitied.
Show me, O death, where is your victory?
The battles you've won are impressive
But the war's not over and we have the promise
That Christ's victory, our victory, will swallow you forever -
Therefore, I will labor here in the killing fields and avenues of death,
I will not be afraid, even knowing that there is no safety in numbers,
Except in refuge with the One who made the victory possible.
Truth is often stranger than fiction. WIll Farrell's next film, Casa de Mi Padre, is a black comedy set amidst the Mexican Drug Wars - also starring the dynamic duo of Mexican cinema (of Y Tu Mamá También fame): Gael Garcia Bernal (I liked him better in The Motorcycle Diaries as a young Ché) and Diego Luna. I'm really not sure what to make of it, as there are several other recent films depicting this conflict in comedy rather than the obvious tragedy it deserves. Films such as Machete, Salvando al Soldado Perez (trailer) (Saving Private Perez), and probably the darkest comedy of the lot is El Infierno (Hell). Part of it may be the latent macabre fascination with death which dwells deep in the Mexican psyche - a terror assuaged with dark humor, long present in Mexican culture.
I grew up in the South. For us, guns were a part of life. My father, uncles, and grandfathers were all gun owners and enthusiasts. These men taught me the proper use of firearms - both in terms of safety as well as accuracy. An old tale says that in Army and Marine Corps basic training the sergeants would spend much more time instructing Northerners and West Coast recruits during the weapons part of training than the Southerners. The Civil War should be proof enough of the Southerner's propensity for firearms when the vastly outnumbered and undersupplied Confederate Army repeatedly bloodied the Union juggernaut. The natural conclusion to being a gun-loving Southerner, of course, means that I'm a firm believer in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution - the ever controversial right to bear arms. I was even at one time in my younger years a "card-carrying member" of the NRA. But, alas, perhaps I'm feeling particularly nostalgic for my native Southland today, because really none of this is the focus of this blogpost. Allow me to get to the point:
My experience in living through these violent times in Mexico have only reinforced my belief that a well-armed citizenry is a firm deterrent to widespread, unchecked criminal activity. Guns, for all of the terrible harm that they are capable of in the wrong hands, would be, in the hands of law-abiding citizens, the first, best defense against Mexico's criminal anarchy. This, in brief, is the situation in Mexico: a population of hardworking, law-abiding citizens lives under daily threats of murder, kidnapping, robbery, extorsion, rape - you name the crime. These people live in a state of siege by a wide variety of well-armed criminal elements. To make matters worse, there is virtually no local police protection. In many cases, the local police are even worse than the criminals themselves. The old NRA proverb that says, "If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns" is no truer anywhere on the planet than in Mexico.
Mexico has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Their constitution does, however, superficially permit Mexican citizens the right to own firearms: Article 10 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution states:
Citizens of the republic may, for their protection, own guns and arms in their homes. Only arms sanctioned by the Army may be owned, and federal law will state the manner in which they can be used (Firearms are prohibited from importation into the Republic without proper licensing and documentation. Foreigners may not pass the border with unlicensed firearms; the commission of such act is a felony, punishable by prison term.)
What is to be noted in Article 10 is the phrase, "only arms sanctioned by the Army may be owned," and this means arms of smaller calibers and things such as 6-shooter revolvers no larger than .38 cal and bolt-action rifles of smaller calibers. But even with the supposed constitutional "right to bear arms" in Mexico, the government makes the process of legally obtaining a firearm as difficult as possible. Furthermore, this right to possess firearms applies only to one's home, farm or property. There are strict laws for transporting firearms - one must obtain special "transport liscenses," for example. Also, public shooting ranges are forbidden. One cannot purchase firearms except in special government stores and there are very few of them - in Mexico City, for example, a city of 20 million people, there is only one authorized retail outlet where a citizen, after applying and navigating the maze of government bureaucracy, can purchase a firearm. And this outlet, UCAM ("Commercial Unit of Arms and Munitions" in English), is run by the Mexican Army. This does not provide for a well-armed citizenry to repel criminal activity. But, despite all this, the people are now starting to push back against the flood of criminal persecution. Two cases in particular have made headlines:
This past November, Don Alejo Garza, a 77-year old rancher in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, fought back against the heavily-armed drug cartels who were trying to confiscate his property. On Saturday morning, November 13, Don Alejo was visited by cartel operatives who said he had 24 hours to turn his ranch over to them. So he sent his farmhands home early that day and valiantly holed himself up in his ranch house armed with his hunting rifles and shotguns. When the drug cartel operatives showed up that evening, he ambushed them - killing four of them before they killed him by throwing a hand grenade into the building. Here's the story on the excellent news source, Borderland Beat. Also, read this blurb on the Field & Stream website.
And more recently, the residents of the small farming town of Villa Cárdenas, in the state of Zacatecas have decided to fight back against the intimidating drug cartels. Last week a cartel ordered the townspeople to turn over their hunting rifles and they flatly refused. So the drug cartel issued a warning: "turn your weapons over to us or we'll come and get them." The town's reply could be summed up by this flag from Texas history:
And so, this past Sunday (Feb. 27, 2011), the drug cartel operatives returned to Villa Cárdenas to make good on their threat. The townspeople, who had implored the Mexican Army and Federal Police to protect them, were left to fend for themselves. This unfortunately is typical in Mexico. So when the heavily-armed cartel operatives rolled into town in their late-model pick ups and SUVs, the townspeople were waiting for them. The shootout began at noon and lasted for hours - leaving two cartel gunmen dead - fortunately there were no civillian casualties. The cartel left behind one of their vehicles in their retreat. But the danger now is that there will be, without a doubt, retaliation. Unless the town is occupied by the Mexican Army (which now it might be due to the publicity), the cartel will return in force and try to wipe the town off the map. No doubt the townspeople know this and will be waiting for them ... Here's the story on Borderland Beat.