We do not know the precise location of Charlemagne’s birthplace. He donned the crown at the ripe age of twenty-nine in 771 A.D. upon the death of Carloman II. From that moment he became embroiled in an almost ceaseless series of military campaigns designed both to expand his frontiers and safeguard them; in this turbulent age, kings needed to fight as well as administrate. Historians tell us that he undertook around fifty-three campaigns, and personally commanded most of them.Continue reading
The chronicler known to posterity as Notker the Stammerer (“Notker Balbulus”) was born in what is now Switzerland around A.D. 840. He seems to have come from a family that had the means to provide him with the best education his era could offer. We find him in adulthood as a monk at the monastery at St. Gall, where he was able to exercise his considerable musical talents in composing verses and hymns.Continue reading
Max Hastings’s excellent history, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, discusses one revealing engagement that took place between American and North Vietnamese forces in late March of 1971. This action—a ferocious assault on a remote firebase named Mary Ann—merits further reflection, I think, and we will give it its due here.Continue reading
If we are to understand the mind of early medieval man, we must attempt to place ourselves in his situation and circumstances. It is difficult for us, having been reared in an age of relative peace and prosperity, to grasp the degree to which Western Europe had succumbed to chaos, warfare, and barbarism after Roman civil authority collapsed in the fourth and fifth centuries.Continue reading
There is a scene near the beginning of the film The Departed (2006) in which the character played by Martin Sheen, a police captain, asks Leonardo DiCaprio, a potential recruit for undercover work, a pointed question. The question is this: “Do you want to be cop, or do you just want to appear to be a cop? It’s a legitimate question. Some guys just want to appear to be cops.”Continue reading
The distinguishing feature of our “leaders” today is their near total disregard for putting the mission ahead of themselves. They are unwilling to risk their careers to make the hard calls that would truly benefit society. And because of their moral cowardice, all of us suffer. We see this played out over and over. In this podcast we examine an anecdote from the experience of one POW in the Second World War, and discuss its lessons. When leaders betray their oaths and their offices, the betrayal extends beyond their immediate radius of control: they betray future generations as well, the young people who were looking to them for protection and guidance.
Sometimes you have to accept the flaws and issues that people have, in order to accomplish the greater good. If you are in a leadership position, the priority is mission accomplishment. All else is secondary. Your people will not be flawless: some of them will have issues. If someone is a top performer, sometimes you have to learn to work around those flaws, as long as his abilities merit consideration. In special situations, you have to make allowances for people, and work around problems. Circumstances will be the judge of this principle–and it should not be abused.
When you are in a position of leadership or responsibility, you must carry out your duties. The mission comes first: you don’t have a choice. Too many people today want the benefits of being “in charge,” without being mindful of the responsibilities. Leadership carries many obligations, and some of them are not pleasant. But they must be done. Life is not about having “fun,” enjoying frivolities, and basking in vanity. In 2020, we saw many examples of mayors and governors dodging their fundamental obligation to keep public order and discipline. We discuss one such example, and seek wider lessons.
We live in times of feeble leadership. Those who occupy public offices often seem more willing to advance their own interests than those of the citizens they represent; they tremble at the thought of taking any action or initiative that might involve risk on their part. And so the citizenry suffers to buttress the careerist ambitions of the few.
George Washington generally preferred a restrained style of leadership. By this I mean he was economical with his words, careful in doling out both praise and recriminations, and mindful that his actions would resound more loudly with subordinates than his statements. He understood the principle that, when leading men, sometimes a leader had to turn his back on them; he did not strive for back-slapping familiarity, but instead the calm and steady application of discipline and objective.