Warriors on Leadership
Advice From American Patriots in Uniform
“If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.” —Samuel Adams (1780)
This week, Barack Obama’s penchant for vacuous rhetoric was on full display. His national address concerning the bloody Islamist attack on a San Bernardino office Christmas party was indicative of why his catastrophic foreign policy failures are becoming ever more costly — and dangerous.
Clearly, our nation is in desperate need of a commander in chief.
My touchstones for presidential leadership are George Washington at the dawn of our Republic and Ronald Reagan during one of its most challenging economic and national security eras. The good news is that there is substantial leadership capability in the lineup of conservative presidential candidates this year. The next president will face formidable foreign and domestic policy challenges, the effluent of the current administration’s colossally failed policies.
But I think the best examples of leadership come from those whose lives, and the lives of those they lead, are on the line. There are a handful of American military leaders, in addition to those of the American Revolution, whom I study closely and rely upon for the wisdom that informs my own sense of duty in defense of Liberty.
Among those are Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson: “Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number.”
Here are a few more…
Gen. Robert E. Lee, on declining Abraham Lincoln’s offer of supreme command of the Union Army: “Save for defense of my native state, I never desire again to draw my sword.”
Sgt. Alvin York: “I had killed over twenty before the German major said he would make them give up. I covered him with my automatic and told him if he didn’t make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur: “Duty, Honor, Country — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
Lt. Audie Murphy: “Loyalty to your comrades, when you come right down to it, has more to do with bravery in battle than even patriotism does. You may want to be brave, but your spirit can desert you when things really get rough. Only you find you can’t let your comrades down and in the pinch they can’t let you down either.”
Gen. George Patton: “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”
Gen Dwight Eisenhower: “The freedom of the individual and his willingness to follow real leadership are at the core of America’s strength.”
Of course, my library shelves are also loaded with more contemporary wisdom from leaders like Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf: “I believe that forgiving them is God’s function. Our job is to arrange the meeting.”
Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis is one of my favorite military sages, but most of what he said would cause email filters to block this column. Here, however, is one I can share: “The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Allow me to share a few more Mad Dog insights: “No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men. … Don’t draw fire. It irritates everyone around you. … If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush. … Tracers work both ways. … If the enemy is in range, so are you. … The easy way is always mined. … Never trade luck for skill. … When you have secured an area, don’t forget to tell the enemy. … Bravery is being the only one who knows you are afraid. … Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit. … No war is over until the enemy says it’s over.”
All of these words from warriors have cross-application for every walk in life.
Between 1960 and 1990, as those Patriots of the Greatest Generation were reaching their pinnacle, almost 80% of U.S. House and Senate members had served in uniform, and every president was a veteran. Today, veterans account for fewer than 20% of Congress, but that’s still higher than the 8% of Americans who have served.
While I won’t insist that military service be a prerequisite for political office, I would argue that it’s certainly a résumé builder!
In the 2014 midterm “Republican Wave,” conservatives won a historic House Republican majority of 246/188 and a 54/46 majority in the Senate — adding to their 2010 victories. Among the freshman class of the 114th Congress taking their oaths “to Support and Defend” our Constitution this year were a substantial number of veterans.
Ernst previously served 23 years in the Army, retiring as an 0-5 (lieutenant colonel). Her service included a tour in Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Cotton, though a lawyer, enlisted in the Army as a specialist in order take the quickest path to Officer Candidate School. His four years included a tour in Afghanistan with Operation Enduring Freedom, and he was discharged as an 0-3 (captain). At age 38, he is the youngest member of the Senate.
Sens. Cotton and Ernst are among the strongest conservative congressional contingent in decades.
You may remember Ernst from her campaign ad in which she said with a smile, “I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”
Recently, Ernst took Obama to task for playing politics with the National Defense Authorization Act: “When we said ‘Never Again’ after 9/11, the American people meant it. If we send Americans into harm’s way in Afghanistan, we owe them the military capabilities necessary to defeat terrorist safe havens and to ensure the Afghan government can develop a credible security force to defend themselves. … The Middle East is a disaster. I’ve been here almost 10 months and, having been sent to war by many of the people still serving in Congress today, it’s extremely disappointing that with all this unrest in the Middle East, the president would even entertain the thought of vetoing the NDAA.”
Regarding Obama’s San Bernardino assessment, Ernst observed, “Obama spoke to reassure himself of his efforts, rather than reassure Americans by putting forward a comprehensive strategy to destroy ISIS and those radicalized by them. His address was a gravely missed opportunity to lead in the war against terror and connect with the American people on the necessary hard choices needed to destroy ISIS.”
Cotton has delivered some very public indictments of Barack Obama’s dearth of leadership.
You can get a sense of this young senator’s vigor by reading his first remarks on the Senate floor last March: “Rather than confront our adversaries, [Obama] apologizes for our supposed transgressions. The administration is harsh and unyielding to our friends, soothing and supplicating to our enemies. The president minimizes the threats we confront, in the face of territory seized, weapons of mass destruction used and proliferated, and innocents murdered. … [Obama’s] suggestions, in other words, that the war on terror is over or ending are far from true. … I will now yield the floor, but I will never yield in the defense of America’s national security at any time or on any front.”
In a recent column on the subject of leadership entitled “What I Learned at War,” Cotton wrote, “According to Army doctrine, [leadership] is not only an element of combat power, but the most dynamic, critical element. It infuses all the rest. … Leadership is just as dynamic and essential in politics as in the military. U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1970s had been largely characterized by the policy of détente, which in practice meant appeasement of Soviet aggression around the world. But when Ronald Reagan took office, he confronted the Soviet Union and said we could win the Cold War — and we did, just a decade later, without firing a single shot. … Great leaders can provide renewed purpose, direction and motivation in all walks of life. While these are just a couple of personal lessons from life and the Army, I believe they’re apt for our country, too. The world is desperate for strong and confident American leadership once again, as we’ve seen the chaos that follows when America tries to lead from behind. Which, by the Army’s definition, is not leading at all.”
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