Leadership, and a Fight an Army of Officers Cannot Win

As I’ve mentioned before, Moses Sands deferred to only two people in all the years I knew him. One an army flier already mentioned. The other was a fellow he identified only as Jim, his high school hero.

Somewhere in the midwest (I’m guessing) around 1940-41, Moses moved to new high school, freshman-sophomore (I’m also guessing). Jim was the captain of the football team. The quarterback. The star player. Natural leader.

Now Moses never told a story in which he didn’t try to make at least two points, then try to marry them some way. How Moses came to notice Jim was as his role of “protector” in their school. He simply refused to allow anybody, even bigger lineman on the football team, to pick on Tubby, Four Eyes, and those other timid souls who all wore their fears in their eyes and around their shoulders every day, just inviting a taunt. We’ve all known them. Just one “in” friend and they’re free of fear, and Jim always seemed to make sure they knew he was it.

Around the school there were perhaps four of these protectors, and Jim was their captain. How you got picked to be a protector Moses didn’t know. How long it had gone on before, he didn’t know either. But by the time Moses had gotten there, Jim could no more than enter the school gates that he wasn’t surrounded by admiring kids, from grade school up, as if they wanted an autograph or touch the hem of his letter jacket.

“You see, Jim was never bigger than 155 pounds, soaking wet. Once I saw him stare down two toughs, each over 200, talking to them as if they were kids…’You all go on now and leave my buddy Franklin here alone (everyone else called him “Stick”)…and they’d just wheel and slink away. I never knew Jim to actually have to take any of those fellows on, but heard that he had in the past. No one wanted to tangle with him. Jim was my first introduction to how big and strong you could seem to your enemy just by having right on your side.”

Then Moses’ face would darken and he said, “Jim died in Italy in ’43…” and every time I think of him saying that and the way he said it, I think of Ernie Pyle’s story of how they brought Capt Waskow down off the mountain in Sicily. Then he would look up and say…

“Did I tell you that Jim wasn’t a scholar-athlete? He was a C-student. No interest in books at all. He was a sergeant when he died. Not an officer. Had he made it home he would have married and probably been assistant manager down at the IH dealership. He was always good with motors. And Jim came from the other side of the tracks, too. Took a bus to school. I never knew either of his parents. He did have a sister, I know, a year ahead of me. But it always makes anyone who was raised on one side of the tracks wonder how anyone on the other can pick up such noble traits. You never know for sure, you just know it happens, making all we do now worthwhile.

“The protectors? Well they survived Jim a few years at least, I know…because I was one too.”

Citizen soldiers

When you stand back and look at the Left you see a structure not unlike the militaries of old (and new) royal Europe. Of all the great thrillers written by Tom Clancy, his 1986 Red Storm Rising, a departure from his typical spy novel, had the greatest impact on world affairs. For one, he announced the Stealth Fighter before its existence had even been admitted. But most of all, in the context of a land war in Europe he laid bare some major deficiencies in the Soviet command structure, which, for a so-called proletarian-based society, were stunning. (I had a Soviet-specialist friend in MI inside the Pentagon at the time, and he confirmed this.) Namely, like the old royals of Europe, the Russians had an officer “class” and the rest were drones. Cannon fodder.

This dismayed the Red Army because, as we knew from the Prussian-style ranking system the Germans used in WWII, and the Japanese, the general staff is usually the last to know its own organic failings. The idea that they might actually lose a land war in Europe startled them. And it dismayed the Soviet government because it exposed the proletarian fraud for what it was, royaltists turned collectivist.

I’m sure there are others in history, but in modern times the greatest army “systems” have been the British and the American, both built on the strength of the NCO ranks. Sergeants. Chiefs. Gunnies. I’ll leave the British aside, as their officer class, at least through WWII, was their weakest link…some of the finest and worst you could find, but all from more of less the same “class”. To Americans who served with them in WWII, they were insufferable sob’s, to a man.

Speaking of insufferable sob’s, the only compliment Montgomery could summon up about the American fighting man was his “adaptability”…which was a back-handed way to admit the most salient truth about the American citizen-soldier…they all knew everyone else’s job. Probably still do. (I started out an infantry lieutenant in 1968 and that was the case then.) The old European saw “kill the officers and you win the battle” never seemed to work if Americans were on the other side of forward area. Every private knew the mission of his squad and his platoon. He could reap a map and compass, and could fire and clean every weapon in the unit. In a pinch, he could take over. The number of field commissions handed out in WWII were staggering.

But there’s more to it. If you believe in Providence choosing sides in a war, think of Gettysburg settling the Civil War because it deterred England from entering on the side of the South. And Gettysburg was settled at Little Round Top on Day 2, and the decision-making skills of a college professor-turned- colonel, Joshua Chamberlain. Robert E Lee was the finest military mind of any generation, to my mind, and as fine a gentleman as ever breathed, but his Cause was finally brought to heel by a tanner’s son from an Ohio River town. Had Grant been British he might have been one of Kipling’s sergeants on the northern frontier, but no more. Ronald Reagan was raised “over the store”, never went to college (I’m wrong on this factoid, but will keep it in as penance), yet when he retired to his ranch, no one ever considered it, his manner of living, his manners in general to be in the least bit pedestrian. A classier man I can’t imagine, especially considering some of the gutter trash some of the finer schools have sent through the West Wing since.

An Army of Officers

There is this indefinable quality that exists in the ordinary American (more on that later in a different vein) and can sometimes carry him on to greatness with the least amount of professional preparation, but can always carry him forward to accomplish whatever he sets out to do. If it turns out that in pursuing that mission, others are following, that’s leadership.

Management is something else.

Now I’ve never been one to say one cannot be both a leader and a manager, but it does seem our educational institutions seem to imply they cannot, for they do seem to bend over backwards to beat leadership qualities out of a man, or expel them (and him) altogether. No matter, the two do always seem to be staring across a gully, looking at one another, that gully eroding with every passing day.

Moses originally told me the story about Jim as a way to say that “conservatism” was ignoring its NCO’s. He was slamming conservative “protectors” at the higher ends of our calling in academe and the political worlds, as well as “protectors” at Rotary Club for their failure in outreach (the handshake) to smaller businesses at the bottom of the hill, by way of introducing them to the higher calling of civic life, and the constitutional and liberty foundations of business success.

But there is another aspect, and that is the military aspect i just referenced, for we are in a war, albeit one of ideas. But it is also one of action, increasingly so every day. We need NCO’s, and the tea parties seem to be the place of recruitment, with plenty of room for battlefield promotions.

As I began, the Left is indeed organized along the old royal European lines; a cadre of officers, all chosen from a special class of applicants, the rest, cannon fodder. But it also seems the Republican Party is as well. From lieutenants to three-star generals, they’re swimming, but no sergeants…ergo, no well-trained soldiers who can take over and run the outfit if the officers are killed.

No NCO’s, no soldiers deserving of the name “trooper”. That’s a law. And an army of officers simply cannot win. That’s also a law.