"Lucky Jack": What leadership looks like -- and it's not just luck

Yesterday I wrote about the great Winston Churchill.

Today I want to focus on another great British leader, albeit merely a fictional creation:  Captain Jack Aubrey.

As I sat watching my DVD of Master and Commander the other night for the sixth or seventh time in as many years, I once again found myself, during a couple of scenes, with my eyes tightly shut, my stomach churning, all hunched up with my arms wrapped around myself, thinking,  “Now WHY am I watching this darn thing again?”

For one thing, I forget, from one year to the next, just how horrifying and nauseating the horrifying and nauseating parts really are.

On the other hand, the beautiful parts are really, really beautiful:  that awesome water; the Galapagos Islands; the jolly dinner-table scenes; the music — ah, the music!  Call me shallow, but such aesthetic considerations are enough to hook me on a movie.

But the real reason I love this movie?  If you’ve seen it, you already know the answer:  It’s all about Aubrey.

The “master and commander” of the HMS Surprise — Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey — is one of the most memorable heroes in historical fiction. Russell Crowe brings Aubrey to life in what may be his greatest role — and Crowe has had many.  The reason even a queasy, violence-averse landlubber like me can be drawn over and over to this gritty tale of one phase in the Napoleonic Wars is Jack Aubrey.  He is the very embodiment of true leadership — with all its complexities and moral quandaries, interpersonal challenges, relentless urgency, and heartrending no-win moments of decision.

The movie, released in 2003, remains highly popular.  I’m far from being the only one out there who’s bought the DVD and watched it multiple times.  I think that’s because we live in an age when true leadership seems to be rare among those in positions of leadership, those who should have it, but don’t. We crave genuine leadership — and when we don’t see it in evidence among our real-life leaders, we’re attracted to it in literature and movies.

Jack Aubrey is a leader we could respect.  His men may call him “Lucky Jack,” but his claim on their respect is hardly the result of mere luck.  They know he will do whatever it takes for his men, and for his country.  His creed is the opposite of everything connoted by “political correctness.”  He sees clearly the existence of good and evil in the world, and gives his all to the fight for the good.  He may not always make the right decision, but it’s not for lack of earnestly trying to do the right thing.  His mistakes result from errors in judgment, not slip-ups of moral character.  Loyalty and a love of justice are what motivate him, and for those things he is willing to sacrifice everything he has, up to and including life itself.

Most important of all, he inspires his men to do the same.

One of my favorite scenes from Master and Commander begins at the 2:34 mark in this rousing medley of great pre-battle speeches from the movies:


After watching the “Do you want to see a guillotine in Piccadilly?” scene the other night, I couldn’t help but imagine a contemporary version.

Visualize, if you will, an American leader rallying his “troops” (that would be us, folks):

“Do you want to see a mosque at Ground Zero?”     “NO!!!

“Do you want to call that raggedy-ass Ayatollah your master?”     “NO!!!”

“Do you want your children to chant ‘Allahu akbar!’?”     “NO!!!”

Well, then, patriots… to your battle stations!

Cross-posted at West to the West Wing 2012