This quote burbled around the internet a year or so ago. I finally got around to finding it, and add the previous paragraph to add context. It’s particularly resonant to me today, after listening to a senior officer discuss his work in Indonesia after the tsunami in the morning and after stopping to talk with some young ladies who are masters-at-arms preparing to deploy aboard the Comfort very soon to do work they never thought they’d be doing.
The quote is from Charles George Gordon by Colonel (later General) Sir William F. Butler, published by MacMillan in 1889. The book is a biography of an “English Man Of Action”, a military engineer who saw combat from Russia to China to Sudan. My copy of this book is very worn but a treasure of good lessons in a style of a different time. From page 85, quote of interest in bold:
In England there has long been an idea prevalent in the minds of many persons that the soldier should be a species of man distinct from the rest of the community. He should be purely and simply a soldier, ready to knock down upon word of command being duly given for that purpose, but knowing nothing of the business of building up; leaving that important branch of life to Mr. Civil Commissioner This and Mr. Civil Administrator That. It is needless to say that Charles Gordon held a totally different view of the soldier’s proper sphere of action, and with him the building part of the soldier’s profession was far more important than the breaking part. The surgeon who could only cut off a leg or amputate an arm, but who knew nothing of binding up the wound or stopping an open artery, could not be of much account in any estimate of men. Gordon understood the fact that nations as well as individuals have pulses, that the leader who would lead to any definite end must know how to count these pulsations, and, in addition to his skill as a sword-cutter, must be able to do a good deal of the binding up of wounds, even though he had himself caused them. To say this is, of course, only to say that Gordon was great, in a sense greater than any merit of action in arms could aspire to. The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.
Yeah. Like that.
You want to learn something new, you read an old book….
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