Chapter 1: The Meaning of Your Commission, pages [1] through [12] of The Armed Services Officer (1960) starts out with a tall order, a big case of the “shoulds”.

Upon being commissioned in the Armed Services of the United States, a man incurs a lasting obligation to cherish and protect his country and to develop within himself that capacity and reserve strength which will enable him to serve. . . . [1]

. . .  the trust imposed on the highest military commander in the land is not more than what is enjoined upon the newest ensign . . . Nor is it less.  It is the fact of commission that gives special distinction . . .  [1]

The formality of the commission, its ceremonial quality and the attentive scrutiny of the Commander-in-Chief, intends to ingrain the importance of leadership as a calling.  Civilian leadership might be felt intensely, but loyalties in business change far more often, and less ceremony is present at changes of rank.  The stakes are just not the same–or–are they?  Not in this book, anyway, which discusses civilians as “average citizens” (surely another timeworn terminology).  Here, the mantle of leadership is reinforced as a vow to a nation and each and every one of its citizens; most other kinds of social leadership do not incorporate this vow.  Since this book was written before the Vietnam War became a domestic contention as well as a foreign war, the book reposes confidence in society’s approval of the military.  Since 1967, society has been shown to waver, but the standard for the military has not (probably) wavered in this ideal form. And they probably shouldn’t, since the qualities of leadership as stated on the commission are four universal virtues: patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities.

According to AFO, we can assume patriotism–“either a man loves his country or he would not seek commission at its hands, unless he . . . serves in order to destroy.”  However, the patriotism of the ASO also incorporates Samuel Johnson’s quote of patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel [ ], and gives a list of the historical thinking about the military which affects its quality.  They also seem to serve as the reasons for US military patriotism.

To summarize: Officers are innately noble and honorable, but not taken from one privileged social strata.   The U.S. considers first the dignity of man rather than a top-down approach to the rank and class.  Mutual respect is the order of discourse; an abiding interest in all aspects of human welfare.  Historically, we fought against and still despise impressment, floggings, “martinetism”, and other Old World practices.  Furthermore, the book encourages military men to despise war just as they prepare for its inevitability. [3-5]

Unlike patriotism, the ASO does not take valour as axiomatic: “. . . it is not given to any man to know the nature and depth of his personal courage.”  [3]  The reason that valour seems to flourish is in the “indivisibility of interest” within its cadres; or for us average citizens, a sense of responsibility to the team inspires courage under fraying or dire conditions.

Like valour, abilities are individual: “Abilities vary from man to man, and are partly what heredity and environment have made them.  If nature had not imposed a ceiling, mere striving would make every man a genius.”  This pretty much leaves out the effects of schooling and training.  It also leaves out the subtext of this chapter, which is continually-renewing but the inculcation of a specific value standard through the fourth quality: fidelity.

According to ASO, it is fidelity that drives the other virtues, and it is the virtue that one chooses to embrace: a “derivative of personal decision.”  This entails self-examination: that person’s personal principles; the new requirements of his position; the common sense reasons behind these requirements.  In other words, one’s personal inclinations and abilities have to meet not just the expectations, but be integrated fully, i.e., personally, where the rules meet not just the road but the heart.  [3].  In a strange way, it forces a kind of stoic subordination at the same time it challenges one to find a personal style of loyalty.  Leadership by example, for instance, incorporates in my experience both obedience and intiative.  But ultimately this book calls to some spiritual quality to a practical, gear-filled career:

But it is well-said that the only truly happy people on earth are those who are indifferent to money because they have some positive purpose which forecloses it.  Than the Service, there is no other environment more conducive to the leading of the full life by the individual who is ready to accept the word of the philosopoher that the only security on earth is the willingness to accept insecurity as an inveitable part of living.  One thought should be added: There is no surer portal to inner peace than the knowledge that one is participating fully in moving forward the great undertakings of one’s day.  It is the cornerstone of character. [7]

The Meaning of Leadership:
Overall, to me patriotism is an awareness of one’s community and background.  Like the ASO, I don’t believe in jingoism or unthinking relations to what one is born to know.  My relation to my society is a kind of loving attachment/exasperation, but it remains inescapable.   The kind of leadership espoused here is, for lack of a better term, a kind of “servant leadership” which I am not stupid enough to think is universal in the military, any more than it is universal in the civilian world.  Nevertheless, this kind of leadership does represent the most decent kind; leadership by example, its twin, remains the most effective.   Furthermore, the belief in intensity of personal commitment, the sense of a “calling” makes this type of leadership sacred.  It is also as exhilarating to those who have it as it is convenient for those who can use it.  Sometimes this is termed “right livelihood”.  To me it represents the irresistible highest and best one can achieve, the place where the constant interflow of what is asked and what is answered remain dynamic and create a whole person.  And this chapter ends with what this might ultimately mean:

Loyalty to Service, like any other ideal, should not be a dogma but a clear-eyed faith. [12]

It is ultimately, whether in the armed services or not, a faith of contention with one’s self and one’s environment–it is also a path–to me, it is an irresistible prospect to be as human as possible.   Its great failing is that those who have achieved this great dynamic can be used in lesser endeavors–which is why the “clear-eyed” portion of the above remains essential.

See also: Introduction & Forward to this Series 
  Next week: Chapter 2: Forming Military Ideals, pp. [13]-[26] . . .