Home > 2011 Posts, About Dave > Faint Praise

Faint Praise

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

As a rule, Marines aren’t famed as turners of a clever phrase—unless there’s creative cussing involved. Their specialty, as one general put it not long ago, is “carrying out the last six hundred yards of foreign policy.”

Even so, as a young Marine, you soon understand that leadership counts a lot over every one of those last 1,800 feet. And, the Corps has lots to say on the subject. In later years, I also learned that leadership counts a lot in most worthwhile endeavors. And, sadly, it works on the Bad Guy’s side as well.

Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in WWII (think D-Day) and later, President, once define leadership as the personal ability to make people want to do what you want them to do.

In the Marine Corps, Platoon Leaders are the most visible and vital leaders to regular Marines. Through them, every Marine has a personal window into leadership under stress. And, that Marine forms an opinion. On the negative opinion side, there are at least two phrases that basically say,“he might as well be working for the enemy.”

The Squad Bay Jester often blurts out the first phrase the first time as apparent buffoonery. But, it’s a sure sign that the platoon thinks its leader is so worthless as an officer that he’s a danger to them and other Marines. That phrase is,

“Follow me men, I’m right behind you.”

It means that the supposed leader is a craven, clueless functional moron, regardless of how ‘book smart’ or good with words he might seem.

The second phrase is usually spoken by fellow officers or senior enlisted leaders when asked about such a platoon commander. The exchange can go something like this:

“So, what do you think of the new platoon leader over in Bravo Company?”

“Well, he’s a great guy and a good ball player.”

“Oh. Sorry to hear that. Semper Fi.”

This response means that the platoon leader has no important virtues worthy of respect.

Today, looking around at people in positions of power, influence and celebrity in government, media and academia, it seems that 90% or more qualify for similar faint praise.

Why? I’m not really sure. But, if I had to guess, I think C.S. Lewis may have been onto something. Back in the 1940’s, he wrote a sadly prophetic observation about the ‘modern’ approach to education, which has now operated in the West for around 70 years:

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Today, we have a society where 75% of young people are unfit for military service, even if they wanted to serve, which they don’t. And the geldings we’ve elected and see on TV or in the movies are trying so hard to be fruitful, aren’t they? Poor things.

Well, at least they must be great people or good ball players. And, they certainly aren’t shy about exhorting us to follow their lead. As long as we’re willing to do what they say and instead of what they themselves are willing to do.

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