A code

Wenig hervortreten, viel leisten, mehr sein als scheinen.

Alfred Graf von Schlieffen

Avoid the spotlight, work hard, and be more than you seem.


You are answerable to God in your duty…

Overall I thought The Crown’s first season was good – it’s hard for me to dislike a period drama that takes pains to stay accurate. The clip below was probably my favorite few minutes in the whole season. It’s heavy stuff – and in reality I imagine the concept of a divine responsibility isn’t a new one to a new queen. Something this profound has to be communicated early if not often. Either way, great scene.

“carpetbaggers and parvenus”

Concepts of Duty

“England expects that every man will do his duty” – the signal given by Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence – is perhaps the most well known quote about duty. If you went to a southern military college, “Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less.” by General Robert E. Lee comes readily to mind as well. They speak of duty through a 19th century military concept of honor. But there are other ways of looking at it – such as these:

Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.

Mark Twain

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

Victor Frankl – Man’s Search For Meaning, 1946

Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please — this won’t take long.” Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time — and squawk for more!
So learn to say No — and to be rude about it when necessary.
Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.)

Robert A. Heinlein – Time Enough for Love, 1973

The destiny of mankind is not decided by material computation. When great causes are on the move in the world …we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.

Winston S. Churchill – Radio address to the US, June 1941

Never mind your happiness; do your duty.

Peter F. Drucker


The Generalist

Peter F. Drucker’s The Effective Executive is a goldmine of valuable management advice. Perhaps the meta-narrative of the book is an ethos for executives – to focus on those areas where they can provide the greatest amount of help to the organization. Here he talks about how to connect one’s own specialties to the larger organization:

The only meaningful definition of a “generalist” is a specialist who can relate his own small area to the universe of knowledge. Maybe a few people have knowledge in more than a few small areas. But that does not make them generalists; it makes them specialists in several areas. And one can be just as bigoted in three areas as in one. The man, however, who takes responsibility for his contribution will relate his narrow area to a genuine whole. He may never himself be able to integrate a number of knowledge areas into one. But he soon realizes that he has to learn enough of the needs, the directions, the limitations, and the perceptions of others to enable them to use his own work. Even if this does not make him appreciate the richness and the excitement of diversity, it will give him immunity against the arrogance of the learned—that degenerative disease which destroys knowledge and deprives it of beauty and effectiveness.

Peter F. Drucker – The Effective Executive – HarperCollins 2002 


The limitations of history

History, like any other human endeavor, is subject to human error and the human tendency to change the story to suit one’s interests. The following are a number of quotes taken from the section The Exploration of History. 

Nothing can deceive like a document.

After twenty years’ experience of such work, pure documentary history seems to me akin to mythology.

Many are the gaps to be found in official archives, token of documents destroyed later to conceal what might impair a commander’s reputation.

The study of war history is especially apt to dispel any illusions—about the reliability of men’s testimony and their accuracy in general, even apart from the shaping of facts to suit the purposes of propaganda.

A sound rule of historical evidence is that while assertions should be treated with critical doubt, admissions are likely to be reliable.

Why Don’t We Learn From History, Basil H. Liddell Hart, p27-29

This seems disheartening if you’re trying to reconstruct actual events from historical documents. How is one to tell which account is the truthful one – and how to reconcile conflicting and both seemingly plausible explanations?


The Value of History

I think someone else has said something similar (that I’ve recently read – it might have been James Mattis) but it’s true that the study of history allows the reader to become wiser far beyond their years.

There is no excuse for anyone who is not illiterate if he is less than three thousand years old in mind.

And to get all meta on you, this understanding about history’s value goes back at least two centuries before Christ:

The point was well expressed by Polybius. “There are two roads to the reformation for mankind, one through misfortunes of their own, the other through the misfortunes of others; the former is the most unmistakable, the latter the less painful… we should always look out for the latter, for thereby we can, without hurt to ourselves, gain a clearer view of the best course to pursue… the knowledge gained from the study of true history is the best of all educations for practical life.”

Why Don’t We Learn From History, Basil H. Liddell Hart, p20


Creativity in Combat comes from “Seeds Long Sown”

Liddell Hart, known for his war journalism, works on military strategy and predictions about war, wrote this book about the uses and usefulness of history. He also covers a lot of ground in other areas.

Creative thought has often counted for more than courage; for more, even, than gifted leadership. It is a romantic habit to ascribe to a flash of inspiration in battle what more truly has been due to seeds long sown, to the previous development of some new military practice by the victors, or to avoidable decay in the military practice of the losers.

Why Don’t We Learn From History, Basil H. Liddell Hart, p22