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Fortuna et Virtu
By First Lieutenant Harries-Clichy Peterson, Jr., U. S. Marine Corps
A s tor •
The rain pours down in the comb zone. The young platoon command mind is on his plan of attack. ^ enemy force holds the high ground1 his front; he has been ordered to 1 tack, seize, and hold. His chilled, weary, and wet as he, are u1 able to rest in their mud-puddle figb ing holes. They will be vulnerab!1 and will need superior motivation they are to succeed.
His scheme decided, the plattf commander gathers his squad lead*1 and explains his plan, spicing b dialogue with earthy asides about <’ heritage and ancestry of the ene(,: they confront. Later he will go do" the line, talk with each man, quick1 because time is short, to give the' confidence and make sure each kno* the part he will play in the plan.
Years later and half a world awa' an Army transportation truck coh pany commander is told by her ma|: tenance sergeant, “Ma’am, we c&f get more than half of the trucks 1 deadline before next week, becatf support hasn’t got our universal jo*1 bearings in yet.” This young captai; fresh from a tour at West Point, b little shocked. Her commander 1* just warned her that the infantry uf she is supporting is to be convoyed next day to an unspecified city as Y of a response to Warsaw Pact manC vers. All her trucks will be needs1 Her troops are motivated and able; ^ is a good leader. But the system failing, and her problem is how 1 apply situational management prio1 pies.
Having been aware of her manaf ment responsibilities, she had forR1' lated tentative contingency respond to crises such as this, and she choc* one. A quick conference with t1 subordinates, liaison with higher a*1 adjacent units, astute direction of' internal parts redistribution—a e' phemism for otherwise unauthoriz1 cannibalizing of deadlined vehicles' and her motor pool is quickly ganized into a responsive unit, res1 to fulfill their motto, “you call * haul, any load any road, any clime a*1 time, if we can’t truck it, it can’t 6 there.”
The operations officer on board 1,1 of the Navy’s newest frigates is llf
‘ccolo Machiavelli, in his essays
Virtu is the application of our and virtues to our lives and the
n°yed. The ship had been extended ^*ce on a WestPac deployment, and e six-month cruise had become a nine-month nightmare. His men are w°rking fairly well, but the natural attrition of being at sea is taking a ■ the ship is getting dirty and j’Suipment is failing. The captain’s t&gest problem, however, is lurking W|thin the most sensitive and expen- 1Ve assets on board—his sailors. The **gns of trouble are becoming more 9uent and obvious. Mess decks are P itting into racial cliques. The men re devoting less effort to their as- 'gned duties and more time to complaints.
^he ops boss recognizes the prob- as old as the sea itself. He be- thVes the solutions, while common to rnar*time heritage, demand a spe- a flavor, unique to his ship, his I mander, his men, and his particu- t ll- ruatIon at this specific time. He
his S C° ^*s iunior °^cers ^rst> then s chiefs, and finally to his leading
° lc‘es and guidelines and how he sies to apply them to the present ation. He has no desire to change but°rrnanCe stanflards, he tells them, etsh'^e ^°eS want each man in a lead- *P position to give conscious ema, ,as's f° t^lree principles: (1) be avail- t0 the men, (2) keep the flow of ^^tnation unhindered and timely UP and down the chain of com- d> and (3) be swift both to praise and reprimand.
Mi tta/^6 ^r'nce’ sPeaks of the two cen-
liv e^ernents that force and shape our
es- fortuna and virtu. Fortuna is that
cjrcr' >s beyond human control, those
. Curnstances which we could call *ate
rostances in which we find our- es. '
On 116 reutenant's fortuna was to come to n an enemy un*t to his front, and tai r?te'Vc orders to attack it. The caps fortuna was an unanticipated s*rn atl<a °n ^er un‘ts assets and a ta U‘taneous degradation of her unit’s to h d*t7es' "fhe ops boss’s fortuna was e confronted by a morale problem.
Fortuna is often unfair as it was to those in the Arizona on 7 December 1941. Why, for example, do some get orders to plush commands, while others, equally competent and competitive, get such assignments as recreational services officer for the naval facility at Adak? Circumstances range from the truly unavoidable and completely beyond our control to those that are imposed on us by other men, such as a direct order from a commanding officer. We have the ability to mold, influence, change, or overcome some of these circumstances through virtu.
From Machiavelli we learn that virtu is essentially a leader’s response to his world, and how he goes about molding it to his will. So the platoon commander’s virtu is his imaginative, tactical scheme which, in turn, is an outgrowth of his “leadership” ability. The captain’s virtu manifests itself in a special excellence in exercising sound personnel and materiel management under stress. The ops boss attacks circumstance with his virtu, a rational analysis -of problems and solutions, translated into action with persuasion and firmness.
This magical stuff called virtu is nothing more than the varieties of human action, or style, or courage, that characterize us as individuals. In analyzing virtu, we find it to be composed of several elements.
First, there is that most important and elusive of human characteristics, leadership. The definitions are legion, the models infinite. Under stressful situations, leadership exhibits itself as courage, and, as stress decreases, the term “style”—borrowed from the Brits—is more descriptive. We know that excellence in leadership increases as adversity becomes more severe. But precise definitions elude us. We speak of leadership principles and characteristics, yet we find them ignored in one way or another by every great leader. Leadership styles are diverse, and we look at them all, studying the biographies of favorite leaders, trying to distill the essence of their success, and bring it into our own lives, as our own virtu.
For military men and women, leadership seems to be essentially motivating and inspiring others to do our will. General George Patton, with his voracious appetite for the offense and his strict insistence on excellence, overcame his enemies in a manner that made him a symbol of an indomitable, if somewhat ruthless, American will to win. Admiral Arleigh Burke, with his brilliance and foresight and an ability to flex with circumstances while maintaining the highest of values and standards, has become the Navy’s modern embodiment of leadership. Marine General Oliver P. Smith, through his extensive knowledge of military strategy and a rare understanding of how history operates through contemporary leaders, won a place in Marine Corps and American military history with his courageous mastery of circumstance at the Chosin Reservoir. And General George C. Marshall, through his profound knowledge of men and their abilities, directed the American war machine through World War II, taking it from the depths of Pearl Harbor to the heights of global victory. Each of these men confronted fortuna with his uniquely personal virtu. It is this leadership aspect of virtu, the existence of strong values that withstand the test of adversity and challenge, that is the most indispensable aspect of military command. It may be that obscure, as-yet-undefined psychological factors affect our ability to motivate and inspire or it may be that some of us are just "born with it.” But regardless of the reasons, without the kind of leadership that lifts men and women and makes them perform far in excess of their expected abilities, fortuna will triumph over virtu. And people will die, missions will not be accomplished, armies will be defeated, fleets will be destroyed, and nations will perish.
If leadership is the spirit, soul, and essence of virtu, then managerial abilities are its mind. Management is alternatively disparaged on one hand as being a plebian task of desk commanders with no thirst for glory or vision of success, and, on the other hand, hailed as being the only answer to the myriad of problems that confront those in the positions of authority. Management is the ability to technically direct, control, and organize. The specific jobs of management are “staff” functions, without which the operational commander would have naught. Without management, there would be no glory for the leader, and virtu would be buried beneath an avalanche of circumstances caused by those who could master the mundane. This is not to say that a man of virtu, a successful leader, must himself be a master of management. The ability to delegate authority, while retaining responsibility, is why the masters surround themselves with experts and managers. Yet to exercise virtu, one must know what is required to keep the war machine running.
Planning is the fundamental on which all action is based. There is no way of altering circumstances, of challenging fortuna, without a sense of purpose, a clearly defined objective, and a selected course of action. First, one must understand the technical constraints of any given act, then one must weigh the costs and benefits, and, finally, one must have the moral courage to make a decision.
Other managerial jobs are organizing—a somewhat sterile structural exercise—and its corollary, staffing—that which adds the human dimension to organization. General George Marshall, perhaps the finest example of an organizational-staffing genius in American military history, had the ability to know men and their capabilities and limitations. The successes of Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and Ridgway—to name but four— was due directly to Marshall’s having placed them in the right place at the right time. Moreover, it is a good example of how, in many ways, one man’s fortuna can merely be the exercise of another man’s virtu.
A final tangible aspect of management is control. Given sound plans, goals, or objectives to accomplish our missions, we establish organizations and staff them with people who will execute those plans. Control techniques are simply used to measure progress in the accomplishment of plans. They range from the infantry commander moving from squad to squad during an assault to see how his warriors are advancing, to the officer of the deck having his helmsman repeat course headings until they are acknowledged. The setting of standards and then measuring performance against them are the essence of control. But the exercise of virtu demands more than measuring, it demands correction when performance lags behind demands or expectations, and correction demands moral courage.
Perhaps the most disturbing example of a failure of moral courage in the armed forces today is the timidity of superiors who refuse to correct shortcomings in subordinates, or even to advise them of their deficiencies. This intolerable inaction results in continued marginal performance, the perpetuation of incompetence, and the stunting of growth in an organization and its individuals. The ability to pass out swift, firm, and appropriate rewards, punishments, and guidance is perhaps the paramount managerial skill that a leader must have if his virtu is to sway fortuna.
From this cursory examination of the fundamentals of management that a leader must master, in addition to charisma and the intangibles of psychological motivation, there is yet another element of virtu. This is the series of traits that the writers of leadership manuals are so fond of listing, and which are often posted—and almost always unread—on unit bulletin boards.
It is not my intention to belabor the reader with a review of these. Rather, my point is that these traits and principles are not necessarily indispensable attributes as much as indicators which have surfaced in successful leaders throughout history. To willfully ignore them, at the wrong time and place, is to court failure and catastrophe. The man of virtu is like the scientist who studies rules and masters the prediction of consequences, and like the artist who masters rules and then proceeds to violate them knowingly, introducing his own personal revolutions into the norms and standards he has learned, to produce masterpieces.
Virtu, then, is composed of leadership (the intangibles of motivation),1 management (the tangibles of techn ^ cally directing men and women to complish missions), and of certain i( ^ dispensable traits. There is yet anotb , element, however, which affects bo< '
virtu and fortuna. This final and mt important constituent is the indivf ual’s own history of successes an failures—his or her track record, you will. The man or woman of vif'1 who conquers fortuna only occasional! is less valuable than the person wb ^ like Patton, seems to have an uf
canny, almost mystical ability to ch» lenge circumstances successfully. j
Track records may be used in vat a ous ways. The consistent loser worthless and should be discarded b1c cause his failures jeopardize all the-' with whom he comes in contact. Tl j, consistent winner is a valuable ass«: These extremes, however, are a ve( small percentage of the total popul* tion of leaders. The great mass of m( and women in between the extrerff must be evaluated more critically af c thoughtfully. Those with occasion s successes against their circumstanc1 c become suspect for their developmd of virtu may have been simply a matt J of fortuna. y
The person to pinpoint, mold, aH encourage is the individual who1 j track record shows a specific chan) point in life which separates past fio! present. Such a person may very W( be the future master of virtu. The pf‘ cess of self-discovery should never ! minimized or ignored, as it may be the most important source of futu1 Si excellence. The person who has cob to terms with his strengths and wea^ 1 nesses, and has maximized at" minimized them respectively, may ^ worth more than the person who si11 ply steadily produces sufficiently 1 ^ become an adequate, but not ob standing, leader.
These four factors are what we my use to evaluate how much virtu a ro* or woman does possess. Leadership e> cellence, a mastery of managemd skills, a high percentage of desirab traits, and a history of success are 1 indicators of virtu. They are obvious' interconnected, yet their growth ab evidence may vary, particularly in ^ field of leadership. Without the
1),1 gferie stress of combat, ultimate lead- hn ^ ‘P may never be elicited and ex- o a( hlb>ted.
n in To control circumstances, to master 3tb ^te’ *s a heady business. William boi Urner Hugget, writing about a mo-1 rr'arine lieutenant in Vietnam in his ivit! novel Body Count, describes the moat *?ent tbe lieutenant overcomes his in- d, ' SeerC1S*°n an<^ his fear °f his platoon vif'' . ®eant- His unit is in a catastrophic nail atl0n, his previously obstreperous wh' [1^®?ant 'n a state of catatonic shock, u» t's battalion commander demanding cha Cernovv what the hell the young offi- ls doing to his platoon, and, most var ‘‘"Portantly, his men are standing :r ; Und him waiting and waiting and b ofa"lnS f°r him to do what 200 years ... warlne Corps heritage told them he T1 ^ ,.°u ^ do: lead. And Lieutenant Haw- isse1 ns makes his decision. Hugget de- ve< scribes: “As Hawkins splashed back down the stream his decision swelled up in him like a great freedom. It filled his belly like food; he felt good, intensely good, as keen as a knife. What was it? he wondered. It was nothing. He tried to figure what was different. The men moved at once; they scrambled. And he could see it in their eyes.”
Fleet Admiral Ernest King is supposed to have said about wars that “When you get in trouble, you send for the sonsabitches.”
Machiavelli believed that circumstance, or fate, was man’s central confrontation in life, something essentially beyond his control. He also believed, however, that fortuna could be vanquished by the right kind of man. And this vanquishing of fortuna is what we are after. We want not only to confront and control circumstances, but to triumph over them.
So, if Admiral King may be paraphrased: "When you get in trouble, you send for the man of virtu."
First Lieutenant Peterson received his commission through the NROTC program at Stanford University in 1973. Following his completion of The Basic School at Quantico, he has served as an infantry platoon commander, assistant battalion logistics officer, III MAF/Division command center watch officer, amphibious reconnaissance instructor, and aide-de-camp. He is currently Head of the Intelligence Section, Landing Force Training Command Pacific, in Coronado, California.
cently, a British guided-missile destroyer was operating in the Atlantic and, true to ' sly t°ni’ 3 ^°v'et destroyer was close on her tail observing every detail of the Royal Navy 'm1 co'PS rnovements- -At one point the British ship reduced speed slightly and her Soviet met *r°rt aPProacbed dangerously close to her stern.
t e Russian captain, who obviously had a sense of humor and an understanding of the 8 *sh idiom, made the following signal: "Suggest you hitch your washing machine to q shaft for more power.”
Vuick as a flash the Briton replied, “Have been cruising on washing machine since you eQ. Main engines not yet clutched in.”
Captain J. M. Thornton, CAF (Retired)
, af /ho* ian| frof
:0if j ^ w"e and I bought him a box of cigars of the type enclosed in aluminum tubes.
|;t ,n an effort to brighten our friend’s life, we removed each tube’s lid and inserted a cheery af note- such as “Look out! This one is LOADED,” or “Scraped off a ship’s bottom,” or iy- ^ In'! cabbage,” and so forth. Then we replaced the caps and seals.
siif . n due course, we received a nice note of appreciation. “Many thanks for the magnificent
The Personal Touch
n °ld friend, stationed in an isolated post in Greenland was known to fancy good smokes,
0 d rid rat” e )
wc iclcivcu a nice nuic ui apjJicciai.iv/n. ***-©.............
s’ he wrote, “but I must make a confession. I had no appropriate presents available, so n fhe Danish ambassador came through I gave him the whole box.”
Contributed by Rear Admiral Kemp Tolley, USN (Ret.)