What lies at the crossroads of Shakespeare, leadership, brotherhood, and a miraculous real-life military victory? They all share common ground with this day – October 25 – St. Crispin’s Day.
I Love the Smell of a Monologue in the Morning
Today is a Catholic feast, honoring two brothers who were early Christian martyrs. But Shakespeare fans most likely recognize St. Crispin’s Day as the backdrop for one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time – delivered to soldiers by the King of England in the play, “Henry V.”
Some of the world’s best actors (including Sir Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh) have captivated audiences with their portrayal of Henry V speaking with his troops. (For example, here’s Branagh in action on YouTube.)
Does this quote sound familiar?
“The fewer men, the greater share of honour.”
Or how about this one?
“We few. We happy few. We band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.”
Now you can only imagine what inspired the famous USMC motto, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”
Although the full passage may seem to glorify warfare – to me that interpretation is too narrow. Rather, I believe it glorifies the self-sacrificing spirit that bonds warriors who risk their lives in conflict. If you’ve seen the recent Afghanistan war documentary, Restrepo – I imagine you’ll agree.
King Henry – The Original Motivational Speaker?
In fact, step back a bit further – away from a military environment altogether. From a broader perspective, you could consider this speech an effective blueprint for leadership in ANY setting where groups must work together to overcome tremendous obstacles – in business, athletics, government, education, philanthropy, religion – wherever.
But before we analyze Shakespeare’s message as a leadership tool – let’s recognize its place in history. Indeed – his St. Crispin’s story is not wholly a work of fiction.
The Ultimate Renaissance Reality Show?
Henry V is actually inspired by the Battle of Agincourt – where, on October 25, 1415, a heavily outnumbered English army scored a decisive victory against the French in the Hundred Years War. And “decisive” is a massive understatement!
Although records are sketchy, even the most conservative estimates indicate that 6 French soldiers were lost for each English casualty. That’s a staggering outcome – especially since the ratio of French to English troops was about 5-to-1 when the battle began.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In fact, sometimes, it’s much more incredible than fiction. And this is definitely one of those times!
What made the difference? Some say that tactics, technology and terrain were key factors. But if you believe Shakespeare, King Henry’s ability to lift the morale of his troops played a critical role.
Henry’s Secret Sauce
Leadership development experts Ken & Carol Adelman say in a Washington Post analysis that Shakepeare’s words reveal a keen understanding of what’s needed to build morale and commitment to a cause – even in the face of certain defeat. Specifically, Henry focuses on two key success factors:
Although he was a nobleman, Shakespeare’s King Henry dug deep to build trust among soldiers from all walks of life. He recognized the human need to be valued, and he tied value to honor among his troops. So, is there a takeaway for today’s military?
An Afghan War Lesson
Today in Afghanistan, the US has deployed more than 100,000 armed forces who are arguably better trained than ever. But in this so-called “long war” – unless and until we can transfer that same professionalism and dedication to our Afghan counterparts, any victories we achieve there are likely to be short-lived.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a successful transition begins with recruitment of Afghans who demonstrate leadership potential. But leaders, alone, aren’t enough to win the peace.
In addition, it requires commitment from Afghans who are willing to learn and consistently apply proper soldiering and policing skills. So, how can we gain that commitment?
Education, training, structure and process are essential. (Not to mention reasonable compensation.) But perhaps King Henry’s playbook will seal the deal. At the end of the day, success could depend on the degree to which we connect Afghan forces with one another, and with their mission.
But Wait – There’s More!
Thus far, we’ve linked Shakespeare’s tale of leadership and brotherhood with the documented history of Agincourt. But before I close, let’s consider another wrinkle in this story – the legend behind the date.
Remember those two Christian brothers for whom this Day is named – Crispin and Crispinian?
Well, here’s a snapshot. According to NewAdvent.org and other sources, these brothers were born to a wealthy Roman family in the 3rd century A.D. They were disinherited early in life, when they converted to Christianity – which Roman elite society found unacceptable at that time.
They moved to northern France and preached by day, while making shoes in their spare time. They purposefully chose this humble trade, so they could be more useful to the Christian community. After they were killed, they became known as the patron saints of leather workers and hand craftsmen.
The point is this – Crispin and Crispinian were blood brothers, who together, sacrificed nobility for a cause they considered more worthy. In essence, this day was born from the concept of brotherhood and honor – at any price.
Crispin – Coincidence or Karma? You be the Judge
Who knows – perhaps human motivation and artful warfare weren’t the only elements at work in the St Crispin’s Day victory? And who knows – someday, that same sort of karma could benefit those fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan? By the grace of St. Crispin, we can use all the help we can get.
P.S. I invite you to discuss faith, freedom, troop support and related issues with me at my “Afghan Journal” Facebook Forum: http://Facebook.com/AfghanJournal.
P.P.S. Interested in my experience in training Afghan security forces in a remote region near Pakistan? Check out my book at Amazon.com: “Afghan Journal: A Soldier’s Year in Afghanistan.”