NOT FOR GLORY

A hero doesn’t do it for the glory. The definition of a hero is one who acts courageously on behalf of others without anticipating a reward. 

Seeking glory can have dangerous consequences as it did during the Crimean War (1854-56) where Britain and France tried to stop Russia from taking territory from the fading Ottoman empire.

A foolish cavalry charge was made famous by Alfred Lord Tennyson when his poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” was published 164 years ago today.  It memorialized the valor of 600 British cavalrymen in the Battle of Balaclava. The following words are the most stirring:

“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.”

The six hundred rode into the valley of death because of the glory seeker, Captain Nolan. He was the staff officer used by Lord Raglan, the commander of British forces, to relay his orders. He was a staff officer who relished the limelight.

Lord Raglan intended to send the Light Brigade to stop the Russians from removing captured guns from overrun Turkish positions, but Nolan miscommunicated the message. The Light Brigade was instead sent on a suicidal assault against dug-in guns. They did reach the Russian line, but were annihilated by withering artillery fire.

After the failed attack, the Light Brigade regrouped and only 195 men were still atop their horses. The futility of the charge and its reckless bravery prompted a French general to declare: “It is magnificent, but it is not war. It is madness.” Supposedly, the Russian commander believed the British soldiers were drunk.

Instead of passing on the written orders to the cavalry commander, Lord Cardigan, Nolan rode in front of the brigade and yelled his version of the order: “There, my lord, is your enemy! There are your guns!”

When Lord Cardigan asked what guns he referred to, Nolan indicated with a wide sweep of his arm the mass of Russian guns at the end of the valley. Nolan’s reasons for the misdirection are unknown because he was the first one killed when he led the charge.

Another of Lord Raglan’s staff officers, Nigel Kingscote, stated that if Captain Nolan had lived, he would have been “broke by court-martial.” Choosing to give orders verbally is a risky venture on any noisy battlefield.

The legacy of the charge focused on the bravery and glory of the British soldiers, much more than the blunders of their commanders. It glorified British gentlemen, obeying senseless orders, to ride into battle to win the day. I believe this had an adverse effect that caused the glory-seeking blunders and bloodbath of World War I.

It seems the poem reinforced the aristocratic tradition which put such pompous leadership in the military in the first place. A tradition which glorified war and the inept leaders who directed it.

 Petition:  Dear Lord God, may we seek to bring only You glory.

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