The moniker Smitten Eagle is derived from Anton Myrer’s military novel Once an Eagle, which is, in my judgement, the best piece of modern military fiction in existence. The novel starts with lines written by Aeschylus:
So, in the Libyan Fable it is told, /That once an Eagle, stricken with a Dart, /Said, when he saw the Fashion of the Shaft, /’With Our own Feathers, not by other’ hands’ /Are We now smitten.
Once an Eagle is epic in scope, spanning some 50 years of 20th century American warfare as seen through the eyes of Sam Damon, who is the hero of the story. He is a soldier first, leading, intellectual, athletic, loyal, honest, and dedicated to the Army. Damon is not flawless. He did have an adulturous affair, though he was not a womanizer.
He is opposed by Courtney Massengale, who never really took on the archetype of soldier. Instead, Massengale was essentially a low breed of politician who happens to work in the Army, and is a pure careerist, loyal only to himself, intellectual only to the extent required for fame, and a user of people.
Sam made decisions out of loyalty to the Constitution, the Army, and his men. These decisions were not without myriad costs. Ultimately he died in service to his country.
This soldier vs. careerist dichotomy is important to recognize today. Most of today’s military leaders, I’m convinced, are not Sam Damon, and they are not Courtney Massengale. They are somewhere in between, loyal to the extent they can be, and careerist to the extent they must be. Careerism is omnipresent. This statement of fact does not negate the danger of careerist soldiers to the Constitution.
John Boyd was the greatest American military strategist of the 20th century. In addition to creating Energy-Maneuverability Theory, serving as the father to the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, and intellectual father of Maneuver Warfare, he was an ardent anti-careerist. When Boyd took you under his wing, according to his biographer, Robert Coram, he would give you a talk about the costs of working with him. Coram recounts the talk in his biography, and it is reproduced here:
“One day you will come to a fork in the road. And you’re going to have to make a decision about what direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised the other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”
The intersection of Sam Damon and John Boyd is here.
I write this blog to keep myself honest, and to keep myself dedicated to the Constitution, the Marine Corps, and my Marines. I have strived to be an excellent officer, and so far my opinions and sense of duty have only complemented my service. But I recognize that one day I will have to make that decision to DO rather than to BE, and that decision will not be easy.