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Bravery, Duty, and Sacrifice
Antiquated concepts, modern interpretation
“Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as be seen as a people with such responsibilities.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 1905
In recent years we’ve been in danger of pushing aside the concepts of bravery, duty, and sacrifice. Old-fashioned virtues for an old-fashioned society.
Where in the metaverse is there a need for bravery? From whence does the crypto world demand duty? What sacrifice is required of us on Clubhouse?
Over the last week, we’ve seen a generation’s worth of these values through Ukraine’s response to the Russian invasion.
Many Ukrainian civilians have been inspired to fight, with regular updates and messages coming directly from the Ukrainian leadership:
The Few, the Brave
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much been owed by so many to so few.”— Winston Churchill, 1940
The brave actions of the small but mighty Ukrainian forces are doing more than fighting for their country’s independence; they have inspired the entire Western world to stand up to an authoritarian, and the domino effect has been remarkably quick and severe.
Germany is re-arming, Finland and Sweden are interested in joining NATO, Ukraine has applied to join the European Union, the E.U. has cut Russia from the SWIFT network, global companies are cutting ties with Russia.
As Jonathan Last wrote, “That’s a decade’s worth of geopolitical change in four days.”
The collective morale and actions coming from Ukraine, its leaders, and its people reminded me of another conflict in that area of the world.
If you look up Crimean War on Wikipedia, it helpfully points out: “For the ongoing war fought over Crimea, see Russo-Ukrainian War.” And that page reminds us: “This article is about the ongoing war. For the 1917–1921 war, see Soviet–Ukrainian War.”
A century and a half of conflict on repeat.
Crimea, the peninsula at the southern tip of Ukraine, has always been a region of contested sovereignty. And in 1853, many of the same players were involved.
Fought from October 1853 to February 1856, the Crimean War saw Russia lose to an alliance of France, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom, and what is now Italy.
For our purposes, we’re going to look at the Battle of Balaclava — more specifically, the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade that took place on October 25, 1854.
The charge of the Light Brigade was founded on a simple mission: to retake a handful of captured British guns on a hilltop in the Crimean War.
But a bizarre misunderstanding turned it into a suicide dash.
The charge lasted to just under seven minutes. The myth has endured for 150 years.
It became and remains the embodiment of glorious courage and military stupidity. History has blamed a generation of aristocratic generals for a pointless tactical blunder.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote his famous poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” just six weeks after the first newspaper report of the defeat.
Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
Six hundred-sixty four horsemen charged unsupported up the valley, through a gauntlet of three batteries, twenty-six battalions of Russians.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
Lord Fitzroy Somerset Raglan, the British commander-in-chief in Crimea, was concerned that the Russians would confiscate British artillery on the Causeway Heights. He expected the cavalry to move immediately, with the infantry to come later.
But George Bingham, the earl of Lucan, who commanded the cavalry, thought Raglan wanted them to attack together. As a result, Lucan’s men sat around for 45 minutes waiting for the infantry to arrive. At that point, Raglan issued a new order, telling the cavalry to “advance rapidly to the front … and try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns.”
Lucan couldn’t see any artillery being moved, so he asked Raglan’s aide-de-camp where to attack. But instead of pointing to the Causeway Heights, the aide allegedly waved his arm in the direction of a Russian artillery battery at the far end of an exposed valley.
James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan, commanded the Light Brigade, and he and Lucan, though perturbed by Raglan’s order, obeyed it without verifying to make sure they understood it correctly.
Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.
The Light Brigade began its mile-and-a-quarter-long charge, with Russian artillery trained on them from three sides. From behind them, the Heavy Brigade watched in horror as Light Brigade troops were mowed down, losing limbs, heads, and horses as the cannons volleyed.
Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air Sabring the gunners there, Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke; Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.
Miraculously, the Light Brigade, sabers drawn, broke through the Russian line, with no help from the Heavy Brigade, which had turned back. As the Light Brigade unleashed its fury on the enemy, the Russians fired indiscriminately at their own men as well as at the Light Brigade.
Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them, Left of six hundred.
Sensing defeat, the Light Brigade staggered into a retreat, weathering fire from the Russian artillery once again — but only from the Causeway Heights.
Approximately 110 cavalrymen were killed, with 160 wounded: a remarkable 40 percent casualty rate.
When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
Thanks to Tennyson’s poem that highlighted the bravery of the Light Brigade, their reputation for bravery and duty was immortalized.
The concept of following orders or making a difficult choice seems lost on us today. The courage shown in the current Russo-Ukrainian War — from both Russian soldiers, who may be seeing firsthand the folly of the invasion, and the Ukrainians, who seem to be synonymous with toughness — is particularly remarkable.
Especially when you consider the difficulty Americans have had with wearing masks over the last couple of years. Our sense of altruism was outstripped by our fierce individualism, as we “would prefer not to,” in demonstrating American exceptionalism.
Meanwhile, the exceptional librarians of Ukraine are fighting:
May we all feel such a sense of bravery, duty, and sacrifice.
“When Duty whispers low, Thou must, The youth replies, I can.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1867
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.