Leadership in Extreme circumstances; The Novel "The Killer Angels"
Leadership is one of the most challenging and at the same time gratifying responsibilities in everyday life. Though some people can be born with the attributes of leadership, the experiences in real life shape such characteristics to make them iconic managers, directors or holders of various positions. Good leaders not only provide a sense of direction for the people they lead but also get actively involved in every activity that comes with the pursuit of specific goals. Ideally, good leaders make prudent decisions, reinforce their failures, and sustain even the most protracted and losing battle. In essence, good leaders should be the last to quit even in challenging circumstances. Those who masquerade as leaders but abandon their subjects in difficult situations lack adequate skills to make them lead. Exceptional leaders are flexible in coping with every reality they face. A good leader should have inner strength, self-sacrifice and should be willing in doing something to perform well.
"The killer Angel" by Michael Shaara is a story that portrays leadership in extreme cases in various ways. This story describes clearly the events, which only lasted four days between late June and early July of 1863 (Shaara, 2001). It recounts the experiences and activities of four men who went into the field of war, which turned out to be the bloodiest three days in the history of The United States of America. Robert Lee who was the leader of his army believed that this was the only means that the Southerners could use to compel Washington DC, which was the seat of US state power to agree to make peace with the South. There is are incidences where Lee makes wrong decisions such as ordering Richard Ewell to attack Cemetery Hill, if practicable. Ideally, he ought to have assessed the army and the target to prevent any possibility of failure. Pete who was with Robert Lee did not agree with Robertts optimism and foresaw a bloody encounter, which to him seemed a sad one. Cavalry General John Buford was on the northern side and courageously held Robert lee's army. One of the fateful decisions that Major General Bufford made was dismounting his cavalry and defending the town of Gettysburg while waiting for John Reynolds infantry division for reinforcement. The move seems to have been a rash decision for a leader to attack without adequate capacity. The inadequacy caused the killing of Reynolds and Buford due to the injuries he suffered that day.
"The Killer Angels" is a recommendable novel for colleges, especially in the history curricula that intended to provide the students with critical knowledge about the American Civil War. It not only focuses on providing the sense of leadership in crisis but also exposes the devastation of war and the merits therein. The novel is a superb recapture of the battle of Gettysburg and provides a brief insight into what the factors leading to the war and its meaning. It avoids historical opinions and traces directly back to the primary sources of information about the war as reflected in the eyes of the characters such as Chamberlain. Shaara portrays the army leadership as an essential determinant of success. For instance, he analyses the Army of Northern Virginia and its inherent hypocrisy. He portrays it as an army led by generals that ensure remarkable unity by race and religion fighting remarkably for disunion in the United States. In his discussion about the Army of Northern Virginia, Shaara indirectly glorifies the motive behind the war. He notes that the army is a strange new kind of army, a polyglot mass of vastly different men, fighting for the union.
Shaara also shows the demerits of war by expressing its disastrous effect such as destruction of agriculture, displacement of families, violations of human rights and killing of civilians. The book provides a balanced view on war and leadership in such crises. However, the writer seems to exalt the war primarily as the means that the veterans could use to stabilize the relationship between North and South USA. Shaara's selection of the four principal actors in the novel is evidently to develop a progression of the story.
The perception of Confederate soldiers led by Lee and Longstreet and Union side comprising of Buford and Chamberlain creates a sense of a protraction and tension that seems to justify the war. With different backgrounds, fears, desires, and beliefs of these characters, significant decisions that determine the nature of the war and its outcome are made. Shaara provides alternating viewpoints of the characters and locations that provide the reader with insights into the reasoning, planning and strategic decisions needed to be made during critical situations. James Longstreet had predicted various decisions that Lee's makes such as the last trial to expel the Union soldiers from the high ground at Gettysburg resulted in a miserable failure for the Confederacy soldiers. Though critics may perceive Shaara as being expressly sympathetic of the Southern cause, he blatantly sites slavery as the war's primary reason. In this regard, Shaara glorifies the men such as Chamberlain who believed in fighting a just war with a motive of emancipating the multitude of slaves in the South.
In the novel The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara exemplifies Chamberlain as a real leader. Shaara has described Chamberlain as a leader with incredible skills in different events. He was a courageous and a fearless leader. In the narrative, Chamberlain is brought to the limelight for the first time when making his speech to hundreds of starving and infuriated soldiers. He made a very motivational speech to those soldiers that boosted their morale and gusto (Shaara, 2001). Chamberlain pleaded with the soldiers to fight for a liberating course. His honesty and passion expressed in the speech inspired the starving and angry soldiers. He was able to break through the barrier of hatred and betrayal, which consumed the soldiers.
Chamberlain was a very talented leader. In the scenario where soldiers had injuries, he visited each one of them or in groups and the soldiers would not need a doctor to attend to them. He built a good relationship which the soldiers. Chamberlain visited and talked passionately to them. In this close relationship with his colleagues, he knew each one of them, which made him have a good relationship with the soldiers. He gained a lot of respect than Robert Lee. Chamberlain would go to the extent of risking his life. For example, during the battle on little round top, he knew his army was in trouble (Shaara, 2001). Chamberlain asked his brother to fill a spot risking his life. Shaara depicted the relationship of Chamberlain and his brother Tom as a close one and that he knew he had a duty to protect his people. Therefore, he had to risk his life and that of his brother.
Chamberlain in the novel was fighting for liberty unlike other commanders like Kilrain who was fighting so that people notice and regard them as brave. He had the general interest of his people in mind and tirelessly pursued it through all manner of difficulties. Others like Lincoln also fought for liberation, but he was fighting because he believed that the southern men were not supposed to succeed. The leaders in the novel The Killer Angel are loyal. They thought that for their army to remain efficient and actively operational to win the battle they have to be loyal to one another. Loyalty in the Killer Angels has appeared many times (Shaara, 2001). For example, Kilrain is shown to be loyal to Chamberlain, Goree, Sorrel, and the Longstreet. The whole army was loyal to Robert Lee.
During the battle of Gettysburg, Robert Lee suffered from a heart problem. Shaara used the heart problem of Lee to develop a minor but a very powerful theme. In this novel, Robert Lee was forced to choose his country over Virginia. To him, Virginia came first because that is where he hailed. The war did not leave him with any choice except to continue fighting for his country even if it was heartbreaking. There was a time where Longstreet reminded him of the time when they became The United States' soldiers (Shaara, 2001). They took an oath to defend the United States. Longstreet also reminded him of the time when they would lead the Union army, and now they were killing them. In the novel, there is a time when Lee confessed to Longstreet that being a soldier is one of the worst careers because they were leading men to their death (Shaara, 2001). The pain of not protecting his beloved Virginia was a lot, and he could feel the pain on his chest. So Robert Lee was forced by circumstance to fight for his country.
In the novel The Killer Angels, Shaara depicts Longstreet as a practical person. Longstreet had the knowledge of understanding the changing nature of warfare. Therefore, he wanted to change their tactics so that they can go hand in hand with the changing nature of war. Longstreet was aware that accomplice army would not be able to attack the north. He was also conscious of the fact that the allied troop will always be smaller than the union army will. They know their native land Virginia more (Shaara, 2001). He wanted to lead his troops by hiding them in stones and soldiers. Later they attack the enemy as they advance by cutting them down. Longstreet ways as a leader of extreme circumstances were very functional in the world. It involved the use of long-distance rifles and artillery (Shaara, 2001). Leaders in The Killer Angel had to teach their soldiers not to be afraid of death. They were taught how to kill without being haunted by their spirits. They were told to look at someone as less than a human or not being human.
Most of the characters in the killer angels are generals. It is evident that all the commanders of the troops had their goal of winning the battle. They exploit virtually every practical leadership skills so that they can emerge victoriously. The leaders will go to the extent of leaving their people to fight for their country. Even though it is hard for them, but they uphold loyalty as fostered by the oath they took. The leaders in this book will protect their people with all their heart. They will risk their lives for their people.
Shaara, M. (2001).T The killer angels. New York: Ballantine Books.
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