[July 12, 2018] French statesman and military leader Napoléon Bonaparte once famously wrote, “Give me enough medals and I’ll win you any war.” It’s a line of thought that tells us first about how leadership rests on the principle of knowing how people act emotionally and second, to capitalize on it. On this date, July 12th in 1862, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure calling for the awarding of a U.S. Army Medal of Honor.1
I was once told that men don’t fight for medals, they fight for their buddies. And while this is true in many aspects, it is also true that to bring out the best in anyone is to provide a well-established award system. The U.S. Medal of Honor (Navy and Army) was created in the great Civil War to reward those fighting men with the highest military honor possible.2
Honor is a complex idea and hard to define; less so, courage and steadfastness. These latter two are the elements of honor … honor being a code of conduct link between an individual and a society. Honor includes ideas such as valor, chivalry, honesty, compassion, worthiness, respectability, social standing, and self-evaluation.
Those in our Armed Forces that receive those admired and respected national awards – such as the Medal of Honor – are considered to be among our most prized individuals; those whom we look up to and for us to emulate. Leaders want us to copy their bravery and meritorious service because that is what helps the nation win wars.
War demands personal sacrifice. And it is demanded in such a way that the natural tendency of any person is to avoid those situations with behavior that protects the individual. In battle with the enemy, a soldier is inclined to run away and hide (indeed, some have done so).
The Medal of Honor is the best known medal of the U.S. Armed Forces and, as such, it is rarely awarded; often posthumously. Napoléon had it right. If you have enough medals (a reward system) with the knowledge that the rewards are highly desirable, military men and women will be inclined to bravery.
- The first U.S. Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.