[September 14, 2020] My first tour of duty in the U.S. Army was in West Germany; the year was 1974 and before the wall came down. While in-processing on a military base in the city of Bad Wimpfen, I was given a 12-hour pass that I used to tour the old city. There I met an old man who had been in the German Army during World War II. We talked for hours, but one of my clear memories was that he said that he doesn’t kneel for anyone (a close translation).
He had been a simple Infantryman, enlisting in 1944 when he turned 17 years of age. Like the rest of his family, it was a matter of pride to be part of Germany’s wars, but later, after brutal fighting on the Eastern Front in Russia, he was disillusioned by so much destruction and bloodshed. He was a proud man and lived to tell the story when one of his officers ordered the German soldiers to kneel in front of him to show total obedience to his officers. This German, now an old man, refused.
“Ego non vir genua ante.” – Latin, “I kneel before no man.”
I often write about courage here in my blog at www.theleadermaker.com. It is, to be sure, easy to write about it but something else to practice it. Further, I have commented on the difficulties of moral courage, as distinguished from physical courage, and the need for people with moral courage to speak and write their real thoughts and stand by their convictions, even to their detriment (see here, here, and here).
There’s an old saying in the Bible that “… you will know the truth, the truth will set you free.”1 But what is not said is that this is true only when we develop the skills, the habit, the talent, and the moral courage to use it. I learned this long ago on the training I received in the Army, from many great leaders, and on the battlefields where courage is no rare trait. I learned from that old German that if you kneel to others, you are a sycophant at best but more likely you are a groveling coward.
The kneeling phenomenon demanded by radical leftists in the wake of George Floyd’s death runs counter to how Americans are taught. Growing up in the Deep South, we called this being “yella” – a derisive term for cowardice. We know from the many centuries of human behavior that kneeling doesn’t satisfy the tyrant or the bully. Kneeling is submission to the whims of other humans. You become less of a person to others, a sacrifice of your humanness. It is never virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself.
The old German never kneeled. A hero never kneels. And this veteran doesn’t kneel either.
- John 8:32, ESV of the Bible: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john%208:31-32&version=ESV