[August 23, 2021] In a speech after the brutal U.S. Civil War ended, Army General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “I tell you, war is Hell.”1 He was a man who knew the viciousness of war and the terrible price people pay. But he was also adamant that when the going gets tough, character counts more than anything else.
The Iraq War began in March 2003. Being 18 years ago, it is hard to imagine how young we were as soldiers and how far we have come. The thumbnail photo is this article’s header is of U.S. Army medic Joseph Dwyer. That day, he saved the life of a young Iraqi boy who had been injured and, half-naked, was protected by Dwyer.
Much has been written about the importance of character in a person. Today, we are treated with the belief that either character does not matter or is gone from our society. I’m not smart enough to know the answer, but I am hopeful that many people – often the most average person from all walks of life – still possess the character of great quality. When things get difficult, those are the people who step forward to do the right thing. They act when character counts.
Years ago, when I started this leadership blog, I addressed the issue of character at length. You can find a long series on those traits that make a person of character on these pages. As such, I discovered that character is a complex idea but remains relatively stable across time and cultures. People know when character is needed. “How,” they know, is something I cannot understand, but I’m with them.
Character is not the feature of war only. It is often found in the most trying times and when we come under great threats of war, famine, disease, etc. Character is possessed by anyone who has the inner strength to do good things. It could be a new mother who stays with her sick child or a young boy who stands his ground to prevent bullies from attacking weaker children. It matters not our age, gender, class of birth, religion, or upbringing.
Character is what allows the world to progress. And the fact that we are progressing in so many areas tells me that there are plenty of people who have character in ample supply.
Medic Dwyer returned home after the war but struggled with his memories of the war. He turned to his friends, who helped him cope. He continued with the military, but his memories became too much of a powerful force. Dwyer turned to drugs, and only three years after this photo was taken, he overdosed when his demons finally caught up with him.