Since we are only a few days from being deployed, I have developed an interest in finding motivational speeches that have been used, either historically or merely in fictional art, to inspire courage in combat soldiers. It is a difficult to find anything, partly because I don't have access to the relevant sources but partly, I think, because the task of motivation is so inherently spontaneous, drawing on emotions that exist only in a few sublime moments. The majority of speeches, by contrast, get written in a mood of solemnity and reflection, so very often they come out sounding too rehearsed and too sterile. "For as long as wars have been fought, one imagines that there would be a vast database of inspirational rhetoric from officers throughout history, but from what I can tell this sadly appears not to be the case, since much of what has been offer has simply not been written down, and much of what perhaps has been written down is too contextualized to be useful to posterity.
The classic example of a Huah speech comes from Shakespeare's Henry V. Though always famous to literary nerds, the speech was given a broader audience by a reference from Stephen Ambrose, the celebrated historian who wrote the book from which the miniseries "Band of Brothers" was made. A cinematic version of the speech can be found here:
Turning this speech over in my mind, I am struck by how much the basic themes resonate still today, for better or worse. To start with the worse, notice how much contempt there is for civilians in the speech. The reader is led to believe that the "gentlemen in england" are a bunch of panty waisted sissies who lacked the stomach to share the battlefield with noble KingHenry, rather than ordinary people who assumed, not without evidence, that the esoteric dispute over the correct interpretation of Salic Law as it applies to Monarchical accession was not worth fighting over. Eleoquent as the address may be, the reasons for which his men are called to fight are astonishingly shallow. Its like Henry is saying "Fight with me and you can show hot babes at the bar all your cool scars and call all the men there pussies." Much of the speech is basically a medieval approximation of the quote "Marines are at War. Americans are at the Mall!". I sympathize with this sentiment, but I think its unfair for military professionals, all of whom volunteered to be here, to look down on civilians. If I might speak for the Army and defend civilians against Naval triumphalism, I will remind everyone that we are at war, too, and if Americans want to spend time at the mall I can only wish them a pleasant shopping experience.
Some themes are superior. My favorite line in the speech comes before the most famous one, which leads me to believe Ambrose was mistaken for titling his book "Band of Brothers". Comparing soldiers to brothers is pretty conventional stuff, nothing at all like the paradox contained in "We Happy Few". Since the fact that there are "few" of them is precisely a reason they should be miserable, Henrys declaration of them is happy is quite a sensation, one which most infantryment should recognize as familiar. The euphoria that comes with extreme agony has been memorably described as "embracing the suck", although psychologists would probably prefer the good old term "insanity". Whenever he is in a bad situation, the mind of the soldier passes through three stages, which I describe here as follows:
1) This isn't so bad. Im a bit sore, but I can hack it
2) Man this totally sucks
3) Man this sucks so much its actually funny in a sick way
The purpose of motivation is to get you from stage 2 to 3 as smoothly as possible, for it is in the last stage where, against all reason, one is happy.