Saint Crispin’s Kindergarteners

In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks wrote a fascinating piece entitled Honor Code, and even at the writing of this post, almost twenty-four hours later, it remains the most e-mailed article of the day for the paper.

Using an ingenious example, King Henry V of England, or rather his literary embodiment, Henry V, as immortalized by Shakespeare–ingenious on Brooks’ part, in that Shakespeare had already given his audiences a glimpse of a much younger Henry in two earlier plays, Henry IV, Parts I and Part 2, as the, shall we say, wild “Prince Harry,” or (as he’s more affectionately known by his portly, somewhat wayward, older friend, Falstaff) “Hal”–Brooks makes a passionate argument that modern education (and perhaps even modern social mores) takes passionate boys and turns many of them into angry, confused, and self-loathing “problems” (or as we in the mental health field might say, “clients”).

The guy pulls no punches.  We in the medical and mental health fields take our customary hits, given our semi-acquiescence in the apparent outbreak of attention deficit disorder (ADD) among our young, especially the boys.  In truth, he provides a succinct, quite plausible narrative that had Henry indeed been raised in the finest schools of modern America, he might easily have become a male poster child for my well-Googled bugaboo, Cluster B Traits.

One can easily argue that Brooks overgeneralizes, and I suspect even he would admit that on occasion he leads his argument down a more showman’s path.  ADD, for example, does exist, and I can provide you the references on request.  Yet the article ain’t Number One for nothing–and I tell you, if you work daily with combat veterans, you know exactly why it is.

I’ve discussed this topic already in a several earlier posts, most recently Buddy, Got the Time? and Quite the Handful.   Brooks, however, through Henry, adds an interesting embellishment, quite appropriately using the word people, and thus describing passionate boys and passionate girls.  He writes:

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

For those of you who might be a bit rusty on either your British history or your Shakespeare, wild young Prince Hal grew up to be thoughtful, charismatic, and brave King Henry, leading a relatively small “band of brothers” (hmm, combat vets, sound familiar?) to an amazing victory over the French at Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day.  In the play, he agonizes over the role of the king, of the one who himself is only a man, yet who must make decisions that will affect the lives of many men.  Finally he stands before those men, all vastly outnumbered by the French forces, and Shakespeare has him speak the words that so many actors have endeavored to inhabit with passion for hundreds of years:

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.

Some today indeed see those words as glorifying the bellicose, the worst of the human spirit.  Perhaps they are right.  Some see today’s emphasis on the mutual, the ordered as finally attaining the humane, the best of the human spirit.  Again, perhaps they are right.

Yet every day I sit with men–and women–who desire peace in the world, in their lives, but who are anything but “peaceful” by nature.  They have a warrior’s energy.  They had a warrior’s energy in kindergarten.  They didn’t do circle time well.  They were often the outsiders, the problems.

Indeed many of them do feel that they are still “outsiders” in a world, a nation that tells them to live mutual, ordered lives after training them impeccably well in the bellicose, taking complete advantage of their passion and fire when necessary, demanding complete extinguishing of both when later deemed “necessary.”  They are more than aware that they’ve had to turn in the title “soldier” upon arrival onto US soil and then head off to the next debriefing station to pick up their new title:  “client.”

Brooks has an excellent point, one made not only by him, but by others: in a globally-interrelated, technological world, the mutual and the ordered may indeed flourish.

Yet, friends and neighbors: we have warriors in our midst.  Many of them were made to feel “problematic” as children.  Many finally found that life could have coherence and even meaning when their warrior nature flourished in the military.  They did not want to kill, but they did so if they had to, not for sport, but for the protection of those they loved.  They grieve those who died unnecessarily.  Warrior certainly does not equal monster.  It shouldn’t even necessarily have to equal client.  End of story.

So I get passionate when I think that we are taking one percent of the population, a percent that we allowed to volunteer and fight, exposing them to horrors on our behalf (and don’t you dare give me that “not my behalf” bit: did you give up lattes and/or Bud Light to stand against George or Barack?), with our then now doing nothing to find a way for them to fit into our society.  Talk about the ultimate bait and switch: You’re a problem!  No, wait, you’re a hero!  No, sorry, you’re a problem again.

Brooks is right.  We do have to rethink “problematic” boys–and girls.  We do have to rethink problematic combat veterans.

For many of us, then, we have to keep writing, keep pounding on doors, keep shouting.

His Majesty, Henry the Fifth of England, would have done no less.

And, boy, when he was a kid?  Let me tell you. . .

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