This morning I found myself once more delivering a “heritage lecture” to the assembled student body. The theme this time: service. By the end of the “Service Assembly” our students had raised $4,200.00+ for a local homeless shelter and to buy special equipment for handicapped students. There are those who voice some despair about the “youth of today”. I don’t see it. Kids are wise enough to recognize what is really valuable and to act accordingly.
Preparing for my assignment I found myself leafing through Livy. Seeking for an example of selfless service and honorable leadership, I happened across the account of Cincinnatus. An internet search reviled that many others have recognized his greatness. What follows is what I read the students:
Meaningful service requires sacrifice. It can be rendered by anyone willing to give of themselves for the benefit of others, but when that sacrifice is accompanied by a generosity of spirit that seeks no reward or recognition, but only the good of those in need, it bespeaks true greatness. As Lancers, we can look to our Lancer Heritage for inspiration in service. In 458 B. C. two powerful enemies attacked the Roman lands. The Senate sent two Consular armies into the field. The Army commanded by Minucius was trapped on a lonely hill top. Desperate riders fled for Rome; without help the Roman army would be destroyed.
The Senate knew they could not run the rescue by committee, and none dared take the job himself. The Senate looked for a single hero to save Rome. Their emissaries took the symbols of absolute power from the capital to the tiny, three acre farm of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. The heralds found Cincinnatus plowing his field. The crop he sought to plant would be his family’s only support. The messengers form the city begged Cincinnatus “to put on his toga and hear the Senate’s instructions.” His wife ran to their cottage to fetch his toga; he wiped the grim and sweat from his hands and face and put it on; at once the envoys saluted him, as Dictator, and begged him to save the city. Leaving his plow in the field, Cincinnatus headed for Rome.
Cincinnatus was in the Forum before dawn. He assembled the people, suspended all business, and called all men of military age to bring their weapons, five days’ bread and twelve wooden stakes to Mars field. That night Cincinnatus took his army to war.
They arrived at midnight, surrounded the enemy, dug a trench, and planted their stakes. Cincinnatus ordered his soldiers to raise a shout. At the cry, Rome’s enemy realized they were surrounded, and the trapped Roman troops knew help had come. Caught between two Roman armies the invaders were destroyed.
Cincinnatus returned to Rome. He entered the Senate chamber and gave back the bound rods and ax, symbol of his absolute power. His dictatorship of Rome had lasted sixteen days. He returned to his farm. His plow was still in the field were he had left it. He took off his toga and went back to work.
Cincinnatus teaches selfless service; setting aside his own needs for those who could not help themselves. He thought only of the good of those-in-need. When he had saved his country, he set aside the absolute power Rome had given him and returned to his humble life. His example of greatness in service has not been lost on history. Today, a city in Italy and Cincinnati, Ohio bear his name. And it was Cincinnatus who inspired George Washington; to set aside the power his military service brought him at the end of the Revolutionary War; to return to his farm. Later, after two terms as America’s first President, Washington again set aside supreme authority and returned to private life. Washington’s example has guided the course of America ever since. Washington was himself inspired by a simple Roman farmer, a man who valued service above wealth or power, a Roman Lancer named Cincinnatus.
Here my presentation to the students ended. I was pleased to think that they not only saw the model of Cincinnatus’ selfless service, one of giving without lust for power or glory; but many saw, in his just and necessary application of power, the answer to the neo-lib’s misrepresentations concerning the War on Terror.
I am impressed with how much Cincinnatus’ story is like that of George Bush II. President Bush did not seek the glory of a war-time Presidency. In the rubble of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the tyranny of a plotting Saddam, the atrocities of the Taliban, and the murderous dreams of al Qaeda; the danger swarmed against American and our country needed him. The “Senate and people” went running to Gorge W. Bush and begged him to take up the mantel of leadership. He “put on his toga and headed for the city”. In strict obedience to the Constitution, Bush climbed down from the ruins the Twin Towers, wiped the sweet from his hands and face and took up the leadership of a nation at war. The years have passed and President Bush continues to lead us day and night. All too soon he will head back to his farm and take up his “plow”.
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