A Message to Garcia, Part 3 - The Real Culprit(s)

Sep 10, 2018

Each year a group of aspiring young professionals joins in our work as summer interns. They often make interesting discoveries in the digital library. In this entry, Laura Le stumbles on an all-too-familiar item from her years in the United States Navy. This is the third in a four-part series.

Read Part 1

Remember I said that I never liked reading Hubbard’s essay? Something about it always disturbed me. It turns out, many of my peers in the military feel the same way about the message that "A Message to Garcia" sends.

When Elbert Hubbard wrote the essay, he was a successful businessman who was buddies with J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford. A member of the Gilded Age, he was a progressive who believed in women’s suffrage and outlawing child labor. But as a successful businessman, he was also just a boss who wanted employees who were competent and loyal, who he could trust to run the shop while he went off to play golf with John D. Rockefeller.

It doesn’t work the same way in the military. It shouldn’t. What "A Message to Garcia" tells young people starting out in the Army or Navy is that you should accomplish a task no matter what, even if that means behaving recklessly and dangerously. Recognizing that you can’t do something, maybe because you lack the knowledge or experience, won’t get you anywhere, so it’s better not to admit something like that. It tells young Airmen and Marines that there is nothing wrong with blindly accepting orders and not questioning the motives or reasoning behind them. Get it done or shut up.

Initiative and determination are great traits to have, but it depends on how they are used. Hubbard wanted employees loyal to him, who would do as he said. When a young person enters the military, they swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That is borne out through obedience to orders of the President and of “the officers appointed over me.” It is bigger than mere loyalty to the person who happens to be in charge at the time.

My generation has the advantage of learning from the mistakes of the past and we can see how history hasn’t reflected well on those who blindly follow orders. Hubbard published his essay in 1899, and since then, we’ve been taught to question why an entire generation was lost in the muddy fields of France and Belgium, why people went along with the events of the Holocaust, what were the reasons justifying killing an entire village in My Lai, and what made those soldiers think it was okay to do what they did at Abu Ghraib? Good leadership at the top starts with cultivation at the roots.

You can see why I won’t shed a tear if "A Message to Garcia" is never read by a Cadet or Midshipman again.

Read Part 4


Further Reading

Maisel, Adam, & Duval, Will. “An Outdated Message to Garcia: Why Hubbard’s Essay Needs to be Shelved for Good.” Modern War Institute at West Point. March 9, 2017. Accessed August 23, 2018.

Post, Tom. “Utopian Capitalist.” Forbes Magazine. October 10, 2015. Accessed August 24, 2018. 

Schonberg, Karl. “There’s a Danger in Garcia’s Message.” Proceedings Magazine, U. S. Naval Institute. September 2017. Accessed August 23, 2018.


Posted by Laura Le on Sep 10, 2018 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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