Monday, November 10, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
Appreciate you checking this article out at WritingRiffs.com.
We'll be deleting all the content on this site over the next few weeks.
Pitch: A quick, concise communication meant to persuade someone to do something - buy a product, service, idea, etc.
A pitch is a story told with the goal of getting someone to buy in to your idea; your request for action. You want them to do something. You appeal to their reason and emotions. They want you to do something too. Don't be stupid, waste their time or insult their intelligence with lame words drained of meaning.
There are good-to-great pitches. They're informative, interesting and on occasion, wonderfully inspiring. They connect with you emotionally and ride the road of reason and common sense over to their intended destination―the "decision." And, more often than not, the decision is good.
Then there are the boring-to-bad pitches. Lame ideas, packaged poorly, with an even-worse delivery. Wasted words and wasted time―yours and theirs. But, on the upside, you do get to the intended destination― the "decision"―much quicker. It's no. A quick no. Sometimes it's ...
Then there's the ...
Worst Pitch Ever
I have first-hand experience with this one. How? Why ... I did it. Me. Fessing up to it. It was horrible. A crime against logic, reason and the human language. A stinker of epic proportions. But in the end it enriched me beyond belief. And it all started with ...
... A Flea Market Miracle
Being of an intellectual, culturally elite, snobbish bent, I was book shopping at a high-end flea market ( I stock my personal library with only the best) when I ran across a book called "Making Miracles" by Dr. Paul Pearsall. It was in the $2.00 bin, usually out of my economic range, but it looked exceptionally interesting. So, I saved up for three weeks and came back and bought it. The fact that it was still there three weeks later was a miracle unto itself.
I Was Dead - Three Times
This little snippet on the cover was intriguing, "I died 3 times. I'm back." The book was a mixture of physics, spirituality, hope, action and a genuine reverence for all four. It delved into the evidence for a finely-tuned, aware, universal intelligence with some inexplicable quantum quirkiness. That was my take on "Making Miracles."
Here Comes the Worst-Pitch-of-All-Time
So I contacted Dr. Pearsall about doing a story with me. Here was the pitch almost verbatim.
"Hey, uh, yeah, uh, I, umm … bought your book "Making Miracles" in the discount bin at a high-end flea market here in Ohio. Paid two bucks for it, which is a pretty high price considering how old it is ( was trying to impress him with my monetary prowess). I don't know anything about you or your concepts of non-linearity, observer participancy, synchronicity or meaningful coincidences but it sounds pretty cool. Probably a story there. I'd like to interview you. Interested?Can You Beat That Pitch?
Could any pitch be worse than that? Could you do more things wrong? If that isn't the worst pitch of all time, I'd love to hear one that beats it.
After I did it, and realized how lame and unprepared it must have sounded, I expected a resounding NO. A "NO" at Tachyon speed (faster than the speed of light).
Well, what do you think happened?
Dr. Pearsall was an internationally known bestselling author of 18 books. Many of them were New York Times bestsellers. He was a licensed clinical neuropsychologist and one of the most requested speakers in the world, having delivered over 6,000 keynotes. And he was also a frequent consultant to national television appearing on "Dateline," "20/20," CNN, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "The Today Show," and "Good Morning America."
On The Road To Riches
And some doofus pitches him from a flea market in the Midwest about a book he'd written 12 years ago? That's when I first came to the realization of ...
The Power Of Asking
Dr. Pearsall was great. He said yes. But he didn't want to do the "Making Miracles" story; he wanted to talk about his book, "The Beethoven Principle."
Oh, that. Yes. I'm getting to that. I was quite lucky. It really did make me rich. Beyond belief. And the world's greatest card trick is involved, which I'll reveal to you at the end of this true story. But you have to travel a little longer with me to get there ... and to the riches. But first, we have to get over some ...
Overcoming adversity is never simple. Ever. Sometimes, despite Herculean efforts, you still don’t win. You’re crushed, mangled, and left feeling like a little dark spot in the middle of the road that vehicles constantly run over, with no thought of the past history and life of that dark spot …
… a dark spot that used to be a living, breathing organism experiencing the joy of life.
But what about those people who not only triumph over adversity, but also astound you by propelling themselves to a higher plane? They face life’s unavoidable challenges head-on, grow stronger, more vital, and in the end, savor the sweetness life has to offer. Against all odds, expectations, or beliefs, they thrive. What drives these "Thrivers?" What shared traits do they have? What can be learned? We're going to find out.
Death, Dying, Dignity and ... Humor?
Dr. Pearsall ( Dr. P.) was one such person - a "thriver." He had an approach to adversity I much admired. He faced death (four times) with dignity and … humor? Yes. More on that shortly. But he also left a legacy, the sharing of his life's work and the people he touched - like me. The miracles he made continue. Because of Dr. P. I became acquainted with a 22-year-old woman. She had just begun her life.
She had just started teaching English Literature in high school.
Then … she was struck down by a drunk driver and was left pentaplegic (unable to move her arms or legs and unable to breathe on her own.) She was on a ventilator.
Life for her was over, right?
At that time, she was writing a book about her experiences. Writing a book on the computer that had been specially adapted to allow her to operate the keys with a stick held in her mouth.
A stick held in her mouth. Let me say that one more time.
She was operating a computer with a stick held in her mouth.
And what did she say about it?
"You don't have to feel screwed. You can construe. Trust me, that one word has very special power. The dictionary says it means to discover and apply meaning, and what a power that is.
It means your life is all in your mind. I am actually happier and more productive now than I have ever been. I sure have more friends and, as you can easily see, I am totally free from multitasking."
She still had a sense of humor in the darkest of times. A trait shared by many "thrivers."
Izzie was an 86 years old man, in robust health, vibrantly alive, happy as all get-out, and had a devilish twinkle in his eye. But Izzie had also, in his life …
- Watched his sister and parents be dragged away in the middle of the night.
- Watched his sister be raped.
- Watched as Nazi soldiers shot and killed his family … he ran away with eyes closed and fingers in his ears.
- Was tortured, starved to skin and bones.
- Slept for more than a year in human waste with the haunting, agonizing cries of his fellow prisoners.
Izzie should have been dead. Izzie should have been be crazy. How could he find any meaning in that misery? Any joy in life after that? How could he even go on?
"Izzie not only maintained, but also enhanced his personal hardiness, natural happiness, capacity for healing, and unrelenting hope. All of us have these innate thriving skills, but we are often too busy surviving or languishing to be aware of and mobilize them.Then Dr. Pearsall helped me understand the five reactions to life challenges and how they apply right here, right now.
Too often we are not fully awake and alive until something goes terribly wrong. The eighth deadly sin is "languishing." It was originally listed as one of the deadly sins until Pope Gregory removed it from the list, but it still robs our life of its energy and joy. Languishing, in my research, turned out to be the silent epidemic of mistaking a busy and intense life for a meaningful and full one." - Dr. P
Five Reactions to Life's Challenges
When faced with a crisis, which one do you choose?
- Kindling—Make matters worse. React like kindling wood added to fire.
- Suffering—Poor me.
- Surviving—Pretty essential, but don't you want more?
- Resilience—Bouncing back to where you were before.
- Thriving—Flourishing not only in spite of the crisis, but because of it.
Are You a Thriver?
Dr. P opened my eyes. Opened them to see that it's possible, even in the worst of times, to not just survive a crisis, or in spite of a crisis - but thrive because of the crisis.Dr. P. developed a checklist of questions to see if you have the ability to be a "thriver." The more items you check, the more likely it is you’re honing your thriving talent.
Dr. P’s Thriving Talent Questions
- Do you feel more alive today than yesterday?
- Do people seem to be made happier by your presence?
- Are you laughing hard every day?
- Are you in love with life?
- Have you been made stronger by adversity?
- Do you often feel overwhelmed by the grandeur and beauty of simple things?
Dr. P's pointed me to Beethoven as a great example of a "thriver." Beethoven turned tragedy and crisis into a symphonic unity that resonates to this day.
From Ode to Misery to Ode to Joy
Beethoven's ninth symphony, "Ode to Joy," was written when Beethoven was totally deaf. The chords and chorus heard only in his mind. Was he crazy? Was he so crazy as to think that this musical wonder haunting his mind could be adequately expressed to others though he could not hear himself?
On May 7, 1824, at Vienna's Kärtnertor Theater, "The Ninth Symphony - Ode to Joy" was first performed. Beethoven, totally deaf, could not conduct the premiere. But, he did stand next to the conductor during the performance to indicate proper tempi.
Weep Not for Me My Ode to Joy
On the final note of the premiere, the audience exploded with thunderous applause. But Beethoven, standing next to the conductor with his back to the crowd, looked straight ahead—he didn't know.
He had heard nothing.
His "Ode to Joy" was received with rare, effusively raw human emotion. The kind reserved for awe-inspiring moments of a singular human's triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds. And, most unusually, some of the players in the orchestra wept.
Raucous cheering. Yells and tears echoed, thundered.
None of which Beethoven could hear. He continued to conduct.
The solo contralto noticed Beethoven's introspective incomprehension, and turned him around. One could only wonder what went through his mind at that moment. He could not hear.
But he could see. He bowed before the cheering crowd.
The Power of Listening to the Teacher
Dr P awakened me to the power of listening. Not to the profane trivialities of everyday life, but the power of listening where no sound treads and real freedom resides. He did this through Mosha, or as she was known by fellow prisoners "teacher."
Mosha’s story is important. Why? Because in life, overcoming adversity doesn’t always mean winning, sometimes it means winning on one’s own terms. Terms that perhaps only you, yourself, can understand.
Listen and Find Your Way to Freedom
Mosha was once a dark-haired beauty. But now,a black hollowness surrounded her eyes. She was death-camp, stick-figure thin.
She was death-camp, stick-figure thin because that's where she was. Her face was swollen and bruised. Beatings were her daily bread.
Mosha was a classical piano teacher. Loved Beethoven.
Mosha had been teaching a student Moonlight Sonata when they came for her. They shot and killed her student but kept her alive. One needs classical music such as Beethoven’s, to uplift the soul and keep spirits soaring when working in a death camp. So they kept her alive.
The Nazi officers asked her to play for them.
They asked her.
Music was not for a death camp.
And Beethoven was sacred to her.
So they placed both of her hands on a rock. Took turns, made a game out of gaily breaking her fingers, one by one, with their rifle butts.
She could have played.
She could have given in.
Instead she defied.
Music was so sacred to her.
She made her stand, sprawled on the ground in agony. But she didn’t give up her sacred gift. She held onto it. Tighter than to life itself.
And when, through the haze of a misery beyond comprehension, her fleeing life parting death's lips, she would hear, or think she heard, Beethoven’s music being played in the officer’s club, she stirred … and would say in her teacher’s voice:
Finally, Dr. P inspired me. Walked the walk. Talked the talk. A survivor and a thriver.
A "Charlie Dickens" of a Life. The Best of Times. The Worst of Times.
Dr. Pearsall barely survived birth, conquered among a litany of other obstacles, total blindness, and then finally, cancer - three times. Dr. Pearsall's triumph over terminal cancer is documented in the bestseller, "Miracle in Maui" (which when I picked it up for $2.00 it was called "Making Miracles").Survive Terminal Cancer?
He was told he would certainly die of an extremely rare type of cancer that strikes down young and healthy people in the prime of their lives. And, for a little extra good cheer, Dr. Pearsall was also told that even if his cancer went into remission, he'd die anyway. Die from suffocation caused by a deadly virus allowed to attack his lungs by his chemotherapy-and-radiation-weakened immune system.
Does It Get Much Better Than That?
Yes. He was told the terminal good news on a Good Friday.
Geez, Is That It?
Nope. That Good Friday, as he walked slowly down his driveway, the ache of cancer eating away at him, feeling lost and hopeless, he opened his mailbox and noticed an envelope marked "Urgent. Internal Revenue Service."
Death and Taxes
Yup, you guessed it. Selected for a random compliance audit of State and Federal tax records for three years. How's that for some good cheer on Good Friday?
How did he react?
He laughed. Laughed so hard he cried.
My kinda guy.
And when I read it I laughed.
Laughed so hard I cried.
How did I get rich off the worst pitch of all-time?
Besides awakening me to everything contained above and the hopefulness it inspires? That's not enough? Here's how.
Secret to Riches Revealed
Dr. P taught me the greatest card trick in the world. It's simple but made me rich beyond belief. It's meant to be passed on.
“Life is not a matter of holding good cards,
but of playing a poor hand well.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson
Dr. P died 3 times and came back. The 4th time he didn't.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Appreciate you checking this article out at WritingRiffs.com.
We'll be deleting all the content on this site over the next few weeks.
Corporate boilerplates are boring. A waste of words.
Horribly obtuse. Garbled, befuddled, perplexing, muddled obfuscatory nightmares.
If they were paintings, they'd be called "DaDonkey Disasterpieces."
They're written to give you an idea, a snapshot, of who the company is, what they do and basic contact info. They're typically found at the end of company news releases. The "About the Company" section.
Have You Read Any?
If you can, don't.
If you don't, smile.
Because they're real snooze-fests. Full of taradiddle twittle-twattle. Written in a language decipherable by only two types of people. The "writer" - and aliens (sometimes one and the same) from Gabeezellbug, a galaxy populated with corporate gobbledygook automatons.
Abolish or Reform?
David Henderson, Emmy Award Winning former CBS Journalist and Author of "The Media Savvy Leader" advocates doing away with them all together. I agree. Realistically though, they are so ingrained in the corporate culture that first an attempt at reform must be made - then we can abolish them altogether. I've tried it. Really I have. I got one down to 24 words. Coming from an original of 3,812 words, that is in some measure a shrinking success story.
It really boils down (no boilerplate pun intended) to one thing. Writing. Telling the story clearly, with purpose and without corporate gobbledygook.
Corporate boilerplates don't have to be vomitus-eruptus ad infinitum snoozefests.
They should be easy-to-read and understand.
They should be helpful information pointers to you or your company's "creds" and "reasons to believe"(and buy from you).
The corporate boilerplate should be an invitation to come check you or your company's story out. Whatever you do. Wherever you do it. Whatever your story is.
Web 3.0 Corporate Boilerplate Template Beta-Prototype
BUT DON'T TELL!
It'll smash Todd Defren's Social Media News Release Template (versions 1 and 1.5) to pieces in terms of usability, value and ready acceptance in the marketplace. But don't tell Todd. He's worked really hard and a lot of people and companies have benefited from the ideas, knowledge and resources he readily shares.
Retro-Strategic Thoughtless Thinkers
Todd's template took a lot of flack in the marketplace of retro-strategic thoughtless thinkers. Mine won't. I say that with all undue and well-undeserved humility.
And, I'm going to open it up to the public - similar to what Todd did, like an open-sourced boilerplate free for all non-progressive PR and marketing folks. Free to use, re-use, animate and regurgitate.
And yes, believe it or not, it's a GREEN corporate boilerplate. Evergreen even. No carbon credit offsets needed.
WILL SAVE THE WORLD!
It'll save humanity from the dreaded MPCGBS disease. For those of you in the unknow... that stands for Multiple Platform Corporate Gobbledygook BS (bureaucratic speak). It's the scourge of all decent human beings trying to pass this time on earth without becoming violently ill. It'll help banish the boring. Save the planet. And if you're an analyst, or in the media, you might even recognize some of the terminology.
HELP ME OUT HERE!
Most readers (buyers) really only want answers to four simple questions in the "About" section;
- What do you do?
- How do you do it?
- Why are you different?
- Why should I buy from you?
Let me be a little more specific.
Can you please do it in less than 40-60 words? I read one that was 367 words long. And YES! I counted.
For you Twits and Tweeters out there - 60-80 words is about 4-6 tweets.
But How Do I Shorten My Boilerplate?
Layer. Layer your message. Layer your meaning. In a minimalist style. Like a good story, draw me (the reader) in.
Intrigue me with eloquent simplicity full of implied value - then reinforce the intrigue with embedded links back to your web site with specific and credible information to back your claims up.
Boilerplates are under-boiled and under-valued pieces of content real estate. If you write a snappy (less-than-crappy) boilerplate answering the 4 basic questions, you'll not only help the reader out -- you'll draw them onto your home turf. Your website or your company's website.
HELP GREEN THE EARTH
That's turning wasted content real estate into a valuable reusable asset.
I wanted to squeeze the word "GREEN" into this post so it'd help with my environmentally reckless writing style.
So, there you go, consider this the start of the GREEN boilerplate movement.
And yes. I'm working on my own. It's gonna be a work of art. A boilerplate masterpiece.
Something DaVinci would be proud of ... if he was a writer.
It's also going to include an "About the Author" and a real-world "About the Company" to inspire the inner artistic wordpreneur in you.
HERE IT COMES - WEB 3.0 Boilerplate Beta-Prototype
About the Author
Steve Kayser is an award-winning business writer. A.K..A. as the Squareballs writer. Why?
Steve is the Flounder of Squareballs Enterainment, a non-leading edge, next-to-lost generation, un-scalable (but eminently sellable), not seamlessly integrated (although certainly unseemly), robusted (once or twice at most - a herberiferous violation), rigidly inflexible, SINergistically off-kilter, groundbreaking (at least I did some for my garden) world class (minus the "cl"), geometrically challenged (totally true), inchoate “Thoughtless Leadership” prepubescent publishing empire dedicated to stories that challenge the shape of the mind. At least his - or anyone else that got through that sentence and thinks they know what they thought was said and can say what they thought was thought when what was said was thought.
If you really want to contact Steve: firstname.lastname@example.org. Smoke signals work on occasion ... if they're the right kinda smoke.
END OF WEB 3.0 CORPORATE BOILERPLATE BETA-PROTOTYPE
Okay ... It's a diamond in the rough, I know. Probably 400 words too long. I'm taking my digital scalpel to it right now, but ...
It's clearer than a lot of corporate boilerplates I've read.
Don't believe me?
Go see for yourself.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Appreciate you checking this article out at WritingRiffs.com.
We'll be deleting all the content on this site over the next few weeks.
This was originally going to be an interview with the internationally best-selling author Steven Pressfield about his new historical thriller, Killing Rommel. Steven is a master storyteller. His works, such as The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great, and The Afghan Campaign, and many others are legendary among military aficionados. His book, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, is required reading at West Point.
While talking with Steven about Killing Rommel, we wandered off the beaten path a bit to discuss the power of story - in business and life - to move people to higher grounds. The kind of power that can inspire people to perform great feats of selflessness and humanity. But, we didn’t stop there - we derailed onto troublesome questions of morality, character and ethics.
This will not be a normal Q & A interview.
Is it possible to be a person of the highest character, chivalrous and honorable, retaining your humanity while fighting for the very survival of your civilization? To be a person that has the guts to stand up to a "Stand and Die" order? And if so, can people like this exist (succeed) today? Can people with all too human flaws – however borne up on the wings of honor, duty, compassion, justice and noble vision – even make it today? Could any one mortal withstand all the nit-picking, slime-slinging, self-aggrandizing, ignoble putrid Pecksniffs which can crucify the less-than-perfect?
Win the Book
At the end of this article is a question. Submit your thoughts and answers to that question. The first one hundred (100) responses will win a copy of Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield.
Let the games begin …
Present to Future
In business, the ability to weave together an interesting and factual presentation into a story is essential to success. It’s a have-to-have. No matter what business you’re in. Good presentations illustrate where you are now with a problem or an issue, and then show you a pathway, an answer or a vision of where you want to be in the future. A good story or presentation has to grab you through emotion, makes you look at it through the eyes of reason, then convinces you of the right path.
Great stories, or great business presentations, do all that but they also do something else: They draw you into an introspective vista of transcendent possibilities that make you question, of all things … yourself. After all, what do we really know about our ideals, motives, abilities, possibilities and most of all, the humanity changing potential of our character?
“Genius is developed in quiet. Character is formed in the stormy billows of the world.” - GoethePresent to Past to Present
Now, great historical stories, they’re different - they make you a part of the past. You’re there. You smell the smells. Hear the sounds. Taste the foods. Trod the paths. But most importantly, they make you think – force you to question the very tenets and precepts of life you may have previously taken for granted … or not even thought of at all.
Questions that allow you to commune with the past, in the present, about the future. But, much as Heraclitus says
for other waters are ever flowing on to you.
You may also feel great loss when the story ends. Killing Rommel does that. It raises questions that transcend the story itself.
Autumn, 1942. Hitler's legions have swept across Europe. France has fallen. Churchill and the English are isolated on their island. In North Africa, Rommel and his Panzers have routed the British Eighth Army and stand poised to overrun Egypt, the Suez, and the oilfields of the Middle East. With the outcome of the war hanging in the balance, the British hatch a desperate plan – send a small, highly mobile, and heavily armed force behind German lines to strike a blow that will stop the Afrika Korps in its tracks.
Narrated from the point-of-view of a young lieutenant, Killing Rommel brings to life the flair, agility, and daring of this extraordinary secret unit – the Long Range Desert Group.
Non Vi Sed Arte
Stealthy and lethal as the scorpion that serves as their insignia, they live by the motto -- Non Vi Sed Arte (Not by Strength, by Guile) – as they gather intelligence, set up ambushes, and execute raids.
KILLING ROMMEL: "A splendid tour de force, one that brings to life the heroism, sacrifice, tragedy, frustration, fear and -- yes -- thrill of war. It should not be missed by anyone who wants a moving reminder of the bravery, ingenuity and sacrifice that ordinary men are capable of when given a cause they believe in." - Washington PostEnter Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield: I was researching Alexander the Great's cavalry tactics for a couple of earlier books. That led me to Frederick the Great, to Napoleon, and to other more contemporary cavalry commanders. Then, I came across Rommel. He used tanks with the same dash and aggressiveness as Alexander used cavalry. Even though I thought of writing a story strictly about Rommel nothing was clicking. Finally I stumbled upon the British Long Range Desert Group. Something about them grabbed me. I just had to tell the story of these guys – and Rommel.
Steve Kayser: Grabbed you?
Steven Pressfield: Yes. They were a bunch of ordinary, (but special) guys, out in the desert, no roads, no GPS, no CNN or Fox News, no ammo, just some old Chevrolet trucks, and a couple of machine guns … 500 miles behind enemy lines.
Steve Kayser: No Jeeps?
Steven Pressfield: Just Chevrolet trucks. They bought them at a civilian dealership in Cairo.
Steve Kayser: Those are not ordinary guys. I know.
I read the posting for the job.
Steven Pressfield: Ordinary guys in extraordinary circumstances. That posting you refer to was a quote was from the initial British Army Circular, summer 1940, seeking volunteers for what would become the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).
"Only men who do not mind a hard life, with scanty food, little water and lots of discomfort, men who possess stamina and initiative, need apply.”
Steve Kayser: They teamed up with an exceptional unit, the SAS?
Steven Pressfield: Yes. The SAS is the British equivalent of our American Special Forces. SAS stands for Special Air Service. Full of some amazing swashbuckling characters --Paddy Mayne, the most decorated British soldier of WWII, Jock Lewes, George Jellicoe, Sandy Scratchley; Randolph Churchill, son of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and others.
The original conception of the SAS was that they would be a parachute-borne commando outfit. But after one debacle in which men were dropped into a sandstorm and many were lost, the whole concept looked like it would flop horribly. It so happened though that David Stirling (founder of the SAS) was talking with a young LRDG officer who suggested that the SAS forget parachuting (too dangerous) and let the Long Range Desert Group deliver them like a taxi service to their raids. Thus was born a partnership that gave Rommel more headaches than anyone could have imagined.
Steve Kayser: Their mission?
Steven Pressfield: In the darkest hour of the North African war (summer 1942) - when Rommel's panzers were poised 60 miles from Alexandria and the British in Cairo were burning their code books waiting to be overrun at any moment - the LRDG and the SAS are dispatched on a desperate mission. Their instructions are to use the deep desert routes known only to them, get in the rear of the Afrika Korps and penetrate its formations in the field. From there, they are to locate Rommel and go in after him.
- Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
"We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and,may I say across the havoc of war, a great general." – Winston Churchill
"There exists a real danger that our friend Rommel is becoming a kind of magical or bogey-man to our troops, who are talking far too much about him. He is by no means a superman, although he is undoubtedly very energetic and able. Even if he were a superman, it would still be highly undesirable that our men should credit him with supernatural powers." – British General Claude AuchinleckSteven Pressfield: At the same time, Rommel was reminiscent of the more romantic, chivalrous days of old – and was a genuinely humane military officer. Rommel was Germany’s best General. You have to remember all of Europe was in Nazi hands at the time. The Americans hadn't entered the war yet. Russia was being attacked by 166 Nazi divisions. Things were grim. And Rommel, the greatest desert fighting general of all time, and his Africa Korps, were kicking the British's butt, pushing them back to Cairo. It became a case where the war might have been lost right there.
Steve Kayser: Chivalrous in war? Can you give an example?
Steven Pressfield: When Rommel's panzers overran a British field hospital where the staff had elected not to flee but to stay with their patients (who were German and Italian as well as British and Commonwealth), Rommel visited the site at once, shook the hand of every doctor and nurse and thanked them personally. He asked them to stay on until he could bring up his own Afrika Korps medical personnel (the British readily agreed), then made it a point of honor not to make them prisoners of war but to have them repatriated through neutral Switzerland. Can you imagine something like that happening today?
Steve Kayser: No. Today they’d be sent back without their heads. If they were sent back at all. You mentioned that the battle in North Africa was marked by an astonishing amount of self-restraint among combatants.
Steven Pressfield: Yes. Rommel himself wrote an account of his experiences in North Africa. He titled it Krieg Ohne Hass, "War Without Hate." Deliberate self-restraint was a fact on the ground in the North Africa campaign of '40 to '43. Machine gunners on both sides routinely held their fire when crewmen bailed out of shot-up tanks, stretcher-bearers were permitted to dash into the open to collect the wounded. In dressing stations and field hospitals, it was not uncommon for soldiers of the Axis and Allies to be treated side-by-side - often by German and British doctors working shoulder to shoulder.
Steve Kayser: War without hate. Deliberate self-restraint. Allowed enemy soldiers to be treated by his doctors. That took a lot of courage on his part.
Steven Pressfield: More than you know. He was ordered several times by Hitler to "Stand and Die." To fight to the last bullet, the last man. To execute and torture prisoners. He defied those orders.
Steve Kayser: You tell the story through a young lieutenant who was not a professional soldier. In fact, far from it. He was an average guy in college then ... the war came.
Steven Pressfield: Yes. I wanted to examine the actions of ordinary men under extraordinary circumstances. To ask the question if, in the end, their very ordinariness wasn't what saved them and brought them ultimately to victory.
Steve Kayser: Was there actually a real mission to kill Rommel?
Steven Pressfield: Yes. It was on one of Rommel’s camps called Beda Litoria, which was an Italian town. The Brits thought Rommel was there and they attacked at night with special forces. But he wasn’t there. They killed a bunch of Afrika Korps soldiers, then they were killed themselves. The interesting part was that Rommel had the British soldiers buried with honor, alongside his defenders.
Steve Kayser: To me, Killing Rommel is a story layered with morals, courage and questions. Lots of questions. What question or issue were you trying to shine the most light on?
Steven Pressfield: The issue of morality in warfare. Not just in theoretical terms but from the point-of-view of the individual soldier on the ground. Today, in the era of suicide bombers and global terrorism and the response to terrorism, (which is a moral question equally as important), I wanted to shine a light on another time and a different way of fighting a war. And not a wimpy war, but the most devastating, all-out conflict in the history of humankind.
Is it possible for men to retain their humanity while fighting for the very survival of civilization? What part do ethics, chivalry and self-restraint play in modern armed conflict? Are these some quaint holdovers from a vanished past? Or, can the honorable actions of officers and men actually help produce victory?
Steve Kayser: Could people like General Rommel or General Patton make it today, or even exist – with all the constraints of Western political correctness? Realistically? Take General Patton, for example. Charming, yet mean as a snake. Dyslexic, yet brilliant. His temper and rash acts made people question his intelligence. He could be vicious and violent, yet a gentleman. He was a history buff that seemed to live life outside his own time - almost as if he had lived before. Kind-hearted and callous, he prayed on his knees but cussed like a sailor. He was stone-faced in battle, but cried like a baby for his fallen soldiers. His men called him “Old Blood and Guts.” If you ever read his poem “Through a Glass Darkly,” you will be touched, astounded or shocked at the depth of his vision and intelligence. But could Patton make it today? I say no.
Steven Pressfield: Good question. They were very different – yet very much alike. Noble warriors. But it is men and women of moral strength and character like them that have to surface when you’re facing an implacable foe. Especially when you’re fighting for the very survival of your civilization.
Leaders with Character, Chivalry and Courage - Relics of the Past?
What do you think?
And what about yourself?
Have you faced difficult moments in your life where you chose the tough road, the politically incorrect but right path, and paid the price - by way of money, job, relationships or self-respect? What did you learn?
Would you do anything different?
Please keep answers to 100 words. Email me with the subject line GREAT LEADERS at Skayser@cincom.com. The first 100 responses will receive a copy of Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield.
About Steve Pressfield:
Since this is a different kind of story, I decided to to do an Animotorized bio-pictorial "About Steven Pressfield." Why is it different? Because it is. It's the world's first.
Long Range Desert Group Preservation Society
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