The History of the World Is but the Biography of Great Men.’ (Carlyle) How Does Ambrose Portray Leadership in Band of Brothers? What Leadership Traits Does He Identify? Are the Officers ‘Eventful’ or ‘Eventmaking’?

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  • Topic: Band of Brothers, Leadership, E Company, 506th Infantry Regiment
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Question: ‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men.’ (Carlyle) How does Ambrose portray leadership in Band of Brothers? What leadership traits does he identify? Are the officers ‘eventful’ or ‘eventmaking’?

‘I have not been in a battle; not near one, nor heard from a far, nor seen the aftermath’, claims John Keegan a distinguished war historian and lecturer of Military History at Sand Hurst Academy. This begs the question, just how competent is a man who has never witnessed war in person capable of teaching young cadets what they shall be faced with if or when they are sent to the battlefield. Many may suggest that hands-on experience in warfare is irrelevant when taking up occupation as a leader and that leadership is something that is a gift one is either born with or without. Ambrose in some ways seems to portray these ideas albeit altered to fit the psyche of the tragic and seemingly hopeless character of Sobel. Ambrose conveys Sobel as an autocratic man who lacks any credence for delegation with others. In many respects however these traits are what make great leaders, as to be a leader in the manic setting of the battlefield one would be led to believe that decisions must be made quickly, without haste and thus without delegation. These characteristics however are only applicable should the commander be completely competent and educated in all aspects of war. Hence Sobel is conveyed in the light of a petulant fool with little better to do than put his cadets through rigorous and often pointless exercises and from early on it is clear that his attention to E-company is only for his own pleasure, he wants to be known as the man who leads the best company. He lacks the ability to read a map, a fundamental in the art of war. How then can these men have faith let alone confidence in the man who shall lead them through streams of gun-fire and treacherous landscapes?

Whether or not the men have faith in Sobel is irrelevant as whilst in basic training Sobel teaches the men priceless lessons. A fine example of this is conveyed when the men are in the middle of the arduous and monotonous task of trekking Currahee. Under strain and due to exhaustion the collapse of a cadet results in fellow company members attempting to assist the man back to his feet, Sobel however portrays some kind of wisdom when he barks ‘do not help that man’. This lesson would ring true throughout the book as many men are killed whilst coming to the aid of their fallen comrades. Unknown to the young men was that Sobel was more aware of their mortality then they themselves were. The autocratic nature of Sobel is also relevant when taking into account how much power the men actually had over the war. They had little or no say over where they would perform tasks and how those tasks would be carried out, Sobel helped them realise that as privates they were little more than pawns. Ambrose seems to concentrate mainly on his flaws however, we are even introduced to him with an almost scathing regard, ‘Sobel was a petty tyrant put into a position in which he had absolute power. If he did not like a man, for whatever reason, he would flunk him out for the least infraction, real or imagined’. He is not attributed with the sense of pride he instilled within his men by being so strict with the common practice of army life, clean boots, clean weapons, proper appearance and the like. They wanted their wings as it meant something to them, it was a cause for pride and in order to get those wings they needed to look the part When we take into account a passage from ‘Firing Line’ by Richard Holmes it becomes even more clear how men in some ways may feel some sense of gratitude for meticulous tasks carried out repeatedly. When passing through a village where another regiment’s headquarters stood Charles Carrington describes the sense of pride which he feels when giving ‘eyes right’: ‘this is a bore, but it is only for a moment and is in a...
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