Last Updated on November 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 771
At this very moment you would confer a great boon on the army, if you made it your business to appoint generals and officers to fill the places of those that are lost. For without leaders nothing good or noble, to put it concisely, was ever wrought anywhere; and in military matters this is absolutely true; for if discipline is held to be of saving virtue, the want of it has been the ruin of many ere now.
When Clearchus and the other generals are taken captive by Tissaphernes and executed by the king, their soldiers are despondent and fear for their lives. It is at this moment that Xenophon begins to demonstrate his leadership: as he is unable to sleep, like the rest of the army, he gives a speech in which he exhorts the army’s officers to set an example for the rest of the soldiers by making plans to fight and escape. The soldiers, Xenophon claims, will rally when they have something to think about other than the suffering they fear is approaching; he asserts that lack of discipline from leaders has led to the deaths of many in the past. Xenophon calls upon the officers to appoint new generals to replace the ones that have been lost in order to provide a sense of discipline and give the men something to do.
You see, the enemy did not dare to bring war to bear upon us until they had first seized our generals; they felt that whilst our rulers were there, and we obeyed them, they were no match for us in war; but having got hold of them, they fully expected that the consequent confusion and anarchy would prove fatal to us. What follows? This: Officers and leaders ought to be more vigilant ever than their predecessors; subordinates still more orderly and obedient to those in command now than even they were to those who are gone. . . . So the enemy will be mightily deceived; for on this day they will behold ten thousand Clearchuses instead of one, who will not suffer one man to play the coward.
After new generals have been appointed to replace those who died, Xenophon further emphasizes the importance of leadership in survival. Their enemies knew that without leadership, an army will fall apart on its own, so they killed the leaders to render the Greek army helpless. If the men unite under new leaders and remain as determined as ever, they will demonstrate that the loss of their generals will not defeat them and prove their enemies wrong.
And now it is high time I brought my remarks to an end, for may be the enemy will be here anon. Let those who are in favour of these proposals confirm them with all speed, that they may be realised in fact; or if any other course seem better, let not any one, even though he be a private soldier, shrink from proposing it.
Though it is Xenophon’s leadership that rallies, encourages, and ultimately saves the army from defeat, Xenophon does not assume autocratic authority and give orders. When he proposes a plan for their escape and passage home, he does not insist upon his own plan; he readily admits that any man among them, from the least to the greatest, may have a better idea than his, and he invites others to speak up. Xenophon thus demonstrates the value that he and the other Greeks place on democracy: while he has been appointed a general, he places wisdom above rank and trusts in the insight of all of the men, not just that of their leaders.
Yet it were surely more noble, just, and holy, sweeter and kindlier to treasure the memory of good rather than of evil.
Xenophon demonstrates in this story that leadership, though vital to survival, always comes with criticism. Despite the encouragement, generosity, and compassion he has shown his men as they journeyed through dangerous territories and crossed the mountains, the soldiers accuse him of disciplining them harshly and unjustly. Xenophon justifies his actions: he only disciplined men to save them or prevent them from harming others. Having proven himself innocent and reasonable, Xenophon then chastises the men who failed to discourage their fellow soldiers from bad behavior: it is they who are guilty of true wrongdoing. In the end, Xenophon remarks that the soldiers fail to remember the compassion he has shown them and are choosing to dwell on his discipline. In response to Xenophon’s corrections, the men begin to remember and recount his goodness throughout their journey.