Long a staple of military professional reading lists, “A Message to Garcia,” written by Elbert Hubbard continues to be considered among the most important literary works on leadership—and followership. It held a place of prominence on the Marine Corps Commandant’s reading list from the first list in 1989 all the way through 2015. We have both personally witnessed it being praised in various military education and professional development venues. And our experiences raised serious questions about the work’s enduring value. The lesson intended to be derived from the story is unclear, and its applicability to the modern military professional is far from certain. Despite being written over a century ago for a world that no longer exists, “A Message to Garcia” is still frequently referenced as a seminal text for young officers and NCOs. It’s time to retire it from that vaunted position in the professional development canon.
The tale of young Lt. Andrew Rowan completing a relatively straightforward mission during the opening phase of the Spanish-American War is an oversimplified and antiquated addition to professional reading. In fact, the style of leadership and decision-making it espouses is downright dangerous for today’s military leaders.
The 1,500-word essay was written in the Industrial Age, and in the context of Industrial Age warfare, but the nature of our world and how we wage armed conflict has changed dramatically. The Industrial Age gave way to the post-Industrial era, a time when technological advances such as additive printing and artificial intelligence are being integrated into society at a dizzying rate. Warfare has expanded into new domains, such as cyberspace, that were hardly contested or non-existent in previous conflicts. Any junior military leader today can tell you that the digital age and complex geopolitical environment of the twenty-first century are not conducive to Hubbard’s simplistic leadership philosophy. According to Hubbard, there is no expectation of fighting Charles Krulak’s “three block war” or having to understand newly emergent domains, and there is no room for the “strategic corporal” or disruptive thinkers. For Rowan, it’s do, not ask: over the top, into the breach, and accomplish the mission.
Hubbard’s notion of the importance of initiative and determination are not wrong; these are traits that are absolutely necessary for military leaders of the past, present, and future. But his essay worships these traits to a point where they supersede everything else:
It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing.
In this damning line, Hubbard conveys little regard or use for professional reading or critical thinking, which are both critical aspects of professional military education. Rowan blindly accepts his mission without asking any questions (or conducting a back brief), and recklessly continues without assessing the risk of losing his life and consequently failing to complete the mission. To Hubbard, the mission is all that matters. Rowan completed his mission by delivering the message to Garcia, but did he seek the assistance of a criminal group to guide him through the jungle? Were civilians bribed, coerced, or even threatened in order for Rowan to succeed in his mission? Could Rowan’s conduct (or misconduct) fuel a successful enemy information campaign, squandering any gains of delivering a message to Garcia? For Hubbard, these subsidiary considerations, and their second- and third-order effects, have no consequences; a servant is all that is required.
The British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson also wrote of such unflinching obedience to orders in his tragic poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Many of our mentors admit to being praised for “being like Rowan” at some point in their military careers, despite being an inadequate leadership style for modern warfare. This comparison commends decisiveness, but does so at the cost of essential leadership values such as critical and disruptive thinking. Being like Rowan goes against the Army’s own philosophy of Mission Command, which seeks to “empower adaptive and agile leaders” through a clear understanding of the rationale and intent that underlie their assigned tasks.
Today’s challenges faced by the military are complex and multifaceted. The environment is ambiguous, and while war has immutable continuities, warfare today is nowhere near as straightforward as that of the Industrial Age. To be successful, military leaders in the post-Industrial Age require critical thinking, an understanding of the mission at hand, and a willingness to provide further clarification when necessary. An understanding of physical, cognitive, information, and cyber domains—and their convergence—is also necessary, often down to the squad level. While initiative and self-determination are extremely valuable traits, the problems facing military professionals are not as simple as sending a message to Garcia.
So what should a Lt. Rowan of the post-Industrial Age look like? Motivated and self-determined for sure, but also a lifelong learner willing to accept calculated risk after thoroughly understanding the mission and purpose. Our post-Industrial Age Rowan will seek to understand the mission—an imperative for Mission Command—and the complex operational environment, through a variety of mediums (not just military ones). He will place the mission first, even if that means sacrificing his reputation and challenging his superiors’ instructions (or lack thereof).
“A Message to Garcia” had its long moment in the sun, but its place now is behind museum glass where it can no longer do any harm. Rowan’s determination and initiative still bear value, but Hubbard’s worship of fealty without critical thinking will get soldiers killed. The essay may never be fully removed from professional military education, so one can only hope that junior officers understand its selective application in the context of modern warfare and seek more relevant sources of learning elsewhere.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.
Thank you! I have often been the only one to speak out against this essay and its flawed reasoning for modern military leaders. I am glad there are others who also see it.
Unfortunately, like our young authors, you’ve completely missed the point of Hubbard’s essay.
As many things these days…
someone has to over-analyze & hyperfocus to the point of missing…
"Do whatever it takes to get it done." Pretty simple, solid concept, up for misinterpretation…
as many things are these days.
Yep. MI officers have the luxury of such things it seems. Give me one Rowan over a hundred over-thinkers.
Frequently used in other professional development programs and still has great merit !!
I'm 68 years old and was first introduced the the "message" when I was 16. I've read this more than 100 times and have numerous discussions about not just its importance, but more about its simplicity. I've never once regarded it as a military piece, although I know of its acceptance by many militaries across the globe. I agree with other commentators here than these young authors have completely missed the point made by Hubbard. I trust they know the back story and the history of Rowan and Garcia, as well as Gomez and Rosevelt. I do not believe that it was ever intended as a military lesson, or "preachment" as Hubbard liked to refer to his musings. I do believe that, at its core, the message is as important and viable for today as it was 120 years ago. My intent is not to be critical of these authors, as it is to suggest that today's youth suffers from the same maladies that the youth of Hubbard's era did. Their little "trifle", as Hubbard would call it, is somewhat of a digital tearing down of statues, and therefore should be viewed with suspicion. Thank you, authors, for your service to our country, but, next time, learn better how to take "A Message to Garcia."
This author missed the whole point of the message to Garcia. The point is based in human nature making it enduring. There are laggards and those who get things done. Strive to be one of those who gets things done. That is the point.
Actually my manager use it in a different way – when I was trying to understand the goals and the bigger picture of the company, he pointed me to this message saying – figure it out. Meaning – do not ask, do not question, just do (something). This is definitely not modern management style so I believe as soon as I find new opportunity, I will quit. And I'm not even the millennials age, I'm way older. I'm sure millennial would quit at the same day after such conversation with the manager.
TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU regarding the whole point being missed and the article writers simply didn't "get it"; they got lost in the weeds as it were. I agree with your point of the essay. I have always said of it — It's about being a DOer until the work or whatever is completed and DONE; and the fact that to accomplish anything at all you must DO THE WORK…. So anyway, thanks!
No. I think the point of the essay is about the WORK ETHIC.
How can we sustain our motivation at any task, at work, at school, etc?
The essay suggests to me that we see ourselves as MESSENGERS, like Rowan, carrying a "Message to Garcia."
When this essay was written, in 1899, messengers were very important. But in the 20th century, we got electronic messenging.
Now, I think we can all FOCUS on being messengers, even in the 21st Century,
For example, I am sending this comment to you, as a messenger. I am MOTIVATED to share my MESSAGE, with effort, with you.
Like Rowan, in the essay, I am willing to PERSIST, if necessary, to deliver my message.
Does anyone hear me? Hello? Hello? THANKS MUCH BWELL BSAFE H
Yes, rigid obedience once more went lower down the chain of command (between soldiers and direct C/O of a squad or platoon).
IMHO we are seeing an evolution of the pattern that Boyd shows incidentally (or not) here: http://ausairpower.net/JRB/poc.pdf
The goal was, and still the same. But the structure of units, its relative combative power, and tempo of changes in battlefield drove the rigidness vs. flexibility down the chain. Maneuvers in large formations, like a Spartan charge or the Red Coats, requires that orders must be followed to the letter otherwise the overall maneuver fails. As smaller units get more lethal and number concentration become a liability, then we start to move to rigid goals and away of rigid formations. As the battlefield tempo speeds up more and more decisions needs to be distributed in order for operation to happen effectively. Rigid armies had to break down in semi-independent divisions. The divisions eventually broke down in semi-independent brigades. Now we are reach a point of independent platoons or squads must decide for themselves, otherwise they will die if they wait for HQ (and the mission fails).
First world military problems. You seriously wrote a missive against what is basically a 1,500 word historical anecdote in the hopes it would no longer cause harm to future military leaders. I read A Letter to Garcia not long after I became an officer and simply added the story to dozens of others of recommended readings. Critical thinking allows us to evaluate such works, well… critically. I just don’t see the big deal. There are much more important windmills to joust at.
Hubbard does not deride book learning — he PRESUMES it. Learning changes and military learning is not immune to those changes. But what does not change is the nature of human beings in conflict. We arrive weak and vulnerable but by training we become dangerous and deadly. But training in what ? To the warrior, anything is a weapon. Technique is necessary — but that alone is not what wins battles.
Message to Garcia is about what is habitually in need of refurbishing in our men of war — like polish on brass, and fighting rust on ships — bonding the steel of principle into the fabric of the soldiers or sailors (the lesson of the modern comic-book myth of the Wolverine, FWIW), and building in them the will and intrepidity to complete their mission against all odds.
Exactly! Hubbard’s message is as relevant today as it was when he first wrote it. Sadly, there are far too many people, educated and otherwise, who are incapable of carrying a message to Garcia. Graduating from an educational institution doesn’t guarantee competence. Those who are in the position to hire, simply want to know that those they hire can get the job done. Having degrees doesn’t matter if your employer gives you tasks and you can’t carry them out to completion. Carry out the task….and take pride in your ability to do so without having to be spoon fed every last detail and instruction on how to go about it. Just do it!
The point of A Message to Garcia is not to blindly take up a military task without information. It is rather an allegory to explain the inherent value of personal responsibility- whether it be a small or large task- relying on yourself rather than relying on or waiting for others to do the job for you.Also, this is a 15 year old saying this^^ , not a man in the military. It is simply a life lesson
THANK YOU!! Someone with a brain.
I felt urged to tell them why the are missing the point. You spared me the effort.
An essay written in 1899 is now the basis on which you critique the authors relevance in 2017.. If you do not want military men do be independent thinkers, by all means, keep them away from literature about it. If they are going to be too stupid to figure out the lessons in the essay and not tear it apart as archaic but rather learn the powerful principles , which is what it is actually about, then, should they be given a gun… or a second education Very very valuable tool in my organization. So, dear US military , context, context, context… hopefully that is not a little essay that you toss to a newly arrived service man and tell him that is all. So, hire people with brains and have it as part of a bigger program, where context becomes clear.
There are much bigger projects in the military to attack or improve. You clearly have not enough on your plate. . .
These gentlemen completely missed the point.
A message to Garcia doesn't describe a philosophy of Command. It acknowledges the value of the rare gem who gets the job done, period. Has someone at West Point has taught them otherwise?
It was written "to" them as Junior Officers, not "for" them.
The closing line: "The world cries out for such; he is needed, and needed badly—the man who can".
If our JO's are questioning that belief, I'd say we're in trouble.
Precisely what I understood from the essay when I first read it as an enlisted soldier. I balked at this rebuttal of sorts as it presumes, for no reason, that the soldier is uneducated, morally corrupt, and will do more harm than good by improvising. Absurdity. We entrust our leaders to be educated and conduct operations sensibly. In that context there is still a place in modern warfare, especially within special operations, for soldiers with stiff vertebrae to step up and focus their energies on the task at hand. This opinion piece would have us rigidly following doctrine from the top, unable to act without orders, and paralyzed in the face of adversity. This flies in the face of the adaptive ingenuity that has long defined the U.S. Military. I'd hate to hear what this guy thinks of the final verse of the Ranger Creed.
Well, thank you… my sentiments exactly.
And the book was not written as military commentary or for training. But in 2019, I run a very very successful business based solely on that essay. Hi hire exceptionally clever and skilled people. And give them the essay. Then ask, can you deliver the letter or not? They tell me honestly, yes or no, which i appreciate. No judgement or questions. Just, thank you. Then I fond someone. They have brains these young geniuses, so they won’t go fuck it up or bribe or risk…. they know, just get it done. Ask help in the office etc… but for me as the CEO, i can’t think about Xavier’s work.
My personal message to Garcia, CAN YOU RUN A SUCCESSFUL COMPANY. Then do it. Easy.
So dear people who wants to through the book out, by all means do so if you don’t trust your men and women to see the lesson and the principle, but just implement rigidly what they read . Then you are teaching them 100% against what you advocate. Such a boring little monologue about how clever they are and oooh, they understand strategy and operations so well,,,, well, gents… good luck. Thank God I live in another world.
I am a voracious reader and gleefully dug into Maisel and Duvall’s premise “An Outdated Message to Garcia: Why Hubbard’s Essay Needs to be Shelved for Good”. I believe that these young thinkers may have inadvertently proved the case for keeping Hubbard around. Their belief that the nature of war has changed leads them miss that the character of war has not. The CSA says that first line leaders must have “The willingness to disobey specific orders to achieve the intended purpose, the willingness to take risks to meet the intent, the acceptance of failure and practice in order to learn from experimentation: these are all going to have to be elevated in the pantheon of leader traits.” By limiting Hubbard’s work to a 19th century paradigm they miss its relevance to the 21st century and beyond. It is not willful obedience we need to glean from these meager 1500 words but that as leaders we must know what the end goal (endstate) is and persevere to achieve it. No the key cyber terrain did not exist in Hubbards world, nor did the strategic corporal. But to be a strategic corporal would that Soldier have to be more than the clerk who asks a myriad of thoughtless questions and still does not see the end state? Hubbard does not say that questions are bad; he indicts inactivity, intellectual sloth and drive. One must understand the context to look at the greater message and how it applies to our world. To me Maisel and Duvall are modern clerks in a world where I need people who will not just think, but do.
What are the key traits that Hubbard espouses? They are hard work, trustworthiness, attention to duty, and desire to carry out the mission. Are these really traits that are not useful on the modern battlefield? Is it the failure of the leader or the failure of the led when intent is unclear? Was the need for understanding the complex political environment any less needed by the young British officer in the Hindu Kush in the 19th century? What is Hubbard asking for when he says, “It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing.” What Hubbard is calling for is the drive to succeed with or without direct supervision. Look no further that the closing paragraph to see what Hubbard calls for. “I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds – the man who, against great odds, has directed the efforts of others, and, having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare board and clothes….My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the “boss” is away, as well as when he is home.” Is this not what the CSA is calling for as well? It is intellectually easy to dismiss the past because it lacks the tools or complexity of today.
When Maisel and Duvall posit that “Rowan blindly accepts his mission without asking any questions (or conducting a back brief), and recklessly continues without assessing the risk of losing his life and consequently failing to complete the mission”, they gleefully play “Monday morning quarterback”. Does every leader truly understand the risk inherent in every mission? Does every mission order account for every contingency in our modern battlefield. They exhibit the “long striving for help” that leads to inaction. I could easily turn the intellectual table on them and say since Hubbard did not discuss subsidiary considerations, all were considered by the dynamic Rowan and he understood risk and geopolitical landscape within the mission order he received and achieved the endstate. Never do Maisel and Duvall defend their belief that “being like Rowan” comes at a cost of “essential leadership values such as critical and disruptive thinking.” How do they know that Rowan did not have to exhibit critical thinking while traversing the complex landscape of Spanish Cuba to reach Garcia? Do we not want leaders that when they are given a clear mission exhibits the drive, creativity and resilience to reach Garcia?
In the end what Hubbard reminds us of in Garcia is that leaders need to be clear in purpose, resilient when faced with challenges, and humble when goals are achieved. In a multifaceted complex world that brings so many factors to bear in the physical, cognitive, information, and cyber domains these traits are as useful today as they were over a century ago. Too often we translate our modern biases on the past without looking to enduring lessons. If you follow the train of thought of Maisel and Duvall we can learn nothing useful from these past tomes such as Thucydides, Hubbard, or even Clausewitz because of our present biases. I argue that our post-Industrial age requires us to think and read critically and not dismiss the writings of the past because of our biases. Duvall and Maisel never prove that Rowan did not understand his mission or that he was not a lifelong learner. Their indictment to a critical reader of the past proves the worth of Hubbard’s short work.
Great answer byers – you saved me a lot of time and typing. Our young officers, particularly those that have not had to lead a patrol, secure an outpost, or conduct a raid don’t grasp the point of “doing the thing.” Yes, there is critical thinking involved in violent action, and yes on the spot decisions have to be made…but in the end, young leaders have to “do the thing,” that is mandated. Mission Command is not carte blanc to disregard orders or mission requirements, it is to allow leaders to arrive at other options in order to achieve the objective. “Garcia,” is a good start point for young leaders – because you first have to be able to “do the thing,” and prove competent before you decide to deviate to your own ways of thinking.
Bravo! Not all irritating grains of sand become pearls. Maisel and Duvall’s irritation with “A Message for Garcia” simply reveals their cognitive bias and non-consideration of alternative viewpoints provided by ‘byers’ and ‘CW4 Ryder’.
Yes o! Thank you. Agreed. That’s all!
Awesome. I agree. Just do your job without all the fanfare already. Too many people want to doubt everything and they are not trained or in a position to make those decisions. Stop the damn complaining and just get the job done.
Yes! At last!
I’ll avoid writing an essay and just leave this here: A Message to Garcia = Mission Command Philosophy.
I find it hard to understand how, “technological advances such as additive printing and artificial intelligence are being integrated into society at a dizzying rate” equate to accomplishing the mission.
This essay continues to espouse the “revolution of military affairs”. But, they also continue to realize that warfare is an inherently human endeavor, subject to the foibles of men.
Heraclitus spoke of this 2500 years before and I find nothing from these two reservists stated that was an equitable argument against it.
“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”
Like most people who have read Elbert Hubbard’s essay, “A Message to Garcia,” I never questioned his description of Lt. Andrew Rowan’s mission to Cuba. In fact, I was inspired to write a juvenile biography of the good soldier. But there was a problem. My research soon proved to me that Hubbard mostly invented his tale about Rowan’s journey. Not only was there no message given him by President McKinley to deliver to Gen. Garcia, Rowan was nearly court-martialed for disobeying orders and blabbing to the press—not a good model for boys and girls, but perhaps an interesting study for adults.
Over a course of six years I spent five week-long sessions foraging in the treasure houses of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and further weeks studying hundreds of documents in the Andrew Summers Rowan Papers at the Hoover Institution and other collections and libraries. After having pored over that material I can tell you with certainty that there was no message to Garcia; and, needless to say, there was no oilskin pouch strapped over Rowan’s heart.
(My complete account, entitled CAST IN DEATHLESS BRONZE: Andrew Rowan, The Spanish-American War, and the Origins of American Empire, was published this past December by the West Virginia University Press. Further details can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Cast-Deathless-Bronze-Spanish-American-American/dp/1943665435 )
Hubbard was well-known as a tinkerer with the truth. He wasn’t a bad man, but he couldn’t resist creating his own facts to make a point. People should have known better, but the story was too appealing, particularly, as has often been pointed out, to teachers, businessmen, and military officers.
Unfortunately, it also appealed to Andrew Rowan, who not only seemed to believe every word Hubbard had written about him, but concocted new facts of his own: new characters, new incidents, and, so help me, a talking horse in a movie script (which was never produced). He was not the modest warrior as he portrayed himself during a meeting with McKinley, claiming, “it was the first time it had occurred to me that I had done more than my simple duty, the duty of a soldier who: ‘Is not to reason why,’ but to obey his orders. I had carried my message to Garcia.” Well, if you think so . . .
This isn’t to say Rowan wasn’t a good soldier. He was—when he wasn’t bad-mouthing fellow officers and getting drunk. But I found Rowan companionable enough as I joined him in West Point in 1877 and accompanied him to Arlington National Cemetery in 1943. Most Americans know little about the Spanish-American War (1898), less about the Philippine War (1899-1902), and nothing at all about the Moro Rebellion (1899-1913). I shadowed Rowan closely as he risked his life in all three conflicts and rose in rank from lieutenant to major. He was also for a short period a lieutenant-colonel, but led no troops. His life is an engrossing example of American militaria, but not a guide to living.
The big question is this: Has anyone ever truly learned “how to do the right thing” from having read Hubbard’s essay?” I would guess very few. As one writer, Alan Burton, put it, “Those who know how knew it from the start. They may have been born with the knowledge, they may have learned it from their mothers. God only knows where and how such people come by such traits. It may be that these people cannot help themselves. It is possible that they cannot do otherwise. And those who lack this ability cannot learn it, or so it seems.”
Hubbard’s poorly written rant was never designed to communicate values. It was composed, as Hubbard himself wrote, only as a “literary trifle” to fill out the pages of The Philistine, the magazine in which it first appeared..
This text is worshiped by most ROTC instructors and it was forced on me as a young cadet as well. I never liked or agreed with the supposition that blind obedience and a proactive nature make a good officer. In my six years as an Army officer, I served under several field grade officers whose leadership philosophy closely mirrored that of the author. Context is important to any mission and the "why?" is often neglected. It is the responsibility of any military officer to consider any mission that he/she has been given and evaluate it for its effectiveness and moral flaws. Perhaps if more officers challenged the efficacy and moral nature of their missions, our military would no longer be bogged down in an unwinnable quagmire half a world away.
Trust can go a long way. I think that the message to "do the thing" is indeed important. Understanding and trusting superior officers is part of what the U.S. Military stands by. It is embedded in the Navy Sailors Creed: "I will obey the orders of those appointed over me." Trusting superior officers and their guidance is what helps get the mission accomplished. Image a military where nearly every Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or Airman questioned every order they were given? Likewise, a leader needs to be able to trust his subordinates. The leader must be able to know that his team can "get the job done". I agree to the point that there are some cases where careful analysis of the task at hand and "blind following" of orders can be risky, however, I do think that the greater risk would be to establish a culture of questioning military orders.
Elbert Hubbard put his own twist on the lessons to be learned from the famous "Message to Garcia", but the overriding principles of perseverance, individual initiative, accepting responsibility, and accomplishing an important mission at all costs are as good today as they were in 1893. Not burdening your superiors by demanding answers, or possible answers, to the minutia of a mission is a virtue not a vice.
This is especially true when responding to military exigencies. The truth of the matter is those superiors don't know all the answers. They are relying on subordinate's intelligence and initiative. Maisal and DuVal, in my opinion, have spent way too much time going to meetings in the Pentagon or War College with their contrarian attitudes, shooting down good ideas ("Meetings are the places where good ideas go to die!"), "embracing" and "reaching out" for a warm and fuzzy consensus—a "New Age" committee approach to war! I hope to God nobody puts these guys in charge of anything valuable like lives and ships. All that AI and high tech and the the latest gee-whiz gadgets and management school jargon didn't help when the USS Fitzgerald found itself on the business end of of a cargo ship! Did it? And now, in the last few days, we have a repeat with another $Billion + guided missile destroyer hit in the same way with another 10 or so young sailors drowned below decks! Two important U.S. military assets out of commission for we know not how long because a party(s) unknown failed to report or act on a clear and present danger. We need more "Message to Garcia" training, not less!! It's just too bad that Capt. Andrew Summers Rowan, who got the message to Garcia, wasn't on bow watch when those ships were in danger or even better, conning them. I think we would have a lot fewer dead sailors.
Sorry for the typo. Rowan delivered his message to Gen. Calixto Garcia in 1898, not 1893. Also, Rowan, by his own account, was a 1st Lt., not a Captain at the time. He died at the Presidio in San Francisco in 1946 and is buried in Arlington.
Having only read Hubbard's essay and Rowan's personal account of his mission, I have a few comments. The issue here is not so much of an officer's duty because Rowan was on a one-man mission, not an officer in charge. He could have been just as well an enlisted soldier, rank not being the issue. Of course, I realize that there were other military, para-military, and guerrilla forces assisting and supporting his mission, so he wasn't alone.
As to critical thinking, questioning, or even debating any aspects of his mission, I believe that it is important to not forget that his mission came directly from the mouth of the president, the highest link in the chain of command. Under those circumstances, and with the sense of urgency, who else could he have sought for additional discussions? On top of that, you need to consider the level of secrecy required in order to not expose himself to unnecessary additional danger, possibly embarrassing the president, and even causing the failure of the mission.
I don't see this essay by Hubbard as a replacement or substitute for chain of command orders, simply an endorsement for a great soldier who used all of his talents and skills to "get the job done."
Good job and a salute to both Mr. Hubbard and Colonel Rowan.
I would never want Maisel or Duval at my back. Remain in your camelflage ivory towers
The essay "A Message to Garcia" was never meant for career military professionals, or academics who specialized in military leadership.
In fact the essay was never intended for the military at all. The author, Elbert Hubbard, was a businessman who originally sold soap and later manufactured and sold furniture and items for the home. He also was a publisher of philosophical tracts. Hubbard lamented the lack of initiative in the growing industrial workforce of the late 19th century. His craft workshops in Aurora, New York stressed the involvement and initiative of the individual craftsman by "pushing responsibility down" to the individual. By doing this he enjoyed some financial success.
The essay was originally published in Hubbard's philosophical magazine "The Philistine." It became popular with his peers who were other industrial czars struggling to develop effective workforces for their assembly lines for manufacturing.
The military background of the essay is coincidental. Hubbard might just as easily published a similar story about a rural mailman delivering medicine to a remote location in the Colorado mountains.
To criticize the value of this essay in the modern age misses the point that entry-level service men and women may not be prolific readers when they enlist. This simple (and short) essay resonates with young people. They can understand it.
This essay continues to have value – and not just for the military services.
LtCol USMC (Ret)
The only thing I can really say to an article like this, is that anyone who reads "A Message To Garcia" and thinks that it is enshrining mindless obedience to orders either didn't actually read the piece, or didn't understand it. Likewise, denigrating a thing because it doesn't account for the "buzz-term du jour" is a sure sign of a lazy intellect, a raging ego and a condescending arrogance that would be dangerous at the wheel of a car on the way to a grocery store on a Sunday morning, let alone in a command post in a live operational area. That kind of dangerously inept mindset is definitely not something I would want advising me.
The saddest statement of this entire missive is that Maisel and DuVal have no idea what they read.
It seems that the authors may not have much experience dealing with a certain types of people. It seems to me that any leader who has been in the position to try to delegate a task, as mundane as planning a garrison function, to executing a serious military mission, and being met with incompetence or reticence. I'm reminded of the Mark Twain quote (possibly apocryphal):
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
I find Hubbard lament as useful today as a teaching device as it was then. YMMV.
A familiar theme, and one that I can get behind.
every one here is using big sentences … you are missing the point … the "message" is simply this … you are asked to do something .. do not give me all the excuses in the world as to why you cannot accomplish the task .. just get it done … he got the "message to Garcia" … if you have a problem getting it done we can help you … but don't give me some lame ass excuse that my feelings are hurt and no one ever talked to me that way … PS .. USNA 86 …. chose USMC …. Semper Fi …
A Message to Garcia carries a universal message across the world: get it done.
Maisal and DuVal missed the point. Instead of focusing on how nowadays Hubbard's essay might be irrelevant, focus on how continues to be relevant. I choose to look at it from the perspective on how to provide the leadership tools to the next generation. Rowan, at the age of 41 years old, a 21-year seasoned veteran, took the task to perform the mission. No doubt in my mind that the "stiffening" of his "vertebrate" was the result of training, education, and experience received through the various mentors (good or bad) that came across his life prior to this test.
As leaders we need to focuse on providing the appropriate tools to the next guy to be able to take the next task at hand without any questioning or doubt; to carry A Message to Garcia.
If you think “A Message to Garcia” is about “doing what your told to do when you’re told to do it” then you’re probably the type of person who needs to be told what to do. It’s about initiative. Just carry the damned message to Garcia.
A Message to the People Who Wrote This Article . . . congratulations on your successful trolling. You knew no one was going to throw out the Message who understood it. You also knew you could pander to a bunch of people who could never 'carry the message'. Lots of replies, lots of buzz. Congratulations to you. To the rest of you. Don't come back to this well again. It's tainted.
Excellent! Nailed it. Sorry I didn't read this sooner!
Shooting is easy. Building a lasting peace not so much.
This is also why I used to rant that 'commander's intent' was the single most important component of any mission brief.
Why are you on this mission? To what ends? What is the desired outcome? Commander's intent provides that guidance provided it's actually delivered to the troops in a meaningful way. Plans may not survive contact with the enemy, but things tend to work out better for you when all of your troops know exactly why they are on this mission and what the intended outcomes are regardless of the mission.
As for not reading… that's the stupidest military shit I've ever heard but explains why the Marines weren't handing out copies of 'The Other Side of the Mountain' prior to Afghanistan deployments or why the back of the US Army/ USMC Counterinsurgency Field Manual that was discounted at the PX says on the back cover, 'It is not unfair to say thay in 2003, most Army officers knew more about the U.S. Civil War than they did about counterinsurgency.'
Not to mention that the story was partly fictitious.
"Had the news reports not made Rowan a popular hero, however falsely, Corbin might have had him court-martialed.:11" -From Wikipedia "Message to Garcia" under 'Historical Accuracy'
Heaven help us if we lose sight of the meaning behind the story, as our enemies likely won’t.
I think the point is being missed. The lesson to be learned is not entirely from Hubbard's essay, but rather from Lt Rowan's resolve and success; and that is applicable for all prospective leaders. That lesson is merely this: find a way to accomplish the mission! There are times when the buck stops with you. You alone will bear the brunt of a difficult mission's success. You WILL find yourself alone in a hostile environment, unable to communicate with friendlies, unable to seek clarification, relief, reinforcement or air cover but still be expected to adapt, overcome and succeed with your assigned mission. While Hubbard's analysis and edicts may not fully resonate with today's politically correct environment, the example of Lt Rowan remains true and laudable. His example of succeeding despite uncertainty, non-existence or vague intelligence assessments, readily available reinforcements, while exhibiting great endurance, persistence and dedication to mission are still as valid as when Hubbard authored his essay.
This is not a good take.
These two guys are far too literal. In modern terms “They just don’t get it.” I’m pretty sure the message isn’t to act stupidly and get people killed. It implies that you need to take ownership and do your complete best..It never says be complete dumb ass This is just what the comment in Book Learning” is calling out. You’re over thinking it. This brings to mind the joke “military intelligence is an oxymoron”. Come on gentleman, use it and add and a statement that it’s everyone’s job to prepare through learning, tools, and team to be in position to effectively contribute significantly to a successful outcome by execution at the highest level. Thank you for your write up. I now see how people can so clearly miss the point.
Reading through these comments, I wonder how many were written by enlisted personnel. As a young enlisted Marine, the essay was pushed on me by my Staff NCO's as evidence that immediate, unquestioning, obedience to orders was my highest and best use. I read it as many of you seem to have, as a message that sometimes you just have to get the thing done. But the less-educated and less-critically-thinking "leaders" I had, just wanted us to shut up and do as we were told because, "A Message to Garcia."
Years later, as a software engineer at a Fortune 500, I have my CIO and others pushing the same thing. Don't do what you feel is right and take responsibility for it; do it the way we say but also take the blame for how inefficient and costly your solution is.
If you want smart, critical thinkers to do the thing, rely on them–in fact encourage them–to use the brain you hired them for.
There is something to be gathered from this story regardless good or bad. Here is the good I see. Based on my experience as a staff worker and supervisor, I note that my staff could think more on their own to resolve problems/achieve a task rather than have the thinking handed to them. I strongly loved the story for that truth. Getting it done without relying on someone else to do the thinking. In this case, the Lt. Rowan was a superb example of stepping up to the plate and executing a task using his brain power, initiative, manpower! Still love the story and am thankful for amazing inspiration true stories about true leaders carrying out true exploits.
Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia
for you, if anybody can.”
So Rowan had the ability to carry out the mission to find Garcia. Seems people forgot that point.
“There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will cure the common cold
for you, if anybody can.”
Good luck Rowan, good luck Garcia.
Adolph Eichmann was a great "Rowan". I thought this story sucked when I read it forty years ago and I stand by my evaluation and endorse the authors' viewpoint. Kick this krap to the curb for takeout with other dated trash.
If you read the entire essay, I think that one line should be interpreted as meaning that dedication to a task or trust is more important than academic studying, but I don't think he means to reject academic learning at all – otherwise why would he go on to compare the laziness of people called on because they are well educated?
I taught gifted and talented high school chemistry and physics students and A Message to Garcia was required reading. None of those kids, some going on to achieve perfect SAT scores, inferred the letter wanted them to forsake learning.
Personally, and this is just one of many examples this year alone, I went through 30 hours on the phone or waiting on the phone during a week with Verizon technicians who couldn't be bothered to look and note that my initial setup (by a technician) didn't tie my Internet tower into the coax system for TV and wouldn't work with my upgraded set-top box. A technician came out and discovered the problem in 1 minute.
I'd like to send those inattentive people a copy of A Message to Garcia.
Just more drivel out of MWI.
The editors really have to up their game if they want to be relevant to the current discussions.
I have only one hiring criteria… If I ask this person to do a job can I remove that job from my list of concerns?
Well said! Don't understand why any editor would try and point out these plane facts as being outdated. The Message to Garcia will always have a place in history as good reading. Have used it many times to direct thoughts as to what is expected when given a job.
For two intelligence officers at a clearly prestigious institute of training, particularly duty and dedication to the objectives of a critical mission, I regret to state, also clearly voiced by many responders above, these two individuals not only clearly missed the point of the Message to Garcia, they also missed the point that the soldier understood, better than they, that he would fufill the mission by his own ingenuity and devices by responding to any unforeseen obstacles and making all necessary adjustments and improvisations, any appropriate manner, in order to successfully fulfill his assigned task. This unfortunately provides a clear example of the difference between intelligence analyses and field operations
The authors of this have made the historically common mistake of reading it as simply a military piece and reading it as literal work.
Hubbard was an avowed anarchist and socialist, yet this does not read like that an anarchist or socialist, it reads of a frustrated capitalist businessman who wonders where all the people have gone who simply do what they are asked to do without questioning it or moaning about it …just go do what needs to be done to complete the job without me holding your little hand.
This will always be a staple in any military, anyone who shows these traits will be treasured by their officers…get it done in the field type guys.
This also translates to the private sector, maybe even more, because nobody thinks they owe their employers any respect. Our world tells them to question everything ….
…all I can say is if I was running a business, I'd be looking for every Cowan I could find to get my message to Garcia.
My opinion is these guys are definitely thinking outside the box. It does give food for thought but to me it only re-enforces the principle of being depended on to do the task one has been assigned whether it is a military task or otherwise. The essay is not just about the doer but the leader. Rather than micro-manage the mission, the leader explained the goal, what would be required and the mission. Then Rowan simply did the job.
He took personal responsibility to get the job done relying on no one other than himself to get it done.
Rather than disagreement with the authors , I would commend them on bringing up the points on what is important. My belief is a little tongue in cheek to get us involved and bring attention to Hubbard's great classic. The main thing is always the main thing. Getting it done and being counted on to " git her done".
I will take a man like Rowan any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
They should probably take this article off of a USMA website…how embarrassing for the authors.
If this is a reflection of the MI Branch, then we're going to lose more battles in the future.
This diatribe of Hubbard is the harshest essay I've read. No Christin should endorse this ever. I can't imagine any employee following this advice. There is no place for imitative a Walmart. I been there – obey the rules no matter how banal.
Despite if this text stays or goes as a reference in professional military development; it is just one tool in the toolbox. The reminder of the historical context provides clarification of "this" message and "this" mission; but we are best served by our understanding of current methods of operation that have been built upon modern knowledge as well as considerations of the past. I would worry less about the essay being a singular reference piece and concern myself more with the inclusion of the various teachings all throughout the library.
I find it endlessly hilarious that the real Andrew S Rowan neither "Did the thing" as he actually disregarded his orders, nor "Delivered the message" as no such message actually existed. Also funny was how the details of Rowan's "secret" mission appeared in the newspapers so soon after he arrived back in the US with his unwanted message instead of the dispatches that he was supposed to send. While this story certainly worked out well for Rowan's career and perhaps his avoidance of a court-martial, it's as apocryphal as the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. Furthermore, while Elbert Hubbard would have us value a "stiff spine" over "book learning", "instruction", and questions such as "Where is he at?". Rowan didn't ask "Where is he at" because he already knew, had a cover story in place, and local guides standing by to transport him there. Mr. Hubbard and the essay's advocates tend to gloss over the facts that the actual LT Rowan had the benefit of an academy education (pesky book 'lernin), instruction in the language, previous experience in the region, over a decade and a half of service (much of it in Military Intelligence), and literally wrote a book about Cuba before he left on the mission. So he had that going for him, which was nice, even if he didn't actually have the vaunted stiff spine, judging by his leadership reprimanding him for his habits of getting staggering drunk on duty and criticizing his superiors and peers in public. Clearly, people have an emotional response to this essay and they are not incorrect that there are times in our career when we need to shut up and execute. However, I would prefer to have trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities of my junior leaders and listen to their questions about questionable orders… or questionable essays about questionable role models.