A blunt but discerning leadership and parenting nugget is mined from General H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero. He shares the following story during his time as second lieutenant in the United States Army with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky:
In the summer of 1957 we had a huge influx of draftees, and we were working fifteen-hour days to get them properly trained and assimilated into the unit. The worst soldier in the bunch was a guy from upstate New York. He insisted that he’d been in a motorcycle accident and had sustained brain damage that caused him occasionally to become catatonic. Given that he’d passed his draft physical, this seemed improbable, and we soon noticed a close correlation between this private’s catatonic fits and the prospect of hard work. We’d be camped fifteen miles from the base, getting ready to march home, and the private would pass out. Each time we’d carry him to the dispensary, but he always revived just before the doctor examined him.
The doctor was mystified; he couldn’t say what the problem was, but he also couldn’t say there was no problem. Sergeants Montoya and Gonzales, Korean War veterans who supervised the recruits, did not think very much of this at all. “Sir, that [guy] is getting over on us!”
I was concerned that if he did have a medical condition, the man could die: “Look, Sarge, he may be or he may not be. We just don’t know and we can’t take a chance.”
So the sergeants improvised their own cure. The troops lived on the second floor of the barracks, and every Friday night they had what was called a GI party–which entailed scrubbing the floor, waxing it, and buffing it to a high shine. One Friday I heard screaming and raced upstairs and burst into the squad bay. Montoya and Gonzales had the private hanging out the window upside down by his ankles. He was in a panic, and Gonzales was yelling, “… It didn’t take you long to wake up this time!” After that the private had no more catatonic fits, although the Army discharged him anyway, a few months later, as unfit for duty.
Sometimes you just have to get terribly and creatively direct to ferret out lazy, destructive, undermining, varmint-like tendencies. Does this illustration seem extreme, non-pastoral, non-parental, and unscriptural? Well passing over Hebrews 12:5-11 and Nehemiah 13:23-28, let us venture back in the Bible to consider King Solomon’s first wise and disciplinary tactic as a tough act to follow:
Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman’s child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear. And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment. (1 Kings 3:16-28)
Notice that this extremely shrewd yet incredibly bold getting at the truth was King Solomon’s first wise judgment after God granted him the gift of wisdom for which he asked earlier in the chapter.
Am I saying to dangle disrespectful, deceitful, defiant deviants over balconies or to threaten to slice someone’s infant down the middle? Of course not. But the illustrated principle remains: sometimes moronic, incompetent, inferior nonsense must be squelched by morally responsible and effectual superiors.
Discerning when such daring measures are called for by similarly deplorable times takes great insight, so let us ask God for wisdom in leadership and parenting noting that there is a time for everything under heaven (including breaking down, as Solomon wrote elsewhere).