Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Message to Garcia

Several times this week, the conversation has turned to the difficulty of young people seeking employment.  It is summer time, and suddenly students with free time are getting on the nerves of their parents, who collectively turn to their offspring and say, “Why don’t you get a summer job?” 

I remember this well.  I was young with endless time, a yen for adventure, and absolutely no funds or transportation.  So, I got a job, bought a car, and discovered I had no time for adventure.  This condition lasted for about five decades until I discovered retirement, at which point I discovered that time was the adventure.

it was much easier to find employment when I was a teenager:  the pay was lower, the taxes for the employer were lower, and frankly, teenagers of fifty years ago were more productive and had a better work ethic.  Yesterday, I watched what we used to call a “bag boy” at the grocery store and he bore more resemblance to a stalagmite than an actual employee.  I discovered that if I held perfectly still and watched carefully, he actually moved—about as fast as the minute hand on a watch.

Not that long ago, every teenager was familiar with a small essay titled, A Message to Garcia.  When I graduated from high school, every student was given a copy.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I also got two books from the John Birch Society:  J. Edgar Hoover's Masters of Deceit and Phyllis Schafly’s A Strike from Space.  Both are horrible crimes committed against trees.  I have yet to find that Commie hiding under my bed.)

A Message to Garcia was written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899 describing the efforts of Lieutenant Rowan to carry a communication from President McKinley to the Cuban revolutionary leader, General Calixto Garcia.  America was on the brink of war with Spain over its brutal colonial rule of the island, and McKinley desperately needed information about the ongoing revolutionary war in Cuba.

The problem lay in how to contact the general.  Cuba was still firmly in the hands of the Spanish forces and no one knew exactly how to find a revolutionary leader hidden in the mountains and jungles of Cuba.  How would a messenger find the elusive general?  How did you get to the island without the consent of the Spanish?  The mission seemed impossibleeven James Bond gets better instructions from M.

Lieutenant Rowan didn’t ask questions, he didn’t demand explanations, he simply set out to fulfill his orders.  He used initiative, did his own research, worked hard, and accomplished his mission.  The trip took the young officer roughly three weeks, but he not only delivered the message, but returned from Cuba with five experts General Garcia had sent to advise the president.  For his actions, Lieutenant was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Hubbard’s essay points out the shortage of employees who can successfully carry a message to anyone without close supervision.  Writing almost 120 years ago, Hubbard says the average employee is more concerned about the clock than about  accomplishing his job.  Furthermore, Hubbard pointedly explains that the only way to correct this thinking is with the toe of a thick-soled No. 9 boot.  (This method does work:  ask my sons, What’s-His-Name and the The-Other-One.)

If you haven't read this essay, click HERE.

I have no idea why we no longer give students this essay.  They certainly have not stopped needing it.  A manager of a local retail establishment recently told me about terminating a young man who couldn’t believe he was fired after he showed up late for work 25 times in just the previous two months.  Such an employee could not be trusted answer a phone call.

After the piece was published in Philistine Magazine, it was reprinted.  Suddenly the magazine was beset for additional copies of the publication.  First in the dozens of copies, then hundreds, and finally an order for an additional thousand copies.  Finally, the President of the New York Central Railroad requested permission to print the essay in pamphlet form to distribute to employees.  Eventually, the pamphlet was printed at half million copies in each of three production runs. 

When a visiting Russian railroad executive read the piece, he had it translated into Russian and a copy was given to every railroad employee in Russia.  By that time, World War I had begun and the Czar ordered that every single soldier in his army be given a copy.  When the Japanese began finding a copy in the personal belongings of Russian prisoners, the piece was translated into Japanese.  A copy was given to every employee of the Imperial Government, civilian or military.

By now, the piece has been printed more than 40 million times, in 37 languages.  it has been made into two movies, the first by Thomas Edison and the second, starring Barbara Stanwyck.  For decades, the phrase “carrying a message to Garcia” was synonymous with showing initiative. 

Elbert Hubbard was a prolific writer whose works have sadly passed from the public eye.  Even his most commonly used creation, the adage “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” is usually credited in error to Dale Carnegie.  He also wrote a clever essay claiming that politically, at least, Jesus was an anarchist.

In 1912, after the sinking of the RMS Titanic, Hubbard wrote another popular piece, where he praised the love and devotion of Mr. and Mrs. Strauss.  When Isidor Strauss was offered a space in lifeboat No. 8 due to his advanced age, he refused until every woman and child on the doomed liner was safe.  His wife, Ida, refused to enter without her husband, saying, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.”

Hubbard wrote,"Mr. and Mrs. Strauss, I envy you that legacy of love and loyalty left to your children and grandchildren. The calm courage that was yours all your long and useful career was your possession in death. Happy lovers, both. In life they were never separated and in death they are not divided.”

Three years later, Alice and Elbert Hubbard were aboard the RMS Lusitania when a German submarine fired two torpedoes, sinking the ship.  The couple was last seen calmly entering a cabin and shutting the door behind them.

1 comment:

  1. There are a lot of weird stories around the Titanic and other ship sinkings around that time. I suppose a lot of folks from the same crowd traveled a lot by ship. There were a lot of weird coincidences around turn of the century ship sinkings. One guy was on three of them. I forget his name.