For You, Dad.

Jack Marshall Sr Army portraitI lost my dad, Jack Marshall, Sr., five years ago today, and for some reason the loss feels especially sharp right now. This has been another miserable birthday, but not so miserable as that one, and I found myself once again revisiting my father’s favorite poem, which was a personnel credo for him and which has often served me well in hard times too. It is linked in the “Inspiration” section on the  Ethics Alarms home page, as well as quoted in my post here on the day my father was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Nonetheless, I am going to post Rudyard Kipling’s “If” once again. My father’s favorite line was…

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
That was Dad to the core. He never looked back, never cursed his luck, never thought too highly of himself (or anyone else), always believed in tomorrow, and that no victory was final, and no defeat was forever. And I know he was right, though it doesn’t often feel like it. So this is for you, Dad. Thanks for everything.


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait, and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet, don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves, to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop, and build ’em up, with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn, long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—

You’ll be a Man, my son!


My Father, Memorial Day, and Reflections

Jack Marshall Sr Army portrait

[In the last few years of his life, my father used to take my sister and me on a pilgrimage to Arlington National Cemetery on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. He was always strangely jolly about it, though appropriately reverent. We always visited the oddly inadequate Battle of the Bulge memorial, where my dad would usually tell us one new story of his horrible experiences in that conflict that he had previously suppressed. We always paid our respects to the humble grave of Audie Murphy, World War II’s most decorated American soldier. We did NOT visit the grave of my dad’s own father, whose betrayal of his mother he would never forgive, though my grandfather, a veteran of the First World War, was also buried at Arlington. Mostly we just walked around the beautiful surroundings, with Dad periodically admiring some grand monument and suggesting, tongue in cheek, that he wouldn’t mind being under something like that some day. Continue reading

For My Father

The better Jack Marshall

My father’s birthday is coming up; oddly, I remember the date now that he’s gone, when I never managed to so while he was alive. It is May 2, and by lucky happenstance, Eugene Volokh chose to post another of my father’s favorite Rudyard Kipling poems on his blog today. I had completely forgotten about it, so this is a gift to me, especially since it helps my dad’s memory burn even brighter, always a boon when I feel the walls closing in.  He loved Kipling’s poems, books and stories, and he was a man whom Rudyard would have admired. Like most Kipling, this poem is about ethics, as well many other things, some of which readers must figure out for themselves.

For you, Dad. And all of you, too:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

By Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) Continue reading

What Rudyard Kipling Taught My Father

Jack Marshall Sr Army portrait

Today the Army buried my father, Major Jack Marshall, Sr., with full military honors. He had earned them, for he was a hero in World War II. Let me correct that: every soldier who serves in battle is a hero, but my Dad had a few special distinctions, like a Silver Star and a Bronze Star to go with his Purple Heart.  He  sustained a crippling wound to his foot from a hand-grenade, healed enough to jam what was left of it into a boot, and went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

Under the clearest of blue skies, with the cemetery covered in snow, a caisson drawn by black horses, one without a rider, carried my father to a gravesite ceremony where the American flag draping his casket was carefully folded by six soldiers and given to my mother, following a 21-gun salute. My father was a hero off the battlefield as well, a profoundly ethical and courageous man throughout his life, and how he got that way is worth examining. Continue reading

The 2009 Ethics Alarms Awards, Part 2: The Best

The Best in Ethics of 2009. May the 2010 list be longer!

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year: President Barack Obama’s executive order banning torture. The Declaration of Independence already did it once, but the President was right: we needed some reminding.

Ethical Leadership: Howard County, MD, which launched a “Choose Civility” campaign based on the book Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, by Johns Hopkins University Professor Dr. P.M. Forni. The effort attracted national attention, and has sparked similar movements around the country. Continue reading