This is the story of British Captain Jack Aubrey & the last age of glorious naval warfare. A foreign story, of wars older than the Great War, of the war which prepared the imperial age, which only the English seems to enjoy anymore. Consider another captain from the age of Nelson, Hornblower. & a man fighting in Wellington’s armies, Sharpe. Young men should see such things who love history.
The story begins & ends with terrible naval battles. No more than soldiers are sailors brave, but they have nowhere to run, depending on the wind. The problems of ruling them emerge in-between battles. The difficulty of applying Clausewitz’s teaching emerges in this long preparation for battle. The commander’s iron will emerges from the insufficiency of the laws in the war against nature. His teacher is nature.
Either his will makes the master or that his men do not see & reason as he does. So that there is a problem with rule. All men of sense know that the ship of state is the truth of politics, human affairs directed in the course of events as well as the nature of things will allow… Aubrey’s scientist tells him his crew call him Lucky Jack, they’ll follow him anywhere. The officers sing of his exploits. But Nelson they worship, whose patriotism alone is beyond reproach. Fate & God take rule over their minds in the business of war.
Officers are taught from childhood to command & to lead. Without divine blessing, how will they succeed? Sailors are their father’s children even as grown men, who cares for them skillfully & lovingly in the terrible motions of the sea. Yet the glory of empire is the captain’s design; he tells his scientist he will pay any price.
Surprisingly, the seafaring British fear the future. The French have ships no worse, if not better. Napoleon’s armies may be undefeatable. To defend their island, they must deny him the ocean. A world-encompassing commercial empire requires the unrelenting vigilance of a fleet whose officers are paid in prizes. Yet no man is master of the winds. The commander must be harsher to his men than the sea therefore. So that he teaches survival by victory.
Very little mercy is possible on the high seas. Punishment does more than anything else to alleviate fear. Rum goes further. When it’s a matter of death, not life, the captain talks to his crew about God. In God, their minds can rest awhile. The willful captain tests the boundaries of the association between activity & victory, idleness & defeat. The crew must all believe that such a man is under divine protection, or else why fight or, indeed, live?
A great adventure movie for boys, a dark meditation on politics for young men.