The Mystery of Courage

November 28, 2020
The Mystery of Courage

Few of us spend much time thinking about courage, but we know itwhen we see it--or do we? Is it best displayed by marching intodanger, making the charge, or by resisting, enduring withoutcomplaint? Is it physical or moral, or both? Is it fearless, ordoes it involve subduing fear? Abner Small, a Civil War soldier,was puzzled by what he called the "mystery of bravery"; to him,courage and cowardice seemed strangely divorced from character andwill. It is this mystery, just as puzzling in our day, that WilliamIan Miller unravels in this engrossing meditation.Miller culls sources as varied as soldiers' memoirs, heroic andromantic literature, and philosophical discussions to get to theheart of courage--and to expose its role in generating the centralanxieties of masculinity and manhood. He probes the link betweencourage and fear, and explores the connection between bravery andseemingly related states: rashness, stubbornness, madness, cruelty,fury; pride and fear of disgrace; and the authority and experiencethat minimize fear. By turns witty and moving, inquisitive andcritical, his inquiry takes us from ancient Greece to medievalEurope, to the American Civil War, to the Great War and Vietnam,with sidetrips to the schoolyard, the bedroom, and the restaurant.Whether consulting Aristotle or private soldiers, Miller elicitsconsistently compelling insights into a condition as endlesslyinteresting as it is elusive.