"I love the name of honor, more than I fear death." Julius Caesar
Jim Hayes lives a quiet life in Wisconsin, training in martial arts and studying the warrior ethos. Unable to prevent the murder of his wife six years earlier, Jim is determined that the next time he is called upon to act, things will be different, and he can restore the sense of honor he believes he has lost.
His estranged brother Mark, an Army colonel commanding a firebase in the mountains of Afghanistan, sees his career winding down and wonders what lies in store when he comes home. After years of dedicated service to his country, he fears nothing else will measure up when he removes the uniform for the last time.
In lawless Somalia, al Qaeda chieftain Yusuf Shalita, tired of endless jihad, has decided to defect, in one last attempt at redemption. But Shalita has only met one American he has ever trusted, so he tells the CIA he will surrender himself to Jim Hayes, his old friend from their college days in Wisconsin. That demand will bring the Hayes brothers back together in a way they never imagined, as they fight to prevent a new and devastating terror attack on the very heart of America.
THE FALL OF HONOR
It was the spring of 2013, and prominent men were falling left and right, a parade of men once held in high esteem for their accomplishments, their values, their good works. In just the last two years: Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Petraeus, Lance Armstrong, and just before the Super Bowl we learned of Dan Marino, Hall of Fame quarterback and family man, with a mistress and a “love child” in his recent past. Undoubtedly there will be more. When the news broke last fall about Petraeus, the general who led us to victory, or what passes for victory these days, in Iraq and toward the same in Afghanistan before taking over the CIA, I asked myself, “Is there no honor left, anywhere?”
The Petraeus scandal was perhaps most disturbing to me. Here was a man who had worked his way to the pinnacle of his profession, a man at arms who had through discipline, innovation and hard work achieved so much that his name was being mentioned as presidential material. I read his biography, All In, not realizing then that he was cheating on his wife by sleeping with the author. In the span of days, everything Petraeus had built for himself was in shambles. He lost his job, his marriage was rocked to the core, his reputation forever besmirched, and for many who hoped he might be the one to take the reins of the nation in four years to lead us out of our downward spiral of dependency and financial stupidity, hopes were dashed.
The Concept of Honor
In what was an interesting coincidence, at about the same time I finished a series of articles on my favorite website, Art of Manliness, about the concept of honor. It is a concept with a rich and complex history, and like everything else has evolved over time, but not necessarily for the better. The more I learned, the more I came to believe that what we need in this country now, perhaps more than ever, is for us to embrace the concept of honor: what it is, what it means, and why we need it.
My generation gave us the idea of “I’m OK, you’re OK” and its cousin, “Do your own thing.” In those heady days we rebelled against authority to usher in the Age of Aquarius, throwing off the shackles of our narrow-minded parents and their antiquated ideas about faith, duty, discipline and honor. In our tie-dyed shirts and grubby jeans we drove our smoke-filled VW buses down the road toward the next century, convinced we would have ourselves a groovy world by 2001. Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan.
The author of the Art of Manliness series, Brett McKay, wrote, “Traditional honor consists of having a reputation judged worthy of respect and admiration by a group of equal peers who share the same code of standards.” Originally, these standards were based on strength and courage, but over the centuries they came to include things like chivalry, industry, self-control and sincerity. In the 20th century things started unraveling with urbanization and anonymity dissolving the intimate personal relationships honor required. People became uncomfortable with the concept of shame, violence even in self-defense was to be avoided at all costs, and individual feelings were elevated above the common good of the group. Your own sense of honor, if you had one, was determined by nobody but yourself. Accountability became a thing of the past.
Is Honor Gone Forever?
One particular part of McKay’s thesis struck home: “Without honor, mediocrity, corruption and incompetence rule. Honor is based on reputation, and when people stop caring about their reputation, and shame disappears, people devolve into doing the least they can without getting into legal trouble or getting fired.” We have more rules than ever, because people can’t be trusted to do the right thing, they have to be compelled to do it. Honor is more powerful than rules and laws in shaping human behavior.
Honor checks our narcissism, builds community, creates meaning. Without it, nobody cares what you do. Merit goes unnoticed, good goes unrewarded, evil goes unpunished. Most Americans today believe we’re on the wrong track, but we’re not sure what to do about it. Perhaps we can start by embracing honor again.
David Tindell was born in Germany and grew up in southern Wisconsin. Today he lives up in the northwestern corner of the state, in a log home on a lake with his wife Sue, their Yorkie and two cats. After a career in radio broadcasting, Tindell went to work for the US Government and resumed the writing career he'd started in college.
His first novel, "Revived", was published in 2000, but after that he put the pen aside for a time to train in the martial arts, earning a black belt in the Korean art of Taekwondo and instructor status in the Russian art of Systema. He currently trains in ryukudo kobujutsu, an art that combines karate with Okinawan weaponry. Like his protagonist in "The White Vixen", Tindell is a linguist, although not as accomplished as Jo Ann Geary; he's conversational in German and has also studied Italian and Russian.