Ivan the Terrible Does a Haroun al-Rashid
Although largely remembered for the homicidal paranoia that came to characterize his reign in later years, while a young man Ivan the Terrible (r. 1547-1584), like a number of other rulers across history – most famously the Caliph Haroun al-Rashid – was wont to go among his people in disguise to get a sense of what they were thinking, an early form of polling one might say.
Once, while visiting a village near Moscow dressed as a beggar, he found no one who would give him lodging for the night, save a poor family. By chance, that very night the poor man’s wife gave birth. Taking his leave the next morning, the Tsar returned shortly in full regalia with numerous dignitaries in train, to hand out generous gifts to his hosts, and become the godfather of their newborn, while ordering the rest of the people of the village to be turned out of their homes, which he promptly burned down to remind them of their obligations to the poor..
Apparently during many of his adventures, Ivan found congenial companions in the company of common criminals.
On one such occasion, the Tsar proposed robbing the Imperial treasury, telling them that he knew how to get inside, which was true enough.
Hardly had he said this than the chief of the gang of thieves with which he was consorting gave him a playful punch in the face, saying, in effect, “Rogue, you want to rob the Tsar, who has been so good to us? Why not rob some rich boyar who is screwing His Imperial Majesty’s subjects out of vast sums?”
Pleased at the response, Ivan swapped caps with the man, and suggested they meet on the morrow at a place in Moscow near the palace, to share a cup of vodka and a meal. The thief readily agreed.
The thief showed up at the appointed place and time, to find, not his roguish companion of the night before, but the Tsar himself holding out a mug of vodka.
As they downed the liquor, Ivan ordered the thief to steal no more, appointed him to a post at court, and assigned him to ferret out criminals.
"Are You a Soldier, Sir?"
Late in 1812 Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison was given command of the Army of the Northwest. The army had suffered a string of inept commanders, the hapless Brig. Gen. William Hull, who had surrendered Detroit to the a considerably inferior British and Indian force months earlier, and then the pusillanimous Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson, the senior officer of the army, who for some 20 years had never won a battle, nor lost a court martial, despite corruption, cowardice, ineptitude, and even treason. So when Harrison took over the army, which had never seen a victory, he realized it needed a stiff dose of discipline tempered by humane treatment to turn the virtual rabble which his predecessors had made of the men into good troops. He worked hard to rebuild the army, and then in mid-1813 took it on campaign against the British in order to drive them from the territory they had captured over the previous year in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, before undertaking an invasion of Canada.
It was a hard campaign, for the region was a virtual wilderness, supplies were scarce, winter temperatures could plunge well below freezing and in summer soar to over 100, accompanied by high humidity and swarms of mosquitoes.
During one hard march, Harrison came upon a soldier who had fallen out of the march and died by the side of the road. The general ordered the army to halt. Then, perhaps as a way of improving morale, not to mention giving the troops a little extra rest under such trying circumstances, Harrison gave orders that the man be given a decent burial, instructing some carpenters to make a proper coffin.
As the carpenters set to work, Harrison approached to observe their activities. He paced back and forth around the area, and his face suggesting great sadness and unease.
One of his soldiers approached the general and asked what he had planned for the future operations of the army.
Struck by this breach of discipline, Harrison snapped, “Are you a soldier, sir?”
“Yes,” came the prompt reply.
“Then, sir, be one,” replied the suddenly stern-faced general in a firm tone
Harrison’s rebuff reminded not only the impertinent soldier of the difference in their ranks and roles, but also the rest of the army, which was still recovering from the ineptitude of his predecessors.
It was a lesson that would pay off later that year, when Harrison won the Battle of the Thames (October 5, 1813), defeating the British in Ontario.