Friday, 2 January 2015

"The Northwest Passage" Lessons for the modern world.

            Yesterday I treated myself. I finally got around to unwrapping my copy of "The Northwest Passage (1940)". Finding this fine old film on DVD was to prove to be something of a task. After much searching I was able to find a copy in Spanish ("Paso al Noroeste"). Fortunately for me the DVD included the original English soundtrack too.

            The reason I am posting about this movie on this blog is that a major theme in the movie is about motivation and leadership. If I had my way "The Northwest Passage" would be shown to all officers and NCOs.

            Early in the movie Major Rogers (Spencer Tracy) realises that the way up river is blocked by French forces. The only way pass involves carrying the heavy whale boats across country and up over a steep wooded hill. Instead of issuing orders Rogers asks his men (paraphrased):-

            "If you needed to get past the French without them knowing and knew you would need your boat later, what would you do?"

            A ranger replies "I guess I would carry the boat overland till I found water again."

            "Then that is what we will do!"

            Note that Rogers leads his men to the logical conclusion so that they understand the necessity, no matter how much toil and discomfort it implies. In some aspects the course of action seems to have been the suggestion of the men rather than an order by their commander.

            Another notable scene is when the rangers must cross a fast flowing stream.

            Rogers: "If you had a chain stretched across this stream you would not think twice of about wading it. We will make a human chain! I do not know if such a thing has ever been done before, but we are going to do it!" Rogers is the first wade into the water and hook one arm around a tree to form the first link of the chain. This is an interesting technique for large parties to use to cross rivers, although I would recommend hooking arms rather than grasping wrists as shown in the movie.

            The real Major Rogers "Rules of Ranging" and "Standing Orders" are worth a read, even today.
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