Honor theorists need examples of honor-typical behavior. Rehabilitationists (honor theorists who want to revive honor) especially need positive stories of honor-typical behavior. For instance, Sharon Krause, in her excellent Liberalism with Honor, makes important use of various positive examples of honor, including the refusal of the Viscount de Orte to follow Charles IX’s orders to slaughter Huguenots (p. 44ff).
In light of this, I thought it would be beneficial to start a thread where people can share stories that represent distinctively honorable deeds.
- Stories, not sayings.
- May be fictional or non-fictional.
- Stories should represent (what you see as) paradigmatically honor-typical behavior. That is, the story/circumstances should make clear why this is a tale of honor especially, as opposed to some other value or virtue.
- Stories should represent (what you see as) “truly” honorable behavior–that is, behavior that you endorse or come very close to endorsing, as opposed to behavior that is merely “honor-typical” but that you wouldn’t endorse. For example, you might be of the opinion that Achilles’ sulking in his tent because he was insulted is honor-typical, but not something that is actually honorable. If so, then this wouldn’t be the right sort of story to post in this thread.
I’ll start with a perhaps controversial example…
In the summer of 1813, Captain Philip Broke of the HMS Shannon challenged his counterpart, Captain James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake, to a ship-to-ship duel. Broke hoped to restore British national honor, which was badly bruised at this point in the War of 1812. The problem for Broke was that a half dozen Royal Navy ships were recently sunk or captured by American frigates of roughly equal size; and although this event in no way challenged British naval supremacy, it deeply wounded the pride the British took in their navy.
Charged with blockading the Americans in their own ports, Broke had previously tried to engage the American President and Constitution with his Shannon andTenendos, but the American commodore of that squadron, John Rogers, exploited a thick fog and sneaked out of Boston harbor without a scratch. Broke was sorely disappointed that he didn’t get the chance to meet with those two ships, so decided to force the issue with the Chesapeake. Broke sent the other ships in his squadron away, desperate to draw out the more powerful, fresher, and more heavily-manned Chesapeake in a single action. And lest there be any doubt about the matter, he fired off a letter to Lawrence calling him out.
H. B. M. ship Shannon, off Boston,
As the Chesapeake appears now ready for sea, I request that you will do me the favour to meet the Shannon with her, ship to ship, to try the fortune of our respective flags. To an officer of your character, it requires some apology for proceeding to further particulars. Be assured, sir, that it is not from any doubt I can entertain you of your wishing to close with my proposal, but merely to provide an answer to any objection that might be made, and very reasonably, upon the chance of our receiving unfair support. After [the] diligent attention which we had paid to Commodore Rogers, the pains I took to detach all force but the Shannon and Tenedos to such a distance that they could not possibly join in any action fought in sight of the capes, and the various verbal messages which had been sent into Boston to that effect, we were much disappointed to find the commodore had eluded us by sailing on the first chance, after the prevailing easterly winds had obliged us to keep an offing from the coast. He, perhaps, wished for some stronger assurance of a fair meeting. I am therefore, induced to address you more particularly, and to assure you that what I write, I pledge my honour to perform to the utmost of my power.
The Shannon mounts twenty-four guns upon her broadside, and one light boat-gun—eighteen-pounders upon her maindeck, and thirty-two pound carronades on her quarterdeck and forecastle, and is manned with a complement of 300 men and boys (a large proportion of the latter), besides thirty seamen, boys and passengers, who were taken out of recaptured vessels lately. I am thus minute, because a report has prevailed in some of the Boston papers that we had 150 men additional lent to us from La Hogue, which really never was the case. La Hogue is now gone to Halifax for provisions, and I will send all other ships beyond the power of interfering with us, and meet you wherever it is most agreeable to you, within the limits of the under mentioned rendezvous, viz., from six to ten leagues east of Cape Cod lighthouse; from eight to ten leagues east of Cape Ann’s light; on Cashe’s Ledge, in latitude 43° north; at any bearing and distance you please to fix, off the south breakers of Nantucket, or the shoal on St. Georges’s Bank.
If you will favour me with any plan of signals or telegraph, I will warn you (if sailing under this promise) should any of my friends be too nigh, or anywhere in sight, until I can detach them out of my way; or I would sail with you, under a flag of truce, to any place you think safest from our cruisers, hauling it down when fair to begin hostilities.
You must, sir, be aware that my proposals are highly advantageous to you, as you cannot proceed to sea singly in the Chesapeake without imminent risk of being crushed by the superior force of the numerous British squadrons which are now abroad, where all your efforts, in case of rencontre, would, however gallant, be perfectly hopeless. I entreat you, sir, not to imagine that I am urged by mere personal vanity to the wish of meeting the Chesapeake, or that I depend only upon your personal ambition for your acceding to this invitation: we have both nobler motives.
You will feel it as a compliment if I say that the result of our meeting may be the most grateful service I can render to my country; and I doubt not, that you, equally confident of success, will feel convinced that it is only by repeated triumphs, in even combats, that your little navy can now hope to console your country for the loss of that trade it can no longer protect. Favour me with a speedy reply.
We are short of provisions and water, and cannot stay long here.
I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient, humble servant,
Captain of H.B.M. ship Shannon.
N.B. For the general service of watching your coast it is requisite for me to keep another ship in company to support me with her guns and boats, when employed near the land, and particularly to aid each other if either ship, in chase, should get on shore. You must be aware that I cannot, consistently with my duty, waive so great an advantage for this general service by detaching my consort without an assurance on your part of meeting me directly, and that you will neither seek nor admit aid from any other of your armed vessels if I dispatch mine expressly for the sake of meeting you.