Due Honor to Those to Whom It Is Due When It Is Due

“You have to pay your dues,” said the professor. “You must give due honor to the people to whom it is due when it is due. Honor comes only after due time spent in study as a leaner, and a duly humble one at that. Just as the dew falls on the ground, this is what the student must do.”

The professor thought himself a rather clever man with words. In fact, he was a professor of military science, and wasn’t nearly as clever as he thought. But he was still the professor, and today he was lecturing a student, though one he expected to soon be an ex-student. Ex-student, he would point out, as though his students would miss it, is very different from graduate. An ex-student is just someone who pretended to learn, but failed to do so. A graduate is due honor and respect. Less honor and respect than his teacher, but nonetheless honor and respect.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters, places, and events to those in the real world is coincidental.
Copyright © 2012
Henry E. Neufeld

“Now you, Schultweiss, you are not a good student. The only thing due you is a dismissal from this university. You will never amount to anything. You will never be a great tactician or strategist. You will never be cited by other scholars when they research military history or other topics.” To the professor, honor was measured in how often one’s works were cited by other scholars.

Armand Schultweiss only half listened to this lecture. He’d tried to argue earlier when the professor told him that his ideas about maneuverability were really quite wrong, but the professor cut him off. Nobody had ever operated in that way before. It wouldn’t work. Where were his citations? He wrote entire pages of his thesis without any footnotes at all! Did he think one of his youth and lack of credentials was capable of having his own thoughts, thoughts not rooted in and nurtured by the authorities?

And then, after making his final clever speech, he dismissed Armand. Four years of hard study wasted. No degree meant no recommendations. No recommendations meant nobody was going to hire him for their guard. He could try to enlist in the army, but his career potential as a commoner would be limited.

***** 25 years later *****

General Armand Schultweiss watched as his opposite number and staff marched stiffly into his command tent. It was a reversal of historic proportions. He had come into this battle outnumbered  two to one, with troops that were considered less well-trained. (It should be noted that Schultweiss disagreed with this assessment of his troops.) He commanded the forces of the tiny new Republic of Zeeland, formerly the province of Zeeland, against the forces of the Ardenean Empire, at least those available in the local area.

But then Schultweiss noticed one man in the opposing delegation. It was the professor, serving as an adviser to his opponent. The professor showed no sign of recognizing Schultweiss. In fact, he showed no sign throughout the surrender ceremony.

But before closing the ceremony, he turned and asked, “Professor, what are you doing here?”

The professor was startled. He was not surprised that he had been recognized as a professor. Every well-educated military officer should know his name and should have read his books and papers. What surprised him was the question. If his services were available, why would he not be employed on a general’s staff? He was the foremost expert!

“Why would I not be here?” asked the professor.

“After you expelled me from the university, I checked your record. You have never before served on a military staff, nor were you ever a soldier or an officer. Isn’t this the first time you’ve served on any officer’s staff?”

“Well, yes. It seemed to me that since I’ve retired from teaching it was due time that I put some of my knowledge into practice.”

“And would you say that your advice was appreciated?”

“Oh yes! The general relied heavily on my knowledge, especially of military history.”

“So you would say that the battle plan used by the imperial forces was yours?”

“You could say that.” The professor seemed oblivious to the situation. He was proud of his plan and the fact that it had been adopted.

“A long time ago you said to me: ‘You have to pay your dues. You must give due honor to the people to whom it is due when it is due.’ That was right before you expelled me. Do you remember that?”

“I said that to many upstart students, students who failed to give their professor and their betters the respect they were due.”

“I’m just wondering, professor, how much honor is due a battle plan, or the person who crafted it, when that battle plan fails as miserably as your plan has today.”

The professor looked stunned. It was at least a full minute before he spoke. “I can see why I expelled you. You have no respect for your betters. My battle plan was perfection itself. It took into account all the established principles of strategy. It took account of all the historical factors.”

“But you lost,” said the general.

The look on the professor’s face was genuinely puzzled. “I’ll tell you what I think,” said General Schultweiss. When he saw that the professor was about to speak, he continued quickly. “I think that very little respect is due to a battle plan that fails. I think little honor is due to a professor whose first experience of battle came after he retired, in a battle which he lost. But I’m thankful to you, professor. If so many of the empire’s officers had not been trained under you, I would probably have lost this battle.”

Then General Schultweiss laughed. The delegation that had just surrendered were first astonished, then furious at this treatment. Even a surrendering general and his staff were due respect. “Actually, professor,” the general concluded, “the Republic of Zeeland thanks you for its independence!”

And he turned and left.

(This story was written for and submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Due.)