A Message to Garcia

Nov 12, 2017
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You reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office–six clerks are within call. Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio.”

Will the clerk say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task? On your life he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

I was hired for that?

Don’t you mean Bismarck?

What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Sha’n’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

And Iwill lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him to try to find [Correggio]–and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course, I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average I will not. Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” that Correggio is indexed under Cs, not in the Ks, but you will smile very sweetly and say, “Never mind,” and go look it up yourself.
Hmmm…..Integrity. Resourcefulness. Independent action.

They might as well be words from a dead language in today’s world.

However, the test situation posed above was not put forth recently but was asked on February 22, 1899. Yes, one hundred and twelve years ago it seems we had problems with folks not being able to carry out a mission. Apparently moral stupidity was rampant, and folks were unwilling to cheerfully catch hold and lift.

This situation was posed by Elbert Hubbard in a pamphlet he wrote titled, “A Letter to Garcia” in reaction to an observation his young son had made at the dinner table regarding the outcome of the Spanish American War. His son had remarked that the success the United States had experienced could all be boiled down to one man…..Andrew S. Rowan.

Never heard of him? I’m not surprised since most folks don’t know many details regarding the Spanish American War past the fact the USS Maine exploded in Havana’s harbor and one Theodore Roosevelt went up San Juan Hill.

Prior to the war the Cubans had attempted more than once to gain their independence from Spain. In May, 1898, the leader of the Cuban rebels, Garcia Y’iniguez Calixto, was hiding out in the jungles of Cuba. Once the United States became involved President McKinley knew it was imperative he get some sort of message to Garcia and knew that information was key regarding a successful U.S. operation there.

When the President asked, “Who can deliver a message to Garcia?” his advisors were quick to indicate Andrew S. Rowan was his man. This is certainly one situation where a president was advised correctly.

Later in his account of his mission Rowan wrote, “The President was anxious for information. He realized that success meant that the soldiers of the republic must co-operate with the insurgent forces of Cuba. He understood that it was essential to know how many Spanish troops there were on the island, their quality and condition, their morale, the character of their officers, especially those of the high command; the state of the roads in all seasons; the sanitary situation in both the Spanish and insurgent armies and the country in general; how well both sides were armed and what the Cuban forces would need in order to harass the enemy while American battalions were being mobilized; the topography of the country and many other important facts.”

Rowan was advised by his commanding officer, “Means will be found to identify you in Jamaica, where there is a Cuban junta. The rest depends on you……..After that, providing the United States declares war on Spain, further instructions will be based on cables received from you. Otherwise everything will be silence. You must plan and act for yourself. The task is yours and yours only. You must get a message to Garcia. Your train leaves at midnight. Good-bye and good luck!”

That was it. Those are the only instructions Rowan received. He did the rest on his own. His full account regarding his time in Cuba gathering information and delivering that all important letter to Garcia can be found here….just scroll down a bit.

Getting back to Hubbard he sat down after his dinner and wrote out a four page pamphlet titled, A Letter to Garcia” that within days would go viral in 1899 terms. Once it was published business people got hold of it and passed it along. Extra copies were ordered at twenty-five cents each. “A dozen, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, and yes, a hundred thousand. Then in half million lots until finally it was translated into nearly every language…..At one time during the 1920s more copies of “A Message to Garcia” were in print than any other publication except the Bible.”

The question, “Who can send a message to Garcia?” become synonymous with being resourceful and having integrity to do one’s job without dissolving into a puddle of helplessness. Hubbard stated later, “The hero is the man who does his work – who carries the Message to Garcia.”

I think the most powerful portion of Hubbard’s pamphlet is this……

THE WORLD BESTOWS ITS BIG PRIZES, both in money and honors, for but one thing, and that is Initiative. What is Initiative? I’ll tell you. It is doing the right thing without being told. But next to doing the thing without being told is to do it when you are told once. That is to say, carry the Message to Garcia: those who can carry a message get high honors, but their pay is not always in proportion. Next there are those who never do a thing until they are told twice: such get no honors and small pay. Next, there are those who do the right thing only when Necessity kicks them from behind, and these get indifference instead of honors, and a pittance for pay. This kind spends most of its time polishing a bench with a hard luck story. Then, still lower down in the scale than this, we have the fellow who will not do the right thing even when someone goes along to show him how and stays to see that he does it: he is always out of a job, and receives the contempt he deserves, unless he happens to have a rich Pa, in which case Destiny patiently awaits around the corner with a stuffed club.

To which class do you belong?

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