“For in war the character and personality of the leader is decisive in events much more than questions of material.”
The Good Shepherd is a naval military classic - perhaps slightly dated for contemporary readers as it revolves around a group of naval vessels protecting numerous merchant ships in convoy transporting cargo from the US to its World War Two allies in Europe. Ships from several allied navies under the command of a young US naval officer, George Krause, are assigned to guard a convoy from marauding German submarine predators.
Forester’s novel is about character and leadership. The fast paced action and naval duelling are simply the containers through which the author reveals his insights.
Forester does an amazing job getting the reader inside Krause’s head. We know Krause loves black coffee and can guzzle an entire jug – hot or cold - without flinching. We also know he is a religious man whose decision making is influenced by his notion of Christian ethics.
Lives hang in the balance as the captain makes life and death decisions instantaneously, sometimes literally as whether to pick up enemy survivors drifting in the open sea. In these split second decisions, Krause must reach urgent compromises between husbanding convoy resources, cultural / political factors given the presence of ships from navies like Poland, etc., attack versus defence, maintaining moral leadership over his crew and inspiring the other crews.
Sometimes his decisions are explained while at other times these choices seem almost random flips of a coin. (Luck as a crucial element in leadership?)
More often than not, war literature is associated with armies and land based warfare. The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester is a pleasant change. It brings to life the hopes, fears and desperations of a generation of seafarers who fought on earth’s vast oceans. The work is not only an adventure novel but also wanders into the realms of psychology. Though first published in 1955, Forester’s work has not lost any of its allure during the ensuing six decades.
Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on Instagram (@imranahmedsg); twitter (@grandmoofti) and can be contacted at email@example.com.