The Nature of Courage

Letter to the editor of The Times, published 5 January 2020. © Richard Kemp

Sir, Max Hastings claims that moral courage is ‘far more valuable’ than physical courage. Both are indispensable virtues in any society. The potential hazards of moral courage can be serious: humiliation, rejection or perhaps loss of friendships or opportunity. But they cannot be compared to the extreme risks of physical courage in battle. Courage under enemy fire is by definition life-threatening. There can be no greater act of courage than to deliberately jeopardise your own life, knowing you could be giving up your very existence, everything you ever had and could ever have or hope for.

Max is also wrong to assert that we do not need a new generation of Spitfire pilots. Today, young soldiers from my own regiment, the Royal Anglians, are on patrol in Mali, risking life and limb as members of the most dangerous peacekeeping mission the UN has ever undertaken. Most of them enlisted with the same spirit of adventure and appetite for danger that Max dismisses in his family’s wartime generation. Thank goodness that these ‘macho men’, as he calls them, still exist. We shall have as great a need for them as ever in the dangerous years ahead.