An Examination of the Ministry of Magic from a Cultural Perspective

Written for Organizational Theory course in Northeastern University graduate school.

In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, a series of fictional novels published by J.K. Rowling, the protagonist is a teenage boy named Harry Potter who is celebrated by the wizarding society for being “The Boy Who Lived.” Potter earned this moniker by surviving an attack that brought to a close the First Wizarding War, conducted by the leader of the enemy forces. This leader, Lord Voldemort, believed Potter was part of a prophecy that foretold Voldemort’s downfall. The series takes us through Voldemort’s eventual return to society and the undertaking of the Second Wizarding War and its conclusion. Yet again, Potter and his allies vanquish Voldemort.

Before the advent of the Second Wizarding War, Potter attended Hogwarts, a wizarding school for children to learn the magical arts. There, he teamed up with Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore and further allies dedicated to preventing Lord Voldemort’s resurrection. This proved to be a failure when Voldemort personally announced his return to Potter during the events of Goblet of Fire, killing a fellow Hogwarts student named Cedric Diggory in the process. Following this confrontation, Potter attempted to warn the public and the British Ministry of Magic, the governmental body responsible for safeguarding the British wizarding community of Voldemort’s return, but his actions went unheeded.

Seemingly in the face of convincing evidence and expert testimony, the return of Voldemort is denied repeatedly by the Ministry and its incumbent minister, Cornelius Fudge. Such denial allows Voldemort to continue amassing power quietly and infiltrate the Ministry. The successful coup very nearly costs the wizarding world the peace and freedom it found following Voldemort’s initial defeat.

The concept of organizational culture, immersed with organizational goals and other related concepts help to explain elements at play that pushed the Ministry of Magic and Fudge himself to deny the resurrection of Lord Voldemort until receiving irrefutable evidence near the end of Order of the Phoenix. Such an illustration reflects the complete failure of the wizarding world’s government to serve and protect its citizens.

Organizational culture is the complete set of beliefs, values, behaviors and other elements that define a given organization. The functions therein define membership and boundaries. Culture plays a strong hand in affecting morale, expectations, and specific traits of the organization. For example, NASA created a technical environment that paid painstaking attention to detail, carried an expectation of repeated testing to ensure perfect efficiency, and suffused its members with the ability to think critically and produce thorough outcomes. Culture can be embedded in an organization to the point that the culture starts driving decision-making and dictates governing protocol.

Organizational culture can be approached with an open- or closed-system view. Howard McCurdy values the closed-system approach in his examination of NASA, in which norms are established by internal balances of power which can shift over time, affecting culture. However, an open-system view more accurately reflects culture in terms of the information that gets utilized, plus the shaping of culture under various supporting and opposing forces. An open-system approach takes into account varied internal and external forces acting on an organization to help explain behavior. By using an open-system approach, solutions not considered in a closed-system view can be identified. It is also more effective in isolating cultural elements of the organization that precipitate certain actions.

Applying an open-system concept of organizational culture will help us better understand the actions that led the Ministry of Magic to deny Voldemort’s return. While the task environment is primarily concerned with outside influences on an organization, it can also include internal elements that are not considered in closed-system theory such as the power that an individual leader can have on an organization. That is not to say that the closed-system theory disregards the cultural contributions of specific actors, particularly internally, but it doesn’t view a sole actor as a reagent that can significantly affect organizational culture; closed-system theory is more concerned with the modulating effect of power bases throughout the development of an organization.

A theory underpinning the concept of organizational culture is the life-cycle theory of Anthony Downs, a concept that McCurdy applies when analyzing NASA in Inside NASA. The life-cycle theory posits that organizations go through various stages of maturation: a genesis, growth spurt, aging, and finally, death. Where an organization resides along these stages can have ramifications on organizational culture. For example, early on organizations are thought to undergo periods of growth that attract people devoted to the cause and quality talent that see the opportunity to work for a rising organization. The culture is one of creativity, innovation, and a strong work ethic. As organizations age, they become increasingly more bureaucratic; more concerned with rules, processes, and organization.

Bureaucracy is where we find the Ministry of Magic during the time period that Harry Potter is set. While it is not clear when the ministry was founded, it is recorded to exist by 1629, while the series takes place in the 1990s. By the time Harry Potter arrives at Hogwarts, the Ministry is hundreds of years old; it has had plenty of time to embed an organizational culture. As the series begins with Philosopher’s Stone, the only mention of the Ministry comes with a passing comment that the organization is “messing things up as usual”. While the series is slow to integrate the Ministry into its plot, it takes on a pivotal role during Prisoner of Azkaban where it is gleaned that the Ministry is more concerned about image and reputation than acting correctly when it vainly attempts to recapture the escaped Sirius Black from Azkaban prison. It becomes clear that the Ministry functions as a typical government bureaucracy with hierarchies and sub-organizations that one would find in any typical government organization, run by self-interested bureaucrats.

The Ministry of Magic is headed by an elected official, styled as the minister. The minister oversees an organization that is governed independently from the non-magic (known as Muggle by the wizarding community) government apparatus. The Ministry is constantly concerned with the specter of public opinion, and regularly tries to influence journalists and the public through the Daily Prophet newspaper.

Much like any general government organization in the Muggle world, the Ministry of Magic is composed of internal departments. The seven departments that make up the Ministry are:

  • Department of Magical Games and Sports
  • Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes
  • Department of International Magical Cooperation
  • Department of Magical Law Enforcement
  • Department of Magical Transportation
  • Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures
  • Department of Mysteries.

In addition to departments, the Ministry is also comprised of various committees that serve both inside and across departments, as well as boards and offices. As a whole, the Ministry is charged with not just enforcing laws and regulations, but keeping the activities of the wizarding world secret from the Muggles, handling commerce and international relations, and overseeing Hogwarts, the main wizarding schooling community in Britain. The ministry is also subject to office politics. For example, we learn at one point in the series that maintenance workers demanded more pay and took a stand by causing nonstop rain outside the offices of the Ministry for a full month.

The Ministry of Magic’s culture leading up to the events of the Harry Potter series was defined primarily by its own organization, the task environment, and a sole lead actor in Minister Cornelius Fudge. Together, all three elements paint a picture of a highly bureaucratized organization rife with corrupt and willing malfeasance by actors. As a result, the Ministry significantly compromised itself during the Voldemort crisis, almost costing the wizarding world the downfall of Britain to the Dark Arts.

At beginning of the series, the wizarding community was at peace. The First Wizarding War had met its conclusion well over a decade ago, culminating in the disappearance of Voldemort and decline of his followers, the Death Eaters. The war lasted 11 years, during which the wizarding world was subject to significant terror and chaos due to the unyielding brutality of the Death Eaters (and other Voldemort allies including giants and werewolves) who tortured, mutilated and killed without a shred of emotion.

Following the end of the war, the Death Eaters were caught and prosecuted similar to the fallout of World War II and the elimination of the Nazi culture. J.K. Rowling herself has noted the parallels between the Death Eaters and Nazism, which should provide one with a good picture of not only how much fear there was in afflicted communities allied against Voldemort, but at the sheer relief following the war that such brutality was at an end. At war’s end, there was a remarkably large celebration by the wizarding community that remained well-remembered years later. As Millicent Bagnold, the Minister at the time Potter survived Voldemort’s Dark Curse, stated the night the war came to an end, ‘I assert our inalienable right to party.’ The end of the war and lessons learned also precipitated opening ties with the Muggle community, no small step for the wizarding world to take.

In the postwar environment, the Ministry of Magic moved to seize power and to set the wizarding world back in order. The public followed along, believing that a bigger, stronger government could prevent further abuses by the Death Eaters and stop any possible return from Voldemort. This reliance and dependence on the Ministry of Magic manifested itself during Goblet of Fire when Harry Potter revealed Voldemort’s return and killing of Diggory.

At this stage, the public lost one of their heroes. Potter was “The Boy Who Lived”, the person that defeated Voldemort as a baby. As a teenager, far more capable, he had just been bested by Voldemort, with a dead teenager in tow and a panicked Potter trying to warn everyone of his return. Their confidence in Potter shaken, the public looked to their other bastion of safety and security in the Ministry of Magic, and empowered the Ministry to deny Voldemort’s return, even at the expense of critically examining whether Potter should be believed. The wizarding world had no reason to go on Potter’s word, especially when the youngster was discredited publicly and seemed to be a bumbling teenager who constantly found himself in the middle of conflicts.

Even those who were in a position of power at the Ministry to counteract the task environment forces were unable to do so. It is documented in the series that those who opposed Fudge and the Ministry were quickly discredited, even if the Minister had to abuse his powers to do so. This allowed Fudge to maintain power: over the discredited people who were threatened with dismissal, others who fell in line, and by extension, the public. The overbearing tactics of the Ministry were well-known, and after the public-relations disaster following Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban, the Ministry was in no mood to brook further dissent or admit yet another failing in allowing Voldemort’s return.

The ability of the Ministry to do this speaks to a larger issue at hand with the culture of the Ministry of Magic. In addition to task environment elements that essentially enabled and empowered the Ministry to take actions counter to the best public interest, the internal culture also played a strong part in creating the environment that allowed the Ministry to avoid admitting the return of Voldemort.

The Wizengamot wizarding courts, governed by the Ministry, spotlights the organization’s misguided priorities. The courts demonstrated a consistent lack of interest in evidence in supporting whether a suspect before the court was innocent or guilty. Rather, the courts seemed to rely on personal opinion (and prejudice) in rendering decisions, preferring quick and simple outcomes. Sometimes, even trials were not given, as in the case of Sirius Black. This philosophy extends to the Ministry at large, which at times throughout the series, decreed and enforced draconian laws without notice and preferred to cover up bad news rather than solve serious issues – such as the return of Lord Voldemort.

The Ministry’s desire to manipulate public opinion was no more apparent following the return of Voldemort in Goblet of Fire during the Triwizard Tournament, an international wizarding contest held between schools designed to test intelligence, ability and courage. The tournament, already generally an exercise in publicity, ended with the death of Diggory. Rather than give any credence to the fact Voldemort may have returned, the government organization immediately began spinning Diggory’s death as an accident and denying Voldemort’s return.

In Order of the Phoenix, as a result of Potter and Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s position that Voldemort had returned, the Ministry tried to eliminate Potter from the wizarding world, force oversight onto Hogwarts and impose sanctions on Dumbledore and his believers. The Ministry would go on to conceal a mass breakout from the Azkaban prison, conducted by Voldemort to increase the size of his army. This breakout included the defection of the Dementors, the prison guards of Azkaban which would have been a major public-relations issue had the issue come to light. Thus, the Ministry simply covered up the incident.

The widespread intolerance for dissent and corruption became clear to Potter when the Ministry refused to punish professor Dolores Umbridge for her abuses of power while at Hogwarts, where she eventually rose to the position of Headmistress. Umbridge, who preceded Fudge at the Ministry, lends credence to the Ministry being corrupt long before Fudge. After starting her career as an intern, she became head of the Improper Use of Magic Office by exercising a tyrannical attitude and ruthless tactics such as taking credit for the successes of others. She carried these elements forward to her eventual appointment as Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic and had an influential position in the Wizengamot. The success Umbridge enjoyed in the Ministry is indicative of what the organization rewarded. For an organization’s culture to extend that far, it’s likely that the culture has been embedded for decades, if not hundreds of years.

Even following Umbridge’s downfall at Hogwarts during Order of the Phoenix and once the Ministry admitted Voldemort’s return, her career did not suffer. She returned to the Ministry and rose through the ranks to influencing roles. Both the absence of punishment and the rise of her career showed Potter that the Ministry simply did not care about her wrongdoings and that the organization was inherently corrupt, causing Potter to refuse to assist the Ministry, even beyond Fudge’s tenure.

It appears as if, leading up to Voldemort’s return, the Ministry was far more interested in the concept of satisficing than in actually resolving issues. Satisficing is the opposite of optimizing for the ideal outcome. Unlike picking the highest optimized value as one might do in rational choice theory, the Ministry chose to find solutions that were “good enough” – not necessarily the best one. Oftentimes in a Weberian bureaucracy with a reliance on hierarchy and rules where there is one leader, several middle managers and many subordinates underneath, satisficing means following rules and prioritizing ends over means. Rules and norms can prevail beyond the ultimate – or manifest – goal of an organization, as McCurdy in Inside NASA writes.

The Ministry is charged with safeguarding the British wizarding world in a variety of methods, including enforcing laws, educating the public and defending against negative influencers. Over time, latent goals were developed that served to obscure the ultimate aim the Ministry is in existence for. Even if these latent goals were admirable to begin with, they can be twisted into goals that harm the organization. For example, throughout the years the Ministry has been in place it has established a basic culture and engendered loyalty among internal and external actors. The idea of solidarity and shaping stakeholders toward an ultimate goal eventually led to an intolerance for dissent.

Whether dissent sprang naturally from a latent goal of the organization or was deliberately sowed in an earlier generation is unclear, but the Ministry is painted as an insular society in which members band together, do not tolerate conflicting information, and isolate dissenters. As time goes on, the Ministry has been able to shape existing and new employees into a culture that does not tolerate dissent.

By not only understanding the age of the organization, the affect latent goals can have, and task environment pressures on the culture inside the Ministry of Magic, one can acquire a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the Ministry. Just touched upon was the idea that employees can be schooled in and support existing culture, a point McCurdy makes as well. The Ministry puts pressure on and discredits those inside the Ministry that attempt to speak out. Why is there not widespread outrage at these tactics? Why did so much of the Ministry go along with it, especially the subordinates? It may have something to do with how the Ministry selects its employees.

“Of all the means by which people in an organization establish a common culture, few are as powerful as the recruitment of employees who fit the organizational mold,” McCurdy writes, and this is certainly true in the case of Percy Weasley. Unlike all other Weasley members of the family, Percy seemed the optimal Ministry of Magic candidate: willing to take orders, a stickler for rules, over-idealizing the role he was in, caving to the beckoning hand of power, and old enough to have memories of the First Wizarding War, as Percy was born five years prior to the war’s conclusion.

Percy’s values coincided with the Ministry’s overall culture, allowing him to slip seamlessly into the Ministry without needing training in cultural norms. He rose quickly through the ranks, becoming a member of Fudge’s office and inner circle, although there was speculation this was done solely so Fudge could keep a close eye on the Weasleys (and by extension, Potter). Percy was also extremely prideful, refusing to listen to his family when Voldemort’s return was announced by Potter, instead choosing to toe the party line, causing estrangement.

A large reason for Percy’s estrangement came from taking opposing sides regarding the validity of Lord Voldemort’s return. Rather than align with Potter and Dumbledore, plus his own family who believed Potter, Percy went with the Ministry’s belief. Unfortunately for Percy, he did not realize that the Ministry had taken this position largely because of its corruption and desire to save face. Regardless, the Ministry’s own intolerance for dissent had been sowed in Percy, precipitating his falling out with family. Even when the Ministry finally admitted Voldemort’s return, Percy’s pride in the Ministry continued to put him at distance him from the family.

The Ministry of Magic relies on varied elements to retain power and stay relevant. The organization needs a willing public supporting its actions, an ability to get its message out through the media, a sense of solidarity among the organization, avenues to acquire resources, plus more. Following the First Wizarding War, it developed an additional element of seeking to restore the British wizarding world to a time of peace and prosperity. All told, these elements make up operational goals; intermediate objectives in order to achieve its manifest and latent goals. The problem is that, over time, the overarching manifest goal can be obscured behind these operational goals, causing the organization to act as if the operational goals are the primary objective.

In the Ministry’s case, the organization’s survival underpins the need for these operational goals. Public support must be positive. Employees must protect the organization. The idea of a peaceful Britain must go on. The Ministry experienced goal displacement as a result of its aging bureaucracy, established culture and emphasis on putting the disastrous reign of Voldemort behind the wizarding community. The goal displacement only complicated matters, as decisions were formulated on the basis of these improper goals. The logic that provides the bedrock for decision-making is that it maximizes the goals of an individual and/or organization. But if the goals of the organization are misunderstood, the decisions will be misguided. In this case, the decision was to deny Voldemort’s return.

Certainly, the culture of the Ministry contributed to the success of Minister Fudge’s ability to deny such a return as the head of a government that had grown all too rigid in its protocols. As McCurdy states, mature government agencies formalize methods of operations and procedures. The situations these organizations deal with become increasingly familiar, so when confronted with a new situation that doesn’t fit into a previously established mode, a new crisis (in this case, the return of Voldemort) can expose flaws in an organization, which creates uncertainty — and bureaucracies hate uncertainty.

Many typical organizations seek to suppress uncertainty and reward behavior that ignores it, as Dan Lovallo and Oliver Sibony write in McKinsey & Company’s “The Case for Behavioral Strategy.” The Uncertainty Reduction Theory suggests that people seek to reduce uncertainty by acquiring information. The information at hand for the Ministry at the time Potter announced the return of Voldemort was low with no clear and obvious signs of Voldemort’s return. However, there was still enough information to go on: Diggory’s disappearance and ensuing death, Potter and Dumbledore’s testimonies, the role of Barty Crouch, Jr. in the events, and more. One piece of compelling evidence that was disregarded was the activation of the Dark Mark, a way for Voldemort to call his followers, on Professor Severus Snape, a double-agent pretending to be allied with Voldemort, but acting for Dumbledore. While uncertainty may have fueled inaction at the Ministry, it was incompetence that caused the denial of Voldemort’s return more so than uncertainty. Without the ability of the Ministry to directly acquire information, it was all too easy to ignore the threat at hand.

Lowell Bryan writes in “Dynamic management: Better decisions in uncertain times” for McKinsey that understanding what to do under the specter of uncertainty requires debate among many people in the organization. Processes and protocols need to be in place to determine how issues are raised, how discussion is conducted, and how decisions are made. As seen through an examination of the task environment and culture in the organization, the Ministry was incapable of having these processes in place, thus did a poor job managing uncertainty. Perhaps the pressures of the task environment and organization could have been overcome with a competent leader, but Cornelius Fudge was anything but competent. Not only did he fail at the basic duties of his position, he willfully contributed to the culture that encouraged the refusal to admit Voldemort’s return.

The Harry Potter series makes clear that as the minister goes, the Ministry goes. Therefore, the minister wields significant power and exerts notable influence. Unfortunately for the Ministry and wizarding world, Fudge was an ineffectual leader prone to bias, a craving for approval and validation, and prioritizing stabilization over adaptation. Fudge simply wanted a “comfortable and ordered world,” as the text reads in Goblet of Fire. He was placed in a situation where uncertainty was high. As a result, his mind imposed certain beliefs and structures on the situation in an attempt to understand it. That understanding proved to be Fudge’s eventual downfall when he began concocting and manipulating information to adhere to his understanding of the situation, regardless of the body of evidence and testimony available to him. Fudge exhibited a track record of preferring tranquility over a disruption of peace in order to maintain his position.

The dichotomy between Fudge’s bias and need for approval is highlighted in his actions with Potter. Prior to Potter discovering Voldemort’s return, Fudge ingratiated himself in with Potter to take advantage of the teenager’s stardom and to create the perception to the public that Potter was aligned with the Ministry. When Sirius Black broke out from Azkaban, Fudge did not want to tell Potter despite what was considered a clear and present danger to Potter’s safety, simply so Potter would not receive news that could affect his relationship with the Ministry.

As soon as Potter said something Fudge did not want to hear, however, Potter was immediately discredited in Fudge’s mind. In the Minister’s eyes, there was plenty of reason not to believe Potter about Voldemort’s return. Potter was a teenager who had a propensity for getting himself in the middle of trouble – a theory supported by sensationalist journalist Rita Skeeter, who called Potter’s credibility into question throughout Goblet of Fire, causing Potter to be viewed as erratic and unreliable. Fudge was in particular taken with one of Skeeter’s articles in Order of the Phoenix suggesting Potter hallucinated Voldemort’s return, making Potter an unreliable witness in his mind.

In addition, Potter’s ability to speak Parseltongue (the language needed to communicate with snakes) caused Fudge to exhibit prejudice, as the Minister could not get past parseltongue being associated with the Dark Arts, causing Fudge to question Potter’s credibility. By both purposeful malfeasance and negative influencers, Fudge chose to ignore the evidence at hand.

Evidence of Fudge’s desire to cover up truths to influence public opinion comes in his attempt to persuade Potter to tell the wizarding world that the Ministry was providing adequate security and maintenance following the public and undeniable return of Voldemort. Even after Fudge falsified material against detractors like Potter and, in particular, Dumbledore, to maintain his own position even if it required burning bridges, he was all too willing to turn around and pretend the bridges had not burned once prior offending parties became assets again. He solicited help even after mistreating Potter for a year and putting the wizarding world (if not the entire world) at risk by denying Voldemort’s return.

When Fudge assumed his position of Minister, he leaned on Dumbledore for advice and guidance, despite Fudge’s knowledge that Dumbledore had been offered – and turned down – the job of Minister three times. Even though it was clear the Hogwarts headmaster had no interest in the role, an increasingly paranoid Fudge began believing that Potter and Dumbledore were conspiring to remove Fudge from power due to denying Voldemort’s return. Further, Fudge placed his trust in the wrong people, including Lucius Malfoy, an agent of Voldemort who worked to misdirect Fudge from the true danger approaching. Fudge was led to believe that Dumbledore was using the threat of Voldemort’s resurrection to ascend to power.

The Minister leveraged the power of the Ministry and press to paint Dumbledore as an elderly person with questionable faculties engaging in a desperate final grab for power. Fudge’s prior actions actually bolstered his ability to discredit Dumbledore during the events of Order of the Phoenix. A year prior to the controversy surrounding Voldemort’s return, in Goblet of Fire, Crouch, Jr., facilitated the conflict with Potter, Diggory, and Voldemort by acting as a Death Eater, and was caught immediately after Diggory’s death.

Despite Crouch Jr., being restrained, Fudge demanded a Dementor accompany the Minister to Hogwarts for a confrontation immediately after Diggory’s death during which was a highly emotional and confusing time. The Dementor went on to suck out Crouch, Jr.’s soul, leaving him unable to testify to Voldemort’s return. At the time, Fudge believed Crouch, Jr.’s contention he was acting for Voldemort was evidence of his insanity and not a point in favor of Potter’s contention Voldemort had returned. The lack of testimony proved invaluable a year later as Fudge sought to discredit Dumbledore’s warning that Voldemort had returned.

Throughout this controversy, Fudge cared more about his own reputation than trying to address the damage he caused by not being prepared to battle the Death Eaters. The Ministry was simply not prepared to fight Voldemort and his army after the Dark Lord had spent years mounting his assault while the Ministry did not take proper measures to ensure a defense. The denial of Voldemort’s return and lack of preparation eventually led to Fudge’s dismissal as Minister. The Ministry mounted a sickly defense against Voldemort that even a change in ministers could not overcome, and the Ministry was eventually overrun under new Minister Rufus Scrimgeour, taken over by Voldemort’s regime.

As someone who loved the office of the Minister, Fudge was motivated to stay in the position by using any means necessary. He also idealized his position, believing he was overseeing the return to prominence of the British wizarding world following the First Wizarding War. To admit that the Ministry and the wizarding world was in danger without irrefutable evidence of Voldemort’s return would have been out of character for Fudge. As McCurdy writes, as organizations age, the organization itself and bureaucrats tend to prioritize institutional survival in lieu of institutional flexibility. This concept is at play in this particular instance: Fudge wanted to remain Minister, the Ministry needed to believe it was not in danger, and the wizarding world could not accept that the era of peace could be over. Each agent contributing to the culture that resulted in the denial of Voldemort’s return was concerned with immediate survival of the situation at the expense of the flexibility to recognize changing events that would threaten that very survival.

The personal goals of Fudge clashed with the manifest goal of the Ministry and the best interests of the wizarding community from the start. However, due to goal displacement, the Ministry’s perceived goals actually married with Fudge’s personal goals, causing goal integration. In this case, it was a negative form of integration spurred by task environment pressure, established Ministry culture and a vain Minister who did not attempt to fulfill the intended purposes of the Ministry.

Given the long life span of wizards and the age of the organization, one can easily extrapolate that the Ministry’s culture is centuries old. The culture did undergo some changes following the First Wizarding War with respect to a desire for peace, which led the culture to modulate somewhat, but it still remained an overall culture predisposed to corruption. The corruption of the Ministry was deep-seated, preceded Fudge’s arrival, and twisted the lofty goal of Fudge and the Ministry to put the British wizarding community back together following Voldemort’s original reign. The goal quickly morphed into a vehicle to suit the Ministry’s own purposes of positive public opinion, an intolerance for dissent and prioritization of a shaky reality at risk by elements it could not fathom.

Changing organizational culture is extremely difficult, particularly in long-running, bureaucratic organizations. Norms have been embedded for long periods of time. Even following the events of the Harry Potter series and the entry of Potter and Hermione Granger into the Ministry, not all of the corruption was able to be untangled, according to author J.K. Rowling.

The natural processes of aging a government organization undergoes, the increasing bureaucratization, a difficult political climate and negative cultural norms all work against maintaining a healthy culture. When one adds in the public idealizing the Ministry as a powerful agent, fears of the return of a great enemy after years of peace, plus an actor consumed with power and influence, it all combines together into an environment that was hostile to the idea of Lord Voldemort’s return until there was no denying it.


  • The Harry Potter series, plus online Harry Potter encyclopedias were used. Primary encyclopedias were the Harry Potter Lexicon ( and the Harry Potter Wiki ( Communications by J.K. Rowling in a variety of settings were also drawn upon.
  • Additional sourcing is cited in the text, such as Inside NASA and scholarly articles.
  • Information from Organizational Theory lectures by Prof. McKay was also leveraged.

A Place of Desolation

This short story was inspired by a dream I had in 2012 where I was immortal and lived through technological advances, new families, the advent of the space age and more. The dream caused me to think about what it would feel like to be truly immortal. Initially, it would be viewed as gift… but it would end up a curse when all you knew — not just who, but what — fell away from you. Losing your loved ones is difficult enough, but as time marches on, there would be no trace of the very fabric of who you are. This story was written in 2012, re-discovered in 2014 and lightly edited.

Winding his way through the blackness of the night, he gazed out at the glittering stars that extended all around him, each star a representative of the miracle of life. Part of all matter, stars were made up of gases and metals that coagulated together to burn brightly, a beacon in the midst of a never-ending darkness that threatened every fiber of your body with its crushing stillness.

Looking out at the universe from the safety of home, one is easily awed by all the stars and planets out there, coupled with nebulas as wide as the eye can see, black holes spinning mass into nothing, comets zooming left and right… but for all its beauty, the universe is a place of desolation.

Blackness ruled the universe. Nowhere else was the feeling of solitude so acute. Drifting out aimlessly, no destination in mind and no whisper of a wind in sight.

The stars take on a menacing glare. A twinkle of sun and fire and dreams and life, taunting mercilessly. Out there as if a light at the end of the tunnel, a twinkle of what was and is, but forever unreachable, unattainable when all around you the air was still with blackness that threatened to crush all hope out of your body.

And among the stars laid life. Life was out there, crawling among the surface of planets. Minuscule organisms, multiplying and dividing by the billions, with no idea of their purpose in life, just repeating the same actions over and over as the engine of life. Others, prowling the landscape, at the whims of the baser needs to survive: food, water and shelter. Unaware of the greater mysteries of life. Incapable of love or understanding. A biological robot, but living nonetheless, among the splendor of the world around them.

And intelligent life. Ancient civilizations racing among the stars amongst the newborn, gasping as wood erupts into fire. Killing by the millions, procreating by the billions. Each life, independent and special, born to die with a unique history in between. Full of life, laughter, love, loss, loneliness. And every one of these lives a mote of dust in a speck of time in a scintilla of the void.

Loneliness. That was the world he knew, the world that had led him to this place. Turning and turning, no end in sight, the oppressive sound of silence crushing him. Years had gone by in a flash, years that by this point were a drop in the bucket.

Loneliness gripped him every second of his aimless adventure with no destination in sight. Just the blackness of the skies, the tantalizing twinkling of stars and the utter stillness. Loneliness is an abstract concept until you find yourself in the middle of it, staring at its uncompromising brutality in the face, helpless to even stir up the most mundane distraction. It would drive anyone insane — that is, unless loneliness had already eaten every part of his soul.

He had no one in his life. They were all gone, mere wisps in the desolate landscape of time and place. Everyone he had ever known, loved, laughed and sang with, were no more. There were no more dances in the kitchen, sunlight dappling the tile. The rustling of hair swaying to the cadence of a song, the laughter bursting forward from romance and the wide-eyed anticipation of life to come. The joy at holding your own creation in your hands, to shape and mold into a living, breathing representation of yourself. The wisdom and serenity that came with age, bringing about a quiet satisfaction.

The shared experiences and understandings that bound him to everyone were gone. Not just gone, but hopelessly gone, with the remnants of what he once knew also felled by the unquenching thirst of time. No amount of money, of travelling, of seeing the sights of worlds and wonders of nature, could replace that shared connection with someone else, as he know all too well. So eventually, he had tried to take matters into his own hands.

His 10th suicide attempt had led him to this day.

His first time was a few years after losing his wife.

He had once been a little boy, like everyone else. The same hopes, the same desires, the same dreams. He could remember running through a grassy plain outside his home, dancing with the butterflies, the light blue sky above stretching to what looked like the end of space above. Endless possibilities. The shy smile of a girl in school, her brown hair softly, gracefully propelled by the turn of her milky-white face, turning as her smiling eyes flicked over, connecting with his —

But he wasn’t a boy anymore. He was a man, a very old man at that, one who defied all conventions of science. Up until that fateful day, he had been just like any other man. He had married a beautiful wife and had two young children running around that gave him unbridled joy to raise.

They had lived long, plentiful and happy years. From the first moment he spotted her running in the rain to class to her last panting breath in bed, he had loved her wholly. He had loved her more than he thought possible, a love that developed and deepened over time. For a while there, he had questioned not having the sort of love that drove a man mad and was popularized in culture, but had come to realize those kind of loves were fleeting, fueled by lust and animalistic desire. The kind of love that lasts is one with a strong foundation, with mutual respect and admiration, a love sowed and allowed to bloom.

It wasn’t until his fifth decade that it became apparent his youthful boyishness wasn’t dissipating. Unlike his peers, so many of whom were starting to combat failing eyesight, balding or graying hair (or for a few unfortunates, both), slower metabolism, or a creaky body, he had shown no signs of aging. At first, it had been attributed to diet, health, exercise, genes… until finally, it couldn’t be ignored any longer. He endured a blizzard of tests, all inconclusive. No one knew the cause or when it had started. Made all the more perplexing was that he still hurt with everyone else — cut himself and he bled along with the pain that was a constant reminder of one’s mortality. Starve himself, and his stomach would send out pangs.

No one knew. The doctors marveled at him as an unnatural specimen that could change the face of humanity. He spent many years feeling like a petri dish and even survived kidnapping attempts by people who didn’t let morals get in their way of the desperation to find out the secret of an immortal fountain of youth. But he had persevered, and despite the challenges of staying young while the one you loved grew older, it had never really been a challenge. She was the one.

Shortly before she died, she had urged him to keep loving. She had given him permission to move on and knew the implications therein. It wasn’t as if she was telling her counterpart at 100 years old that he could move on, knowing he would only have a few decades at most before he, too, would be felled by time.

No, her love was immortal, and not only was he immortal, he was perpetually ageless. A tear ran down her cheek, and he held on tightly to her hand, neither confirming nor denying the permission, instead too consumed with the hopelessness that comes with wondering who else could possibly fill a void that seemed all too expansive.

When she left, he walked around in a daze for months. He tried to move on, but the hole in his heart was too much. He may be youth on the outside, but inside, he was as old as his birthdate said he was. And in his mind, he had lived a full life. He had lived a life as his biology had told him to — to have a childhood, to emerge into an adult, to have a family. To be satisfied, both personally and professionally, to watch his children produce children of their own, to enjoy the beguiling calm of old age. But now his betrothed was gone, and what laid before him wasn’t his own canvas that was beginning to run out of room to add more brush strokes of life, but rather a new canvas — a fresh one, the old one ripped off and hung up in the annals of memory, with the paintbrush poised over the white sheet of rebirth, poised to make the first slash and tell a whole new story.

Except he didn’t want a new story told, he came to realize in a startling flash of comprehension. When you get that old, the youthful ideas of immortality, of days stretching on and on to no end, enjoying the new technological marvels, whiling the night away with friends… when you get that old, you realize that immortality beckons that of a curse, not a gift. Time had washed away many friends, due to distance, both real and figurative, or death. Making new friends, new connections, forging new strong bonds at that age is hard. Harder than anything, harder to the point you just don’t want to try. No, what he wanted now was to slip beside his love in their dreams, ashes wafting up into the skies — a final jump of joy.

But that wouldn’t come, and here he stood, in the pouring rain atop a skyscraper. Just standing, looking out at the chaos of the world around him. Building piled over building, criss-crossed ad nauseam with highways, a city that never slept, a city that had millions awake and millions asleep at any point. Standing higher than any human should ever have been allowed to stand, looking at the horizon, littered with lights of civilization.

The first breath of air was inhaled by thousands in this city every moment, every morning, suffusing the sunrise with exuberance; the last exhale by the side of loved ones grieving capping the night with a melancholy song. Marriages, broken hearts, promotions, addictions, failures, successes… life was being lived, but he was tired of life, so tired.

It had been years since his love was lost, and he had fashioned some sort of life out of the pieces she left behind, but it was only an illusion – a life that was meant to ferry one to the gates of the river Styx. Not a life that stretched forever beyond him, rife with possibilities that he cast aside.

So here he stood, contemplating all this, contemplating what he could do with his immortal life. Instead of being billowed with confidence, a twinkling eye set toward the future, all he could conjure up was a deep fear. Fear of moving on from his love, and not just moving on, but falling in love with someone else. But that love was doomed to fail too, doomed to put him where he was now. You can only live for so long before you lose all hope and despair pervades every ounce of your body, he thought. Why get to that place? He had a taste of it now, and he didn’t like it. He wanted to let go, and he was going to put his immortality to the test.

He stepped off the ledge, and began his dizzying descent down, hurtling to the pits of hell cackling like a mad man, insane with the prospect of relief. Gathering momentum as he went down, all around him disappeared into a blur, and a thought flashed through his mind: Fear. Not the fear of before; not the abject loneliness he was in, not the fear of loving and losing many millennia over. No, fear of death. Fear of his story, his song, coming to an end. And in that instant, he knew he wanted to live.

He dozed, the constant whinging pain of his tortured stomach and starved brain long-ago reminders that he was still human, whatever else could be said. There wasn’t much else to do. Half-asleep, memories of his life kept flitting by him, torturing him with their memories. Even having rendered himself close to immune from emotions, the lingering vestiges of what was still managed to send a small shockwave through his heart every time a new image flashed up.

He had nothing else to think of to fill the space, to occupy the time and keep these reminders at bay. There was nothing out there for him to dream about. He had experienced what were just dreams for generations upon generations of his ancestors. He had seen the impossible, had experienced the impossible. His mind was a blank canvas, unable to stop the intrusion of his seminal memories.

There was one thing he could dream about. Death. Even coming now, it would be a sweet reprieve from the curse that gripped his body, that doomed him to despair. It didn’t matter whether he was in a teeming mass of people, preparing to witness a beautiful sight. It was no different to him than the position he found himself now, unable to go anywhere, to do anything. To him, he hadn’t been able to do anything for so long, he hardly minded the circumstances he found himself in now.

He dozed. Thought about waves crashing on the beach, the setting sun hanging low in the skies, spitting out purple, red, yellow and pinks that splashed along the sky, parrying with clouds that were constantly dancing among themselves, creating beautiful murals on a soft, velvet beach that stretched as far as the eye could see, pristine and untouched except by the normal ebb and flow of nature. And at the bottom of his eyeline, as much as he tried to avoid it, he knew what was there: a single, solitary foot. Petite, with graceful curves spreading out from the ankle and ending in five little petals of roses.

That foot was connected to the one to wake him up wholly for the first time since his first wife had passed. He had been betrothed to others in the intervening years, had fathered children whose bloodlines now extended itself to all parts of civilization. He had lived. Oh, he had lived, and he had many a day of despair, too. The despair invaded his life, growing to define him even as he struggled to throw off the yoke of expectations. Could have. Should have. Would have. But what use are these words when it all ends in what was?

It had taken this one perfect little foot, connected to this one perfect little leg. The hem of her patterned yellow dress swayed in the ocean breeze, the crackling smell of the ocean and fading sunlight lending a vibrancy to a dress that bespoke a time of innocence, of wonder, of delight. Her wide smile, the dimples framing her deep blue eyes that would one day beckon suitors to drown inside of.

He was alive, finally alive again. The sea gates that had surrounded his heart, protecting against the lapping and whitewater seas of emotion had opened. The parched sand hungrily drank its full as he stood on the rocks, arms splayed and chest wide out.

He was young again, ready to tackle the world with two little legs perched on his shoulders. Prior decades became yellowed bits of paper strewn about the floor, fluttering up once in a while to remind him they had happened. But she was always there, a fresh piece of paper, clean and stark white. Taped up on the wall, colorful scribbles a beacon of hope.

His first family hadn’t met the end these crumbling bits of paper memories did, either. They rested in a framed picture, his first wife dominating the picture with her smiling face and the love that had given him the confidence to stay alive after that first attempt. But it was also that love that had driven him to more. He had come to learn that her picture, with his sons, was best viewed through glass.

But that piece of paper that had colorful bits of crayon strewed about was unprotected.

Carousel music blared once again in summer. Frigid weekend mornings in the fall beckoned. Winter storms meant hot chocolate. Rainy springs were opportunities to dance.

That’s what his daughter had meant to him.

She should have experienced all that life had to offer. The silly, invincible years of teenagehood. Her first kiss, her first love. Her first paycheck, her first child. Her first grandchild.

Going gray once more was untenable. So for his 10th try, he decided to do something radical. He would go out to the sun and melt into it. A black void joined with the very definition of life would be the answer. Nothing could stand against the boiling fires of creation. That which was dead inside would be dead outside, fueling the engines of life.

But he had forgotten he was immortal. He had forgotten that the number 10 was the number of the cosmos. The model of creation.

His eyes snapped open. He looked around, but it was the same sight he always had. And yet, something was different. It was imperceptible, but it was there. It was almost as if it was a hint of something that had yet to arrive. Then, he felt it pass over him, a small rumbling that reverberated through a body that had been starved for feeling for far too long.

He scrambled. Hurriedly pushing and pawing for his wrist, searching for his transponder. It was there, his mind frantically assured him, as it had always been there any time he had checked for it, or merely felt it embedded in his skin. There was no way it could have spilled out of its secure container and gone spinning out into the nether regions. He felt the small orb gently protruding from his skin and caressed it for a moment. Then he activated it and saw it flash red. He sagged with relief.

Then the thought occurred to him. He was relieved. He had hurried to activate his transponder. And yet nothing had changed, or would change, for him in his life. And yet, here was this small burst of hope, a ray of sunshine breaking through dark and stormy clouds, that let him know he was still alive.

But what passes for alive? To him, alive simply meant functioning. His heart was pumping blood as normal, his brain was functioning logically, but he was merely biologically alive. That was his curse, as his life had long been drained from his mind.

Suddenly, a shock wave sent him spinning uncontrollably back, pushing him faster than he had traveled in the last several centuries. Bright lights slammed into his eyes, evaporating in a starburst as he screamed from the pain, all too accustomed to the darkness that had enveloped his soul.

His momentum was arrested, jerking him to a stop suddenly. He laid there, dangling, his arms splayed out in front of him, his head lolling back, twisting away from the harsh glare of the lights. He slowly slitted one eye open, gasping as even more white light invaded him. There it was, the outline of a large behemoth that was about to take him back. Back to civilization and all that he had tried to leave behind time and time again.

The gods were unmerciful once more. It would have been better to stay out here, spinning in the black nothingness, where the outside matched the inside.

But the stars continued to twinkle. This time, instead of taunting mercilessly, they offered a new beginning.

The end of the Most Valuable Network,

On December 31, 2003, Evan Brunell founded a Boston Red Sox blog titled Fire Brand of the American League. The same day, a friend of his founded a Pittsburgh Pirates blog. Between the two of them, it was decided to try and create a baseball blog network of all 30 teams. Titled the Most Valuable Network, it grew into the first online sports blog network, dominating the landscape for years. Evan served as co-founder and president, wearing many hats over the years and receiving ample experience in all facets of business — executive, managerial, marketing, coding, human resources, accounting, editing — anything a business does, Evan had a hand in. Unfortunately, the economy declined sharply right as a major investment was placed into MVN. The business model became unsustainable, and MVN closed its doors. Below is the open letter I penned about closing MVN.

It is with regret that I’m writing to announce that I have made the decision to close down MVN.

There are many factors that led to this decision, and thusly I will not attempt to work through all the factors and the various happenings that led to this decision. I will, instead, simply cite that the biggest motivating factor was (what else?) finances.

MVN is backed by family money. In better economic times, our investment on this end was not significant. However, the downturn of the economy has hurt us. Online ad revenue dropped at a time we were pushing to make MVN a bigger and better destination. While we were fortunate to have the resources to exist to date, we’ve arrived at the situation where further investment can no longer be justified.

From a personal standpoint, I have worked full-time pro bono for MVN for the six years of existence. Given my current position in life, this was an arrangement that could not last. I did not see potential for future earning at MVN in a time frame that would have been acceptable — or even doable — to my personal welfare.

For the past three weeks, I have been working on getting all MVN blogs a future home. I am pleased to announce that many of the blogs were found homes, either at Bloguin or Real Clear Sports. Several blogs have made the decision to either shut down themselves or go independent. In the coming days, we will be providing you a full list of where the new homes of the blogs will be.

Over the next few weeks, the writing platform at MVN will be dismantled entirely. This means that any inbound links to archives will not work. We will provide full archives to the blogs in question for them to import to their new homes. Before January is out, the only MVN page that will exist is the front page at, which will continue to look as it does today.

Eventually, we plan on selling the domain. At that point, unfortunately, all traces of what MVN once was will have vanished.

What will survive are the blogs, and I hope that you will continue reading them. We are immensely proud of the blogs and writers that came through MVN. A lot of influential writers got their start or their big jump on these pages. We’re honored that we could provide that opportunity for them and hope that they look back on their tenure at MVN with fondness.

I know that I can say with utter certainty that I poured my heart and soul into MVN, at the expense of personal advancement. My life for six years was building up MVN and the blogs to the point where everyone could succeed. My goal this entire time has not been about personal success. It’s been about making everyone around me successful. I have found that if you do that, you will become successful yourself — and in better ways than if you had focused on yourself from the start.

While I would love to give thanks to many people in this space, I’m afraid this note would reach Moby Dick-ian levels in an attempt not to leave anyone out, so I will simply say: You know who you are, and I hope you know the amount of gratitude I feel for you.

On December 31, 2003, I was in my senior year of high school. I was still reeling from the Red Sox losing to the Aaron Boone-led Yankees two short months earlier… and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to make my voice known. I started a Red Sox blog, Fire Brand of the American League. A friend joined me, starting a Pirates blog. A light bulb went off over our heads, and here we are six years later.

If I had to choose a lasting legacy for MVN, it would be as early adopter of new media, to the point where MVN was a great influence in bringing sports blogs to the national mainstream of consciousness. When it got started, blogs weren’t even at the stage where it could be looked on with scorn by mainstream media. Heck, most of our early recruiting efforts came from message boards, because there weren’t enough blogs to find. (To be clear, I’m not citing MVN as the reason why sports blogs are popular — that would have happened regardless.) MVN was able to recognize early on the power of blogs, and what a network of blogs could do. Of course, to this day there are numerous sports blog networks. I remember when there was just one.

I’ll let our history and influence — whatever you think it is — speak for itself.

I’m just proud I got the opportunity to lead MVN and work with many wonderful people.


Evan Brunell
Co-founder, Owner, President of Most Valuable Network, LLC

A rhetorical analysis of Captain Aubrey Daniels’ closing in the My Lai Court Martial

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work conducted while an undergraduate in college.

A rhetorical analysis of Captain Aubrey Daniels’ closing in the My Lai Court Martial

On November 13, 1969, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Seymour Hersh broke the news of a catastrophe that would become the “first officially-admitted United States atrocity against civilians” (Russell 710). With the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Captain Aubrey Daniels was tasked with prosecuting the man responsible, platoon leader William Calley. Calley had murdered hundreds of innocent Vietnamese civilians despite receiving no fire or resistance. It was not an easy task, as the United States Army would have the spotlight shone brightly on them and everything they stood for: honor, pride, sacrifice, serving your country. The Army was under attack from the world for this tragedy and had to be the one responsible for bringing itself to justice.

Daniels artfully exposed Calley for the murderer he was and set about doing so while absolving the Army of any blame. By appealing to the use of rationality and emotion, Daniels was able to identify Calley as the guilty party. After accomplishing that, he was able to set Calley apart from the United States Army ideal, painting Calley as a man who did his own bidding and did so of his own will, not the Army’s. Using methods derived from rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke, one can see clearly how Daniels was able to accomplish this task.

The Vietnam War in the American consciousness

The Vietnam War, staged from 1959 to 1975, is the most unpopular war in the history of the United States and is also the longest war in American history (the United States did not join the war until 1965). For all its unpopularity, the United States won every battle it fought against the North Vietnamese, but did so with a toll of 60,000 American deaths with over 300,000 injured (Mintz, Introduction, War at Home), affecting countless families. The systemic murder of civilians engineered by Calley was just one part of the story, but it was perhaps the most indelible event to occur in Vietnam. Over 250,000 protesters marched in opposition of the Vietnam War in November 1969 in Washington, D.C. The war also resulted in California’s entire university system being shut down (Mintz, War at Home).

According to Stephen Mintz, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History at the University of Houston, “no American conflict in the 20th century so tore this nation apart, so scarred its social psyche, so embedded itself in its collective memory, and so altered the public view of institutions, government, the military, and the media” (American Culture). A generation after World War II and the atrocities the Nazis committed, Americans were about to find themselves on the other side of the coin. No longer were they good fighting evil, the ones horrified at the tragedies of the enemy. No, the tragedy would be their own and very real.

The My Lai Incident and platoon leader William Calley

Set in My Lai, Vietnam and referred to as “Pinkville” by American troops (Hersh, Lieutenant accused), the systemic murder of no less than 109 and perhaps more than 700 Vietnamese citizens, all elderly men, women, children and babies sparked outrage across the globe. People demanded answers from the United States a generation after the country had led the war crimes tribunals and laid down many of the rules that would later form the Geneva Convention (Russell 711).

Led by Calley on March 16, 1968, the only person to be convicted at a court martial over the proceedings, the platoon burned the village and left no stone overturned, shepherding dozens of Vietnamese civilians to ditches where they were promptly pumped full of bullets or had hand grenades blow them to bits. Women were resorted to rape to attempt to save their lives and their children’s’ lives, only to be murdered after the soldier got his pleasure (Jones).

A total of three platoons took part in the My Lai incident, not just those under Calley’s watch. This called into question the validity of Captain Ernest Medina as an Army witness against Calley as Calley and several others claimed that Medina had given orders to shoot civilians. Medina has denied these accusations (Beidler). A witness recalled Medina shooting a young girl point-blank and grinning afterwards (Lief 347).

The entire company of which Calley participated in (called Charlie Company) had a bad reputation. Calley was the worst of the bunch and was constantly harassed about his ineptitude. Calley developed a mean streak and a constant desire to prove himself as no pushover:

“He was the laughing stock of Charlie Company. In the platoon, his men didn’t know whether to ignore him or kill him. He was an incompetent and a pariah, under attack from both above and below, who tried to mask his insecurities with unconvincing explosions of rage. The resultant buffoonery was further packaged back into the blustering and strutting often characteristic of the little man in the military, the proverbial shortround. Nor was any of this helped by the company commander’s unrelenting mockery of him in front of his men, who consistently heard him addressed as “young thing,” “sweetheart,” or ‘Lieutenant shithead'” (Beidler).

A helicopter pilot, Hugh Thompson, attempted to end the madness but was rebuffed by Calley, with Calley stating “Down here on the ground, I run the show” (Jones). Many of My Lai’s inhabitants that survived the massacre did so thanks to Thompson. Many, however, were at a loss as to what to do. Several soldiers broke down in tears as they committed the atrocities or refused to take part in the event. One soldier even shot himself in the foot so he wouldn’t be obligated to take part (Jones).

The incident took over a year to enter the public consciousness and only did so thanks to the efforts of a former soldier, Ronald Ridenhour, who heard stories of the incident. He persisted in bringing the matter to the attention of Congress (Russell 704). In addition, Army photographer Ron Haeberle sold the photos he had taken of the massacre to LIFE magazine which put the unflinching candids in stark color in front of the public (Jones).

The Army was caught between trying to solve the matter internally and withstanding the calls for an international investigation; a war crimes tribunal. Complicating the matter was the United States’ heavy influence in such tribunals that occurred after World War II. In accordance with the Nuremberg Trials, every man was to be held responsible for his actions and using the excuse of “following orders” was not grounds to indemnify a soldier (Russell, 705). This would come in play during the trial when Calley claimed he was just following orders of Captain Ernest Medina, something Medina and some members of the platoon contested (Lief, 345). The United States, however, did not follow its own lead started a generation earlier and granted full military and civilian immunity to Paul Meadlo, a soldier involved in the attacks. This flew in the face of the code of the Nuremberg Trials (Punishment 1315).

Sentiment in America was decidedly pro-Calley:

“Instead of dismissing Calley as a cold-blooded killer, the majority of ordinary Americans accepted his claim that he was simply a patriotic soldier, faithfully acting out his duty and viewed him as a heroic martyr (Jones).”

In addition, fellow soldiers expressed support for Calley, according to Hersh. He quoted several soldiers saying things such as “There are always some civilian casualties in a combat operation. He isn’t guilty of murder.” “There are two instances where murder is acceptable to anybody: where it is excusable and where it is justified. If Calley did shoot anybody because of the tactical situation or while in a firefight, it was either excusable or justifiable.”

In the midst of all this, Army Captain Aubrey Daniels was tasked with prosecuting Calley in the court-martial that began November 17, 1970. Daniels, as an Army officer, could not use prose to convict Calley much like Robert Jackson had done to convict the Nazis in the Nuremberg Trials. Instead, he painstakingly covered every salient point in the events that occurred and left no shred of doubt that Calley had willfully committed murder. The jury had two major things to determine. The first was if Calley was responsible for the murders and the second was if he should be exonerated on the basis that he was following orders. More pressing than the thought of following orders (as the Nuremberg Trials had invalidated them as a defense) was the concept of if these orders should have even been followed had they, in fact, been ordered. “The court held that Calley, by virtue of his age, rank, experience, and training should have known such an order was illegal and convicted him primarily on that basis” (Cockerham 1274).

Calley, found guilty of 22 murders on March 29, 1971 and sentenced to live with hard labor, quickly walked out a free man. President Richard Nixon changed the sentence to house arrest and pardoned him three years later. He later married and ran his father-in-law’s jewelry store in Columbus, Georgia where he is considered a military hero (Lief 351).

Rhetorical analysis of Daniels’ closing

Daniels had to juxtapose getting justice for the genocide with the dilemma of trying an American soldier. Daniels was challenged with distancing Calley from the ideal of the American soldier. Condoning the conduct of Calley would have been tantamount to idealizing the soldier as a ruthless murderer. This was a huge public relations blow for the United States, and Daniels had to save the image of the Army while at the same time tarnishing an active soldier who had served the country in the Vietnam War. Daniels needed to expose Calley for what he was and convince the jury through several modes of argument that Calley was guilty of the crimes committed against him and then effectively separate him from the Army.

In Daniels’ closing, he draws in the jury and worldwide audience effectively by utilizing enthymemes and rhetorical questions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an enthymeme is an argument “in which one of the premises is implicit.” To take it a step further, implicit is defined as “capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed.” When constructing an argument that leads to an implicit conclusion, the audience is drawn in and involved in the argument. Instead of being told the conclusion; the reasoning behind the correct path to take, the audience comes up with the answer on their own, framing their thoughts and opinions while being influenced by the rhetor’s arguments.

He produces his first enthymeme in striking fashion, saying that Calley “came to a man that was dressed in white, a man that was described as a monk…he blew half of his head off” (Lief 354). What does a logical person, a logical soldier do when he comes across a man clearly a monk? Is his head blown off or is he accorded more respect than that? In addition, this monk was of old age, as all the men in the village were elderly (346). Daniels goes on to explain the reaction of the village to the First Platoon moving into the village: “They received no fire from that village. None.” The inference is that there was no reason to open fire and start killing, which of course, the platoon would end up doing.

Daniels had to prove that Calley had, in fact, committed the murders: the ones that he personally did and the ones that were committed by virtue of giving the order to do so. He did this through recapping the witnesses’ claims and providing an enthymeme: “[The witness] observed Lieutenant Calley and Meadlo place the people in the irrigation ditch and fire into the people, but he didn’t see the people come out” (356). Another inference, this time in a direct question, comes with Meadlo and another soldier named Jim Dursi who had similar testimonies on Calley ordering the civilians killed. Says Daniels: “And here are two men testifying to that fact, both of whom are out of the service, one of whom is from Brooklyn, New York, and the other is from Indiana. Do you think they made up something like that?” (362)

In an additional enthymeme, Daniels recollects the testimony of a soldier named Thomas Turner, in which he subtly interjects two adjectives used to describe Turner that suggest that there is every reason in the world to believe Turner is unequivocally telling the truth. Right after mentioning Turner’s name, he clarifies Turner being a married student in Nebraska. Left unexplained is that a married student is one of the most trustworthy things a man can be. Indeed, Turner is referenced to have been the witness that “brings it all together” (365). Daniels continues this pattern of inference throughout his text. He relates a witness seeing Calley conversing with a sergeant, in which the sergeant then immediately went to the ditch holding the civilians with Calley and began firing in the ditch. Despite not having any proof what the conversation is about, Daniels makes it clear to the jury there can be no debate what the conversation was about. He asks several questions, all challenging the jury to infer that the conversation was about, “at a minimum encouraging him” (377).

In addition to using enthymemes and rhetorical questions to appeal to a person’s sense of logic, Daniels plays to the emotions of the jury. By establishing Calley as a man who went off on his own, unchecked and not representing the values of an American soldier, Daniels had to then paint Calley cruelly; deserving of punishment. How does he do that? He constantly repeats the phrase “unarmed men, women, children and babies,” ensuring that the jury understands clearly that there was no resistance from any person, no cause for any person to deserve being shot. He outlines a graphic display of murdering a child by relating a story of how Calley was apprised of the fact that a child was running away. Calley threw the approximately two year old child into the ditch and shot him (354). If not emotional enough for the jury, he relates how “that baby was at the end of that barrel” (368). Near the closing argument, he ponders the question “Would the evidence have proven any infant guilty of any offense which could justify his execution?” (398)

Daniels also takes care to provide various ways of referring to death as Calley referred to it – by doing such, he allows the jury to see how callously Calley referred to committing murder of innocent civilians. Daniels attributes statements of “Take care of them,” “Waste them,” “I want them dead,” “Kill them,” “We’ve got another job to do,” to Calley. He takes care to particularly repeat the term “waste” throughout his closing, perhaps the most callous statement Calley could have made that showed his frame of mind. Daniels also conjures up the thought of inhuman execution by referring to the unarmed men, women, children and babies as “cattle,” slaughtering them (383). He evokes the ultimate sign of sacrifice – “Mothers trying to protect their children” (362).” This tugs at the jury’s heartstrings while receiving a ‘double whammy’ of symbols of inhuman execution.

Daniels ties together the concept of the negative, as advanced by rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke, with the concept of emotion. The negative is “a powerful symbolic tool human beings use to create categories of experiences.” By using certain words and messages, a division is created that isolates what a person is and what a person is not (Stoner 215). Take for example Daniels’ use of the word “cattle” to describe how Calley arranged the victims in the ditch. By referring to them as cattle, he illustrates that Calley saw and treated them as cattle – ripe for butchering. The problem is that they were human, not cattle.

Daniels uses this concept of division to point the finger at Calley for the horrors inflicted; the Army or Captain Medina was not responsible. This is where Daniels starts isolating Calley from the Army. Throughout the text, Calley is constantly referred to as the one who gave the orders or who made the commands. Not once does Daniels suggest that Calley was following orders or doing what he told. No, Calley was running the ship, even when people tried to stop him.

Unlike Robert Jackson’s closing argument in the Nuremberg trials in which he disparages the men and their positions in Hitler’s army, Daniels paints Calley as an irrational, murdering savant who disgraced the name of the United States Army. He does so in an especially scathing close to his speech. He starts out by saying:

The accused was a commissioned officer of the armed forces of this United States when he slaughtered his innocent victims in My Lai. He has attempted to absolve himself of responsibility by saying that he had his duty there, that he acted in the name of this country and the law of this nation, and I submit to you and the government submits to you that he did not and upon that question there can be no doubt.

Daniels admits right up front that Calley was a member of the United States Army. He also nods to Calley’s contention that he was only serving at the pleasure of the Army, but Daniels refutes that argument. Throughout the whole closing argument, Calley has painstakingly verified that Calley is guilty of murder and uses this ending to hammer home the point he has made all along in the artifact; Calley did not represent the United States Army:

To make that assertion is to prostitute all of the humanitarian principles for which this nation stands. It is to prostitute the true mission of the United States soldier. It has been said that the soldier, be he friendly or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being. When he violates this sacred trust, he not only profanes his entire cult but threatens the very fabric of international society.

These are harsh, heavy words. The word “prostitute” is especially striking, as the word evinces an image of an immoral person who sleeps with anyone possible for personal gain. By pairing together the word “prostitute” with a United States soldier, it is made extremely clear that those reflect two conflicting ideals. Daniels also cites the honored tradition of a soldier protecting “the weak and unarmed,” and goes so far as to say that this is the sole reason a soldier exists; not for war, but for protection of “the weak and the unarmed.” Daniels goes on to rephrase the “prostitute” argument in a different way, alleging that Calley’s actions was a direct insult to his “cult,” which can be taken one of two ways: the cult of America or the cult of the Army. He addresses the world’s outrage by referencing international society by decreeing that the world’s very survival is dependent on ensuring that soldiers of armies act honorably. With the atrocities of the Nazis a generation ago and then an American soldier joining these Nazis in infamy, Daniels used this stage to send a message to all countries of the world; the actions of the Nazis were unacceptable, and the actions of Calley ranked right up there to the point that his own Army was willing to blight him in such a way. No future incidents would be treated any less harshly. Daniels then wraps up:

The traditions of fighting men are long and honorable. They are based upon the noblest of human faith, sacrifice. … When the accused put on the uniform of an American soldier and took the oath of allegiance to this country, he was not relieved of his conscience… He was not given a license to slaughter unarmed men, women and children on his own personal supposition that they were the enemy…This accused has failed in his duty as an officer (Leif 399, 400).

By bringing up the oath of allegiance, Daniels has put a great burden on Calley’s shoulders, the shoulders of any soldier, for that matter. He is now an agent, a representative of the country and cannot just blindly follow orders (if there were even orders); a conscience has to come into play. By also dangling the nugget that every other soldier was implied to have been participated in “the noblest of human faith, sacrifice,” he divides Calley into the outcast who is certainly far from noble

Daniels effectively isolated Calley from the United States Army, absolving the Army of any wrongdoing. He holds Calley, and Calley alone, responsible for the murders even though no other soldier, following Calley’s orders, was convicted in accordance with the Nuremberg laws. All of his arguments point to one thing: Calley was of sound mental clarity and possessed the intent to kill and did indeed kill unresisting, unarmed men, women, children and babies. “Your duty is clear,” Daniels said to the jury. “…Find the accused guilty as charged” (400).

The aftermath

Aubrey Daniels faced a hard road in prosecuting Calley. Jury selection took three days with 25 officers dismissed due to being pro-Calley and anti-Army (Stoner, 348). He faced a country who defended Calley’s actions and called him a national hero while at the same time outraged at the fact the Americans were being sent abroad to war. He faced being called an enemy by America and the soldiers in the Army. He was also subject to international criticism at the hands of people who felt that despite their prosecution of Calley, America was sheltering its Army.

With Medina serving as a witness and getting off scot-free despite leading the company and reportedly participating in the murders along with other participants (such as Meadlo) not being charged for their crimes is one of the many flaws of the trial and caused outrage on an international scale and led people to wonder if the effectiveness of the court-martial at the hands of the United States would serve as a deterrent; that only bringing in international law would serve as a deterrent (Russell, 706-7). Indeed, the later incidents at Abu Ghraib and Haditha at the hands of the United States Army in the Iraq War would suggest Kent Russell, author of “My Lai Massacre: The Need for an International Investigation,” was correct when he said that “it would seem that individual prosecutions alone will not effectively deter United States soldiers from committing further atrocities” (706).

At a relatively young age, 29, Daniels had to stave off the media attention the case brought and focus on the task at hand. That task included helming the largest trial in army history, consisting of over 100 witnesses. Daniels capped off the exhausting process with a three-hour closing argument just explored.

When Calley was later placed under house arrest, Daniels wrote a letter of protest to then-President Richard Nixon. In it, he says that that decision gave “credence to those who believed that Calley and his troops were merely ‘killing the enemy'” and that Nixon “should and would stand fully behind the law of this land on a moral issue about which there can be no compromise.”

Daniels used several relevant techniques to distance the Army from the catastrophe that Calley had engineered. He painted Calley as a vicious murderer who showed no remorse for his actions, a man who abused the privilege and power of being a United States soldier. He used the concepts of pathos and logos to convince the jury of Calley’s peers that Calley was in fact, guilty and then harshly rebuked Calley as a representative of the United States by using the Burkean concept of division. Given an impartial jury, he engineered a resounding victory. Unfortunately, Calley would shamefully escape the throes of the law thanks to public perception that Calley was a hero, when, in fact, Calley was a villain.


Beidler, Philip D. “Calley’s Ghost.” The Virginia Quarterly Review Winter 2003: 30-50.


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Legality in Combat among U.S. Army Paratroopers .” Special Forces. 4th ed. Vol. 58.

University of North Carolina P. 1272-288. JSTOR. June 1980.

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‘Point-Blank Murder.'” “Ex-GI Tells of Killing Civilians at Pinkville” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 13, 20, 25 Nov. 1969. Candide’s Notebooks. <;.

Jones, David. “FOUND: THE MY LAI MONSTER OF MASSACRE.” London Daily Mail 6

Oct. 2007: 50. Academic. Lexis Nexis. Keyword: My Lai.

Lief, Michael S., H. Mitchell Caldwell, and Ben Bycel, eds. “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and

My Lai.” Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury : Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law. By Michael S. Lief, H. Mitchell Caldwell and Ben Bycel. New York: Simon & Schuster, Limited, 2000. 345-400.

Mintz, S. (2007). The Vietnam War. Digital History. University of Houston.


“Punishment for War Crimes: Duty: Or Discretion?” Michigan Law Review. Vol. 69, No. 7.

The Michigan Law Review Association. 1312-1346. JSTOR. June 1971.

Russell, Kent A. “My Lai Massacre: The Need for an International Investigation.” California

Law Review. Vol. 58, No. 3. California Law Review, Inc. 703-729. JSTOR. May 1970.

Stoner, Mark and Sally Perkins. Making Sense of Messages: A Critical Apprenticeship on

Rhetorical Criticism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Reflections of relational, situational and change leadership

bschmove – Flickr


Throughout my tenure as heading up an independent sports media organization (, I have constantly had to adjust my notion of thinking of how to lead an organization. The readings (specifically Creating Leaderful Organizations by Joseph A. Raelin and Exploring Leadership by Susan Komives, Nance Lucas and Timothy McMahon) I have done have not necessarily changed my concept of leadership, but they have strengthened my ideas and given me additional ideas to build upon.

Prior to entering those readings, I was of the mindset that the situational model was the best form of leadership to follow. Several other valued aspects of leadership that I have learned is the idea of power being shared back and forth; the value in employees/colleagues feeling as of they are a part of the company and the decision process therein; the value of creating “intradepenence,” as opposed to interdependence; and knowing and understanding the five phases of positive response to change.

One primary form of leadership that Exploring Leadership relies on is relational leadership.


One aspect of relational leadership is the absence of authoritarian power; power is given to the leader by his or her colleagues. There are many different types of power, ranging from expert to legitimate, but the theory holds that all types of effective leadership can be drawn to one effective tool: the colleagues “assigning” power to the leader.

Some very salient points are brought up in this manner, but the model glosses over too quickly on legitimate leadership. Whether or not a dissatisfied colleague likes it or not, he or she either has to follow the lead of the boss or quit. To be sure, if too many competent employees quit, the onus is on the boss to change course or to be fired.

Nonetheless, for the most part, legitimate leadership is a motivating tool in corporate America that I daresay is a large reason for how leaders are created. There are certainly born leaders, but there are also created leaders, and most created leaders who then go on to be viewed as a model for leadership were assigned legitimate leadership at first and then learned what it means to be a leader; what tactics to take and not take, what tone of voice in what situation to use… essentially, the created leader succeeds because of adaptability.

The relational model is a good one to follow, reasoning that the more power you give away, the more you will get – your own voice will be increased in value if the listeners feel they have increased power as well. They are more comfortable in speaking out; they are more willing to listen. But it disregards the benefit of legitimate leadership altogether, and sometimes people need power to transform themselves. The popular notion is that power is corruption, but it can also be a means towards leadership.


I am a proponent of situational leadership. As Raelin says, “since the multifaceted, dynamic organizations of the modern era require nimble and behaviorally complex managers, leaderful managers are needed to perform a variety of leadership functions and vary them with the situations that they encounter.”

Prior to the Raelin book, I had learned and experienced situational leadership, but I had not been able to put it so succinctly into words that Raelin has been able to. Exploring Leadership has documented that situational contingency leadership was popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. Since then, leadership has evolved to influence, reciprocal and the current chaos leadership. Reading over the major assumptions and criticism for situational, influence, reciprocal and chaos makes me question whether or not we really have moved on from situational and the following iterations are just situational leadership in different packaging.

Take the major criticism of situational leadership: “Most contingency theories are ambiguous, making it difficult to formulate specific, testable proportions. Theories lack accurate measures.”

I fail to see how this is a major criticism when it is the very foundation that situational leadership is built on. Of course it’s ambiguous! It varies from person to person and there is no set rule of how to act or set tenet to follow. It’s meant to be ambiguous and flexible, molding a person into a leader that can effectively work with multi-varied personalities.

Take the assumptions of the influence, reciprocal and chaos approaches, respectively: “Leadership is an influence or social exchange process, Leadership is a shared process, Attempts to describe leadership within a context of a complex, rapidly changing world.”

What of these couldn’t apply to situational leadership? None.


In a business, change occurs rapidly, both foreseen and unforeseen. The Social Change Model in Exploring Leadership introduces key elements of both positive and negative change in an ability to reflect and react to the stages that people go through.

Negative change starts with stability, the status quo. Negative change is then implemented, which is greeted with shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and finally, acceptance – the latter of which may convert the person into believing it is positive change but at the very least allows the person a form of stability to rely on.

Positive change occurs with uninformed optimism, informed pessimism, hopeful realism, informed optimism and completion. I will now briefly run through each stage as it correlated with the new platform and my feelings which is slated to launch October 15, the phases of change which I could remarkably identify with:

  • Uninformed optimism causes excitement in a new project, one that sounds fantastic and could be game-changing. When the concept of MVN’s new iteration was broached, there was widespread excitement without having gone into the nitty-gritty of it.
  • Informed pessimism came in the focus of the preliminary discussions and budget concerns. Amid rising prices, hard realities and new concepts (which evoked its own subset of positive and negative change), the platform had to be tweaked and while there was still excitement in the project, it was tempered.
  • Hopeful realism came about on the building of the project and all the positives that could be derived from the project. It quickly became abundantly clear that even if consumers did not respond with as much enthusiasm as we “in the know” did, it was an improvement on the current MVN regardless, which made the project worth it.
  • Informed optimism occurred not too long ago. The project looks excellent, people who have seen the new platform are stoked and we are ready to catch the world by storm.
  • Completion is the final stage of positive change, and we are in the final stages of preparing for launch; making sure everyone is on the same page, making sure the Web site is prepared for the launch.


One of my favorite tools to evaluate my leadership is to conduct surveys, often anonymous, with people who can offer feedback on my leadership skills and strategies.  Garnering feedback from those with constant contact with myself can be invaluable and also a form of sharing power with employees (or colleagues, as I prefer to put it) who then feel that they can help shape my leadership and my actions therein to sustain a positive environment for all.

My personal model of leadership can best be described as situational leadership, but borrowing from many other tenets of leadership. There is not just one form of leadership that should be the end-all, be-all. Leadership is constantly changing, permeable and malleable and to allow oneself to conform to one model of leadership is to limit one’s abilities to be a successful leader.