Personal integrity is the benchmark of a commitment made and delivered. Such integrity is the same today as it was on an August day nearly 2,500 years ago. The location is Thermopylae, the “hot gates”, a narrow pass between the Aegean Sea and central Greece. The year is 480 B.C. and a young King of Sparta, Leonidas I, saw the urgent need to protect his homeland against the onslaught of the Persian Army.
The heroic commitment of Leonidas is legendary. With 300 men, he held off for ten grueling days a Persian military advance of a million men. As a King, he was committed to the protection of the people. As a realist, he knew that this battle would be lost. As a visionary, he understood that his heroism and the bravery of his men would resonate with the residents of Sparta and scores of other Greek city-states, spurring them on to renewed patriotism and unity.
Unfortunately, the multitude of Persian archers darkened the sky with flying arrows and the Persians under the General Xerxes and his “10,000 Immortals” defeated the 300 brave Spartans. Before the battle had ended on August 14, King Leonidas had sent a message to his subjects: “Go and Tell the Spartans that we lie here in obedience to their laws”. The message when received ignited a vibrant and renewed spirit among the Greeks.
By sending this message to the citizens of Sparta and the other Greek city-states, Leonidas was informing the people of Greece that defending the law and protecting the rule of law was a quest that transcended self-interest.
I was reminded of the virtues of such personal integrity recently when visiting the Peace Officers’ Memorial at the State Capitol Building in Sacramento, California. Just down the hall from the chambers of the California House of Assemblymen is a book that contains the names of every California peace officer who has lost their life in the line of duty, those whose lives have been sacrificed “in obedience” to the laws of the people.