Penn State with a Very "Original" Motivational Tool

Submitted by orobs on August 8th, 2013 at 4:05 PM

It was Fitzgerald who came up with this 16th Century idea for the 21st Century world. Back in 1519, Conquistador Hernando Cortes convinced a small group of 500 men to take the world’s richest treasure by overwhelming the mighty Aztec empire. And to make sure they would, to further motivate his men to fight, Cortes had his men burn their own ships when they landed in Mexico.

If they were going home, he said, they were going home using the Aztecs’ ships.

The Penn State players sat in awe while watching the Death Crawl video, each wearing a stark white T-shirt with the words “Burn the Ships” emblazoned in navy blue on the back.

“Something from my bag of tricks,” Fitzgerald said.



August 8th, 2013 at 4:07 PM ^

I was at an MDE (mich dept. Ed.) conference a couple years ago and they used this example...

Fuck that. Fuck Cortez. Dude basically killed a people...


August 8th, 2013 at 6:09 PM ^

Cortez (or anyone at the time) can hardly be blamed for not knowing what would happen. The people he killed made live sacrifices, by the tens of thousands.

I'm not trying to justify what happened, but that was a different time. The world was, and is, a cruel place. History is littered with despots who are responsible for more death, even in our "enlightened" time. A quick read of the events at S21 in Cambodia will leave you with heartache for a good while.

There are not many pure people out there. You can adopt a holier than thou attitude if it makes you feel superior to men who still feared sea-serpents.


August 8th, 2013 at 6:27 PM ^

To play Devil's Advocate...

What Spain did was wrong, but #1 Disease killed most of the people and #2 how is what Spain was doing any different than what the Aztecs were doing to their neighbors for generations?

The Aztecs killed, raped, enslaved, and pillaged their neighbors for years upon years.  Once sacrificing an estimated 80,000 people they captured in a single dedication.  The Aztec's neighbors helped Spain and saw them as liberators (at least for the time being).

Two wrongs don't make a right, but couldn't someone argue that Spain was no different than the Aztecs.  Two overly aggressive nations looking to economically exploit others through violence.  The only difference was Spain had immune systems on their side and to a less important extent better technology?


August 8th, 2013 at 4:11 PM ^

I used to thhink it was a cool story. John Belein used it a few years ago too. It lost all meaning when are bank president used it to motivate us switching to a new incentive structure tht basically cut my salary by 30%. Again...great story...but way overplayed.

Zone Left

August 8th, 2013 at 4:13 PM ^

"2. "Queme los Barcos" is the best rallying cry of the NCAA tournament ... even if its history is dubious. On Thursday, Michigan wore custom Adidas warmup shirts with an ode to Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes printed on the back. "Burn the ships" is its English translation..."

Original indeed...


August 8th, 2013 at 4:37 PM ^

Or an entire civilization of eggs.  And as long as those eggs are not my eggs.  And as long as the omlette is only used to the benefit of a very small number of people a long way away.


August 8th, 2013 at 4:45 PM ^

So much so that these same tribes provided Cortez manpower needed to destroy the Mayans. (There were only about 2000 Spainards with Cortez)Also you forgot to mention the number one cause of the Mayans demise--disease.


It would be more appropriate to say that Cortez engaged in ethnic cleansing. His brutality wasn't designed to physically eliminate a people like the Nazis did with the Jews, but to remove them from the rich, fertile, lands so he could exploit it without interference. It still is an appalling event in world history, but the story is more complex than has been taught in school. 


August 8th, 2013 at 5:04 PM ^

Do you mean the Aztecs? The main conquest usually credited to Cortez is his defeat of the Aztec empire centered on Tenochtitlan. And for that particular campaign, he indeed relied heavily on an alliance with the Tlaxcalan cities who had been fighting the Aztecs, often brutally, for decades.

The postclassic Mayan civilizations in the Yucatan were also eventually defeated by Spanish and native forces, but that's not usually what people are talking about when they talk of Cortez's conquests.


August 8th, 2013 at 5:53 PM ^

and held it for 500 years. Do you treat their recent(as in the last 100 years) humiliation as historical comeuppance for this and the incursions into France and the Balkans as well as various other acts of aggression?? Spain, like most nations, has alternated between being on the bottom and on top.England as well.

It never ceases to amaze me how people think empire is a modern, Western concept. It isn't. Empire is first found in the Middle East and North Africa. When we admire the Pyramids we are admiring edifices of empire. Edifices that cost a great many lives to build and constructed by empires that gave much to humanity at the expense of the lives and liberty of many human beings. 

We should never deceive ourselves into believing that the Native American experience was unique because it most certainly was not. William the Conqueror's "Harrowing of the North" and Cromwell's brutal suppression of Irish resistence in 1649-1653 are two examples of how whites brutalized each other before and during the subjugation of the Natives.


To put it crudely, this shit has been done before.


August 8th, 2013 at 6:10 PM ^

I bet that subject line got attention lol. 

But seriously this same "Burn the boat" strategy was utilized by Tariq ibn Ziyad when he lead Muslim forces into the Iberian Penninsula (Which Spain is a part of, maybe they got the strategy from him) in 711 C.E. Perhaps if people wrote the quote in Arabic on their T Shirts it may be more PC accepted... but then with the Islamaphobia in the majority of modern Western Civilization that could turn bad as well. 

IDK my BFF Jill. 


August 8th, 2013 at 6:16 PM ^

Well it's an interesting connection, but Cortes had to "queme los barcos" mostly because most of his men wanted to leave and everyone back in Spain was pissed off at him. So less inspiring and more last desperate move by a desperate and to that point largely incompetent man.


August 8th, 2013 at 4:30 PM ^

this story always reminds me of "enemy at the gates." you can probably assume that the russians motivational tactics could be refined a bit, but damnit if they weren't trying to prove the glory of mother russia


August 8th, 2013 at 4:52 PM ^

and the Russian soldiers. Stalin damn near lost Russia the war with his bizarre refusal to believe that Hitler betrayed him. 

The Russian soldier meanwhile fought in unbelievably tough circumstances against the cream of Hitler's army. They do not get enough credit in the US for their role in the defeat of Nazism. 


August 8th, 2013 at 5:12 PM ^

All true. Though likewise, your average Russian tends to discount the role of the US in keeping a second front open and divisions tied up in France, Sicily, Italy, etc. Not to mention that the Japanese empire had considered moves against the Soviets (to the point that only last minute input from a Soviet spy in Tokyo convinced Stalin he could spare troops from the east to defend Moscow). So at least the disrespect is mutual.


August 8th, 2013 at 5:54 PM ^

The Japanese were a maritime power that was able to run roughshod over weak countries and the feeble elements of the dying British Empire because of their speed and experience.(honed through years of quasi-war in China) The Japanese Army was built for "small" war where troops and light arms were the main sources of power, not the tank, artillery, or heavy bombers of the European conflict.  At Nomonhan the Soviets crushed the Japanese forces within weeks because of the disparity in heavy armamnents. (This was  mitigated versus the US because of the nature of island warfare.)

Japan understood that they could never fight any of the Big Two(US and USSR) on anything near equal terms because of the size and industrial might of both countries. Attacking the Soviets while fighting the US  was suicide for Japan(as it was for a  a nation much better equipped to challenge the Big Two in Germany.)


August 8th, 2013 at 6:13 PM ^

True, but Japan clearly had set its sights on Russia before. Certainly it was a concern of Stalin's that didn't really go away until Japan was fully entangled with the US. He definitely overestimated the threat, but it affected his strategic planning.

And while Japan couldn't go toe to toe with the Russkies (in nookyaler combat /Strangelove), they certainly could have caused a ruckus if they struck with force while the Soviets were weakened by the Nazi invasion. An unlikely counter factual I suppose. But at any rate the animosity between Russia and Japan is something that I think gets lost even more often than the fighting between the Soviets and Nazis.

Anyway the Eastern front is something that certainly more people should educate themselves about. The Normandy invasion looks positively gentlemanly compared to what went on out there.

Haywood Jablomy

August 8th, 2013 at 8:34 PM ^

As a Eukranian, I must agree, wholly, about people's ignorance of the Eastern front and the brutality, personal hate and ruthlessness in which it was fought. Between Stalin and Hitler approximately 8-10 million Eukranians were slaughtered or intentionally starved to death. The Eukranian Holocaust & Famine is a little known travesty and proof evil exist in the world. .


August 9th, 2013 at 12:04 PM ^

The myth in the west of an allied liberation of Europe through the D-day landing has been propagated and dramaticized to a comical extent as it makes for great cinema and television. Russian man power won the most decisive battles and ultimately collapsed the German army. The war in europe was won on the eastern front. Churchill's unwillingness to surrender to Germany was admirable and the battle for the air and sea superiority were indeed epic, but Europe was hanging by a thread and essentially lost to the Axis until Hitler's ultimate miscalculation, the invasion of Russian lands. US military focus was almost entirely in the Pacific. The battles of Moscow and Stalingrad ultimately turned the war and devastated the German military beyond recovery. US industry can claim a great deal of the credit for the defeat of nazi germany, but the heavy lifting in battle was done almost entirely by the Russians and their 20mm+ dead soldiers. As for the far east, Stalin was foolish to hold so many well equipped and hardened Siberian soldiers in the unpopulated east to thwart a possible Japanese invasion which he feared would threaten their factories and access to oil. Japan was still engaged in china and was battling the US across the Pacific at the same time. This Stalin blunder nearly allowed Moscow to fall, until he finally accepted his generals advice to bring the Siberian contingent west. The war promptly turned, and once Moscow and subsequently Stalingrad were saved, Russia, with its huge advantage in population and army size could lean on the Germans all the way back to Berlin.


August 8th, 2013 at 6:50 PM ^

But often overlooked is the fact that many Russians were already disillusioned with Stalin and Communism and many of the Baltic countries under early Soviet oppression identified and were sympathetic to the Nazi agenda, both socially (anti-semetic / xenophobic) and more so economic - seeing the Germans economic revival while Russia was collapsing and hungry.  While Stalin was indeed a military baffoon whose war efforts only turned around when giving his generals the command, its unlikely Russia would have survived to that point without the man of steel's sociopathic policies, as much of the fighting population would have surrendered or defected.  Forced labor was the only thing that would allow their industry to bridge the gap with the Germans as well.---And of course the lend lease policy by which they were given US and British military support.  While it could be argued that his incompetence allowed Germany a 3-5 year head start on the Soviets, his willingness to tun 20mm of his own into cannon fodder ultimately "saved" the country and the West from a Nazi dominated Europe.


August 8th, 2013 at 7:10 PM ^

Stalin almost killed the Soviet Union by purging (mostly murdering) much of the Red Army leadership in the '30s. He also managed to kill off many of the most productive farmers around that time. But he also oversaw a rapid industrialization project that, while often shoddy and bordering on slavery, nevertheless transformed an utterly backwards Russia into a modern industrial power in a decade or so.

Given the global depression, the Soviet Union was the place to he for a working class person in the 1930s - one of the few places with high employment and fast growth. That is of course assuming you didn't get caught in a purge and managed to bug out before the Nazi invasion.

Anyway point is he was at the height of his power in Russia, though the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe were somewhat... Less thrilled.