June 19, 2009 — CNAS Chief Operating Officer Nathaniel Fick is interviewed by Forbes Magazine, as part of its "Leaders on the Classics" series, which profiles organization leaders who have academic backgrounds in the classics.
Forbes: Tell us about a time when lessons learned from the ancients contributed to your success.
Fick: I first learned about the notion of the citizen-soldier while studying the classics in college--the idea that we as members of a free society bear an obligation to serve in its defense, at least for a little while. Cincinnatus traded his plow for a sword ... and then back for a plow. It's why I joined the Marines, and then returned to the civilian world--but I learned more in those five years than during any other period in my life.
If you could invite one classical figure to dinner, who would it be and why?
On my desk at home is a little Roman terra cotta lamp, with the name "Clodius" stamped in it. He may have been a potter--certainly not an emperor or a general--but I'd like to have dinner with him by the light of the lamp he made.
Who is the most powerful person in your life?
If by power you mean the ability to alter my behavior, then it's simple: my wife. This isn't false humility either. She's smarter than me, is generally a better judge of people, and sees what's truly important, rather than getting caught up in minutiae. I tend to do what she suggests. Read Lysistrata.
What is your secret ambition?
I'm pretty open about my ambitions--I'd like to grow and run a company, serve in government and have a healthy, happy family. A more material ambition, if not a secret one, is that someday I'd like to have a sailboat. Maybe it was all that reading about the wine-dark sea, but I really love to sail.
At what price glory?
Not even a penny! One of the benefits of seeing combat as a young person is the realization that glory is overrated--it's capricious and usually comes at grave cost. Roman generals processing in their triumphant parades after returning from conquests abroad sometimes had a slave whispering in their ear: "All glory is fleeting."
Greeks or Romans?
Greeks. I've always loved John Adams' explanation that "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy ... in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." The Greeks seemed to recognize that hierarchy better than many societies have, including the Romans--art above politics!