Why Burn a Boat?

Julius Caesar led his entire fleet full of men from Rome to take over part of England sometime before 49 B.C. As the fleet approached, he could see that he and his navy were outnumbered by the Celtic soldiers. Legend says He was concerned his men would lose heart and retreat, so he ordered the ships to be burned. Julius Caesar is credited with the saying, “If you want to take the island, burn the boats.”

Around 711 A.D., Tariq ibn Ziyad took thousands of Muslims to Spain to conquer what is Spain and Portugal today. Instead of using men from the army to guard the boats, he ordered the men to burn them.

By 1519 the Spanish had already led many expeditions throughout Mexico, but they were hungry for the land. Hernan Cortes took eleven ships to shore in hopes of conquering the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. It is rumored that he burned ten of the eleven boats to force the men to push inland.

It is also rumored that Napoleon Bonaparte had his men burn their boats when entering a battle under his leadership, Information about this military tale is minimal, but because Napoleon was a successful military leader who led men in over seventy battles, it is likely that many details were unrecorded.

Whether any of these legends are historically accurate or not, I think the idea of burning a boat is a brilliant maneuver. There was no way out, no ability to retreat without dying. They had to fight courageously and with persistence against the enemies for any chance to live. Any retreat would have led them into the deep, frigid water where they would surely drown. If they had not burned the boats, they could have retreated safely. Avoiding conflict by pulling anchor and going back out to sea may seem safer, but kings, emperors, and rulers would continue to send out fleets of men until the land was conquered. More lives would have been lost, more time would have been wasted, and more money would have been spent.

I have fought depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation for well over half of my life. When I was hospitalized in 2016, I did not care if I lived another day, and I struggled for years with that mentality. I loved my family and believed that they would truly be better off without me. How could anyone live with someone like me? My therapist seemed to make me feel worse every time I saw her, and she was constantly admitting me to the hospital. I had no life and no hope.

In 2018, I was sent to the Psychological Institution of Washington in Washington D.C. for the third time. While there, my team decided I needed a therapist who specialized in treating people with C-PTSD. They found a therapist for me, and I spoke with her on the phone while I was in the hospital. My appointment was set up for the same week of my discharge, and I believe that was the start of my fight to conquer the enemy.

Learning and growing over the past 3 ½ years has not been easy, but it has been worth it. None of that change would have taken place if I hadn’t burned my own boat. There is no fallback for me anymore. I fight, or I die; if not physically, certainly in every other way. My blog is about the battle I have been in and continue to fight. My inability to retreat is because I BURNED MY BOAT.

Why burn a boat? Because I cannot afford to retreat. I cannot afford to lose heart. And neither can you.