What does it mean to lead? Roy Mustang would say leadership is to protect others so that they will do the same. Ling Yao would say leadership is to put the needs of the people first before your own. However, unlike them, King Bradley (Wrath) believes leadership is having complete control over those beneath you, to the point where they not only follow your every order, but control the way they act on those orders as well. Should a ruler rule for his people or for his country? Spoilers for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood ahead.
At first glance the two options seem to be the same. The people of a country are the country itself, right? Well, not exactly. The people of a country, especially in the case of Amestris, do not always believe in the country’s ideology. Especially when that ideology is upheld by a man literally called Wrath. The people of Ishvala are citizens of Amestris, but the Ishvalans have been treated like dirt ever since their holy land was annexed in the country. Do you think they support the militaristic imperialist views of the Amestrian government? Of course not! Those same views are what led to the war in Ishval.
Bradley firmly believes that the duty of the people is to serve their country, giving up their lives to uphold its ideals. This idea is not inherently negative, but Bradley does not believe the converse, that the country should also serve its people. He believes the government, and himself by proxy, hold true power and that the people should be subservient to it. This is not so different than the way Father Cornello treated his own religious subjects in Liore, using them to build an army of faithful followers that would be more than willing to die for him.
Unlike Bradley, Ling Yao firmly believes that the duty of a leader is to his people, as the people are what truly build a country. Ling believes it is the people’s ideals, not the government’s, that shape the world around them. Ling desires to serve all the people of his country, which is quite an avaricious ideal to hold. His avarice is what leads him to becoming Greed, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Yet, Greed is constantly helping others, aiding their pursuits, protecting them when they are hurt and grieving when he is unable to save them, just like Ling.
The two souls sharing one body share many common goals, but unlike Ling, Greed ultimately desires power above all else, just like Bradley. However, Greed is more than willing to give up his dream of world domination to protect those he loves. Similarly, Ling desires to be leader of the country of Xing, yet he chooses to put the needs of his people before the needs of his country. This is why he decides to protect all of the clans of Xing despite the previous conflict that had gone on between them.
The difference between Bradley and Ling’s ideologies is most apparent during their many confrontations throughout the series. When Ling first confronts Bradley, one of his servants, Lan Fan is injured. Bradley tells Ling that with his fighting skills the Xingese prince would easily escape with his life, but his care for his subject will inevitably lead to his downfall. Ling firmly believes the duty of a king is to his people and finds it hard to believe that the Fuhrer of Amestris does not share this notion.
Roy Mustang acts as a middle ground between Bradley and Ling’s ideals. Mustang believes that a ruler should serve his people if and only if those people in turn serve the country. Mustang sees Amestris and its people as one in the same and believes that the respect the country shows its people should be given back equivalently, much like the alchemical law of Equivalent Exchange.
This includes him and everyone responsible for the conflict in Ishval paying for their war crimes as the Ishvalans are citizens of Amestris and should be treated as such. Immediately after Bradley’s death, Mustang begins working to repair the country’s relationship with the Ishvalans despite his literal lack of vision. When Mustang was forced through the Portal of Truth, his sight was taken so that he could not see the future he had envisioned for Amestris. However, just because he cannot literally see it does not mean it won’t come to fruition. In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Mustang has his literal vision returned to him so that he can better fulfill his figurative vision.
However, before his eyesight is restored, Mustang demands that his subordinate, Jean Havoc, be healed first. Mustang, like any good general, puts his subordinates before himself. When Havoc is paralyzed by Lust, Mustang almost stops his pursuits to stay behind for Havoc. Luckily, Havoc is able to convince him that Mustang’s path is too righteous for him to give up on it now just for a meager soldier like him. This small moment represents the divide between Ling and Mustang. Ling cannot fathom leaving one of his servants behind for any reason, even if it would hinder his duty as ruler of Xing. Mustang, on the other hand, recognizes that his duty to the people as a whole is more important than his duty to a single man. Mustang’s hesitation to move on without Havoc shows how hard it is for a good man to be a good king. Mustang understands the sacrifices he must make so that his vision can become reality.
Mustang recognizes that the country must serve its people, like Ling, but also that the people must serve their country, like Bradley. Mustang, at the end of the series, embodies the best qualities of the two. He has Ling’s greed without it controlling his desires, and he may be wrathful at times, but he never lets it consume him. It is hard for a leader to not have these qualities, especially in the world of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist. It is how Mustang controls his sins and uses them to build positive change that makes him a great ruler.