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Soldier in War – Positive Perspective

Col. K C Dixit was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 08, 2010

    Soldiering is the most ancient and complicated profession. A soldier’s performance is deeply affected by various factors during any war. It is interesting to know how increased morale of soldiers can snatch victory from defeat in a difficult situation. Let us look at various factors which affect soldiers and their fighting ability in war.

    A soldier may not bother about the causes of hardship, but one always cares for his close comrades, their safety and welfare and most importantly, their opinion of him as a friend and as a man. This comradeship transcends caste, community, race, religion, language and almost all barriers that one can imagine. This quality has to be nurtured assiduously among soldiers during peace tenures to ensure a favourable outcome in war.

    As Napoleon had said, “Men are ruled by vanity”, as also, “what will a man not do for a piece of ribbon?” Hope is the best preservative in war.1 A soldier may re-unite with his family or best of all win a decoration and go back home after a war, but he never stops. Hence in a country like ours where there is no conscription, it becomes the duty of all citizens to show utmost regard and concern at all times for the welfare of the men in uniform, only then citizens can have the right to expect the soldiers to risk their lives and limbs in any war. The soldier’s ego must be nurtured by their country men. It is important to recall and review the past and recognize that there is pride in wearing the uniform.

    If the soldier feels proud to wear the uniform, he can be expected to live up to the ideals of valour and sacrifice in war. In many countries, Kings and national leaders habitually wear military uniforms. This is only give prestige to men and women in military uniform and to show the importance of the soldier as the saviour of the nation. The police and other departments including private security agencies should not be allowed to wear uniform or badges of rank even remotely resembling those of the armed forces. This prestige given to the men wearing it in peace tenures will pay rich dividends to the nation in war time.

    A man of character in peace is a man of courage in war. It is a moral quality which grows to maturity in peace and is not suddenly developed at the outbreak of war. War has no power to transform. It merely exaggerates the good and evil in us. It can not change; it merely exposes. A soldier’s actions in war are not dictated by courage or fear but by conscience of which war is the final test.2 Courage is also will-power of which no man has an unlimited stock. We should aim at building “courage that lasts longer” as F. M. Slim said. It must be remembered that under good leadership, even mice can be turned into men.

    As Talleyrand had said about Napoleon, “I am more afraid of a hundred sheep led by a lion than a hundred lions led by a sheep”. A substantial portion of training especially for lower ranks is spent in instilling the herd instinct in the men, which in any case is characteristic of a majority of human beings. But this herd instinct is of no use unless the herd can be properly led. So where do we find the lion? How do we develop qualities of leadership? Leaders are born and are also made. It has been said that the art of selection is the secret of leadership. It is well known that adversity brings out the best in humans and quite often as in the case of Oliver Cromwell “A man among kings and a King among men” – the situation can make a great leader out of an ordinary man. In a nutshell, a good leader should know how to combine the strong right arm of the father with the protective understanding left arm of the mother.

    Victory in war is a great motivating factor to achieve even greater victories and lifts the morale of soldiers. When the soldier is generally optimistic and confident prior to any action in a war, a soldier shows good morale. Napolean’s troops on the eve of the battle of Austerlitz in 1805 were in such high spirits that they surrounded the short grey coated figure of Napoleon and danced with joy promising him a spectacular victory the next day. True to their promise, though heavily out numbered, they inflicted a crushing defeat on the armies of the Austrian and Russian Emperors. William Pitt, then British Prime Minister became so demoralised that he said, “Roll the map of Europe. It will not be needed for another hundred years”. However, to ensure success in any future war, the development of infrastructure in border areas and the acquisition of best military weapon systems cannot be ignored.

    The instance during the battle of Austerliz described above is an example of the exhilarating effect of morale. How is high morale achieved? Eisenhower had said, “Attention to the individual is the key to success”. Generally, a soldier who feels that everything is possible under the circumstances has been done for him and who trusts his superiors and comrades and believes in the cause for which he is fighting, is bound to have a high morale. Low morale will result from the opposite circumstances.

    Men wear out like clothes. Operational conditions are notoriously destructive to health. There is diminished self-control and general lowering of the individual’s resistance to all types of stress. Mastering the art of command and training the men adequately in good conscience and team spirit is a vital imperative. The capacity to endure mass casualty situations and withstand brain washing in the event of capture by the enemy is a necessity. The soldier needs self-belief to fight fear of death or injury, fear of the unknown, boredom and isolation. Shock, confusion and bewilderment, war-weariness and prolonged tenures in operations must be and can be minimized.

    • 1. Major General F. M. Richardson, Fighting Spirit: A Study of the Psychological Factors in War (London: Leo Cooper, 1978), as cited in Ted Bogacz, “Studies on War,” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 24, no. 2, April 1989, p. 231.
    • 2. ibid.