02 August 2010

"Warriors or Citizen-Soldiers"

Professor Bainbridge.com | Stephen Bainbridge | Warriors or Citizen-Soldiers

Tony Arend links to an interesting piece by USAF LTC (ret.) William Astore, who opines that:
A subtle change has been happening right before the eyes of Americans. Our troops are being told they're no longer primarily citizen-soldiers or citizen-airmen; they're being told they're warriors. Indeed, they're reminded of this linguistic turn in "creeds" that many of them (and often their families) display with pride. ...

Now, some would say there's nothing wrong with this. Our troops are at war. Don't we want them to have a strong warrior ethos?

The historian (and retired citizen-airman) in me says "no," and I'm supported in this by a surprising source: An American army pamphlet from World War II with the title "How the Jap Army Fights." After praising the Japanese for their toughness and endurance, the pamphlet, citing a study by Robert Leurquin, makes the following point:
"The Japanese is more of a warrior than a military man, and therein lies his weakness. The difference may be a subtle one, but it does exist: The essential quality of the warrior is bravery; that of the military man, discipline."

In 1942, our army cited the "warring passion" of the Japanese as a weakness, one that inhibited their mastery of "the craft of arms." Yet today, our army and air force extol the virtues of being a "warrior" to young recruits. ...
After nearly a decade of war, we don't need more "warrior ethos." What we need are disciplined citizen-airmen and citizen-soldiers who know their craft, but who also know better than to revel in a warrior identity. We knew this in 1942; how did we come to forget it?
One huge difference between today's military and that of 1942, of course, is that we now have a volunteer, professional military instead of a mass conscript military. Professor Astore might usefully consider whether the ethos of the former will necessarily differ from the ethos of the latter.
I'd look to another difference as well. Today's recruits are being drawn from a very different society than were recruits in 1942.  A couple of generations ago toughness was praised as more virtuous for men than was team work. Today those characteristics have switched places: cooperation is one of the most important values inculcated in school children, who are also taught that violence is never, ever an appropriate response.

I don't want to over generalize or get all pop-sociology here, but I think it's fairly safe to say that between the average group of recruits sixty years ago and today, the former would have the comparative advantage in fighting spirit and the latter would have the edge in esprit de corps. Seems to make sense that the doctrine of sixty years ago would want to stress fighting as a coordinated unit, while the doctrine today would want to emphasize fighting itself.

Patton was on yesterday.  In the classic opening monologue, George Scott says that all real Americans love a good fight.  That wasn't strictly true in the 40's, of course (but it is cinema's best True Scotsman Fallacy), but it isn't even passably true today.

On another level we now know that's it's pretty hard to get soldiers to fight and kill people.  Always has been pretty tough, though we didn't know it a few generations ago.  Makes sense that with this new knowledge the brass would be spending more effort turning their recruits into killers.

PS Personally I'd prefer citizen-soldiers if I had to choose, but I'd also prefer that things like warrior-poets and philosopher-princes existed too, and I don't see a lot of those around.

PPS On second thought, if we have to have people who are employed to conduct warfare maybe it's better they be called warriors.  While we're at it switch the DOD back to the War Department.  Most functions of government are at least partially coercive and violent; only the Pentagon is really honest about that.

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