Collections: The Universal Warrior, Part IIb: A Soldier’s Lot

This is the continuation of the second part of a three part ( I, IIa, IIb , III) discussion of the notion that there is a ‘universal warrior’ – a transcendent sameness about either the experience of war or ‘warrior values’ which might provide some sort of useful blueprint for life generally or some sort of fundamental truth about the experience of war.

We started this section last week by looking at the forms of war along with the direct emotional experience of combat. What we found is that, quite to the contrary of there being just one sort of war that ‘never changes,’ there are in fact multiple systems of war that function quite differently (with considerable variation both within and between those systems) to the point that armies often find opponents working from within a different system of war almost utterly alien to them.

Moreover, as we discussed, the experience of battle, not merely the technology, tactics and circumstances, but the raw emotional experience (taken in terms of courage and fear) wasn’t constant either. Different cultures understood ‘courage’ differently (and we must remember that translation here can be deceiving – most of them didn’t understand ‘courage’ at all, they understood andreia or fortis or corage or der Mut or woohitike which are, in the end, subtly different things and so not quite ever exactly courage at all) and different battles imposed different sorts of fear which strained those combatants in different ways.

Now we’re going to keep soldiering on and look at some of the other factors of the war experience: the importance of comrades, the drudgery and toil of war, and of course wounds (both physical and mental) and their healing. Once again, to abuse the opening lines of the Fallout series, we going to ask if it is really true that “War, war never changes.”

The iconic introduction line from all of the Fallout games (this is the version from Fallout 4.
As we’re going to see, this sounds true, but isn’t. War changes quite a lot.

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The Ties that Bind

What about the personal relationships that are formed in the context of conflict? Surely, the ‘band of brothers’ is a truly universal experience, right (but note on the complexities of Shakespeare’s Henry V)? Surely the social bonds that held Easy-Company together in 1944 and 1945 are the same as those from 1415? Or 415?

Well, no. Not quite.

We can approach this question through the idea of cohesion – the moral force that holds a group of combatants together on the battlefield under the intense emotional stresses of combat. The intense bonds that soldiers form in modern armies (particularly those in the European pattern) are not an accident, but a core part of how those armies, institutionally, seek to build cohesion. Going back to last week, we discussed briefly the emergence of the extensively drilled and disciplined ‘mechanical’ soldier of Early Modern Europe, noting that this approach wasn’t necessary for the effective use of firearms (the Ottoman Janissaries, for instance, were quite good with firearms, but were not trained and organized in this way), but rather was a product of elite aristocratic (read: officer) disdain for their up-jumped peasant soldiers and thus the assumption by those aristocrats that the only way to get such men to fight effectively was to relentlessly drill them.

Via Wikipedia, the Attack of Prussian Infantry, 4 June 1745 by Carl Röchling (1855-1920)

Now the funny thing about this system is that it clearly worked, but not for the reasons its aristocratic pioneers believed. It was only really after the Second World War that systematic study began to be made of unit cohesion (e.g. S.L.A. Marshall, Men Against Fire (1947), though subsequent literature on the topic is voluminous and Marshal’s work has its problems, but its conclusions are broadly accepted having been confirmed in subsequent studies). What emerged quite clearly was that it wasn’t ‘the cause’ or patriotism that held troops together under fire, but group cohesion born out of an intense need not to let fellow soldiers in the unit down. In short, what held units together and made them fight more effectively was (in part, there are many conclusions in Men Against Fire) the strong social bonds between comrades.

And, in fact, the drill and discipline of early modern European armies unintentionally did quite a lot of cohesion building things. Soldiers were removed from civilian society (isolation from larger groups builds unit cohesion), split into very small groups (keeping the core group that coheres below Dunbar’s number aids in group cohesion; thus why the platoon is a natural unit size) and then pushed through difficult and unpleasant training (that drill and discipline) creating a sense of unique shared experience and sacrifice. All of which doesn’t render men machines, but it does create strong social bonds within the units that will keep the men fighting even when they care little for their cause (which they generally did in this period; one does not find a super-abundance of patriotism among, say, the Army of Flanders).

And there is a tendency to point to this cohesion, its modern source in ‘toughening’ boot camp and to say, ‘aha! That is the true universal about effective soldier-warriors!’ Except – and you knew there was going to be an except – except it isn’t. Systems built on the use of drill and discipline for the development of unit cohesion through social bonds are actually, historically speaking, quite rare. We see systems like that in use by the Romans from the Middle Republic forward (but significantly faded by the end of late antiquity; the Byzantine army doesn’t seem to function this way), in China from the Han Dynasty onward, in Japan for the ashigaru infantry from the Sengoku period, and in Europe from the Early Modern period. That sounds like a lot, but that is relatively small minority of the historical period and even then in a relatively small minority of places. It is, for instance, a period that only covers about half of the historical period in Western Europe, the place most often associated with this very system of organization (though that association is perhaps unfair to East Asia).

Instead, most societies relied on existing social bonds formed outside of the experience of war for cohesion. Greek hoplite armies, for instance, generally formed up by polis (read: city) and then within those blocks by still smaller and smaller social divisions, so that family and neighbors would be standing shoulder to shoulder in the battle line (Sparta does this through the system of communal messes, the syssitia, but the idea that you fought alongside the men you dined with socially – your neighbors, generally – was perfectly normal in most Greek cities). That was intentional – it allowed the phalanx to cohere through the social pressure not to be seen as a coward before the men who meant the most to you, whose shaming gaze you would have to endure in civilian life. The same pressures, by the well, held together the (mostly volunteer) armies of the American Civil War (on this, see, McPherson, For Cause and Comrades (1997)).

By contrast, ‘warrior’ classes often rely on a sort of class solidarity along with the demand of an individual military aristocrat to be individually militarily excellent. Richard Kaeuper quips of the literature of the medieval knightly class that it was filled with “utterly tireless, almost obsessional emphasis placed on personal prowess” (R.W. Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (1999)). We’ve talked a fair bit about the values of mounted aristocrats, both in their role as combatants and in their roles as generals and those values are relatively disconnected from discipline-induced forms of buddy-cohesion. Of course exactly what ‘good generalship’ or ‘good officership’ looks like varies wildly from place to place – Alexander was expected to command his cavalry from the front; Roman emperors rarely took the battlefield and when they did they commanded from the rear since it would be foolish to risk the ‘brain’ of the army in personal combat and in any event someone at the front of a cavalry charge can hardly direct the rest of the army.

One of the things I find most striking about the ‘warrior ethos’ advanced by writers like Pressfield is that it accepts as normal the unique nature of the bonds that hold soldiers together in battle, assuming this bond and its shared sacrifice to be at once unique to combat and also transcendent to all combatants. But one of the key points made very well in Sebastian Junger’s War (2010) and later Tribe (2016) is just how strange that experience is, historically. Junger notes that in earlier societies, soldiers would have returned from war into communities (often small, agricultural communities or tribal communities) every bit as close-knit as the infantry platoon – and indeed, often involving literally the same people as the infantry platoon. Instead, the intense feeling of uniqueness that modern soldiers feel about the bonds of combat is because of the historically unusual deracination produced by modern societies by the industrial revolution and the post-industrial period.

And Junger’s point is born out quite clearly when looking at the myriad of historical societies where those non-combat social bonds were the basis of the principles of military cohesion, be it the small-town cohesion of the hoplite phalanx or the class-based-expectation cohesion of a group of knights, or (for that matter) later modern regimental-system armies that recruited on the basis of states and towns precisely to get this kind of cohesion (something that comes out quite clearly in McPherson, For Cause and Comrades (1998) of regiments in the American Civil War, but was also a factor in the British regimental system as late as World War I).

In short, the singularity of those bonds is by no means historically universal, but in many societies would have instead been paired with equally strong and demanding bonds based on family, clan, neighborhood, village or patronage – merely one thread in a web of many threads. Assuming that such bonds extend infinitely back into the past of war means treating as normal a facet of modern society which is both unusual and possibly maladaptive.

At which point it seems useful to note that all of our examples so far are from within the second or third system of war, where there is considerable focus in holding ground in conventional engagements and thus a need to condition combatants to do something very unnatural – to hold their position and fight even when directly threatened and at a very high risk of death. But what about the first system of war, which generally does not demand combatants to stand in rigid order under fire or to resist mass enemy charges, but is instead focused on a ‘pounce and flee’ system of raids and ambushes only resorting to open battle (itself almost never decisive) when those fail?

For a first system force, the very thing all of this cohesion is trying to produce – to get men to stick together when the going gets tough, is entirely counter-productive; instead, if the situation is disadvantageous, the best response is often ‘scatter and regroup.’ As we’ve discussed before, these societies often have low populations which simply could not sustain high-lethality pitched battles. Consequently, societies in the first system tend to only engage when conditions are very advantageous (a raid, an ambush) or when they have no choice (being raided or ambushed).

This is, of course, not to say that such forces lacked what we might term combat motivation; these are still humans and so human psychology matters. But such motivation was organic to the community structure (ties of kinship and bonds within the village or tribal grouping), individual rather than group-based (one was not holding a position as a group but making an individual assessment of stand vs. flee) and finally was not predicated on one’s willingness to hold in a disadvantageous position. Indeed, European writers documenting, for instance, Native North American adversaries regularly complain about their ability to simply melt away rather than meet a European-style army on disadvantageous terms, where European-style military values would have demanded stubborn resistance and steady cohesion. For a Native North American force to ‘hold together’ in such conditions would have been foolish and ruinous – better to scatter and limit casualties.

In short, such systems of war make little effort to build the sort of cohesion seen in second and third system armies because such cohesion is maladaptive to their combat style (and consequently, lacking the social-value framework that supports such cohesion, it can be difficult to train members of such societies to fight like second or third system soldiers, something readily apparent by the repeated difficulties of building ‘western’-style armies in countries without traditions of cohesion).

What does that leave us with? The systems to build cohesion – and indeed, cohesion itself – turn out not to be universal at all, but quite subjective to specific cultures and places. I’ve actually sold short just how many different systems and methods are used to build cohesion, but in practice every society’s mix for doing this is unique. Moreover, some societies, because of their style of warfare are largely uninterested in developing much cohesion at all and are instead focused on other forms of combat motivation.

Beyond the banal observations that humans are social animals that build relationships with each other and that humans tend to bond in conditions of shared adversary, there is nothing here. Those same conclusions might as well be marshaled to support the ‘universal graduate student’ or the ‘universal video-game crunch developer.’ The observation that the bonds of fellow soldiers are singularly stronger than any other sort of bond only seems to hold for modern deracinated post-industrial societies that have (often for good reasons, like liberating individuals) steadily weakened all of the other social bonds. One only needs to look, for instance, at the failure of these intense bonds to hold primacy over the bonds of family, class or tribe when efforts are made to train ‘western’-style armies in non-western countries to see that the primacy of ‘comrades’ is socially contingent. Once again, the idea of the universal soldier indulges in the classic error of historical thinking whereby a distinctly contingent and modern experience is anachronistically retrojected into the past; the foolishness of the ‘universal soldier’ is the circularity of the argument where by this anachronistic retrojection is treated as the evidence of its own existence.

Drudgery and Toil

What about the other common difficulties of soldiering? How universal are those experiences: the bad food, long marches, heavy burdens and difficult labor and toil?

Well, here is where we come back to the note I made earlier about how ‘warring’ and ‘soldiering’ where different verbs with different meanings. After all, while soldiering implies these difficulties, warring doesn’t, necessarily. And it isn’t hard to see why – the warrior classes in these societies, often being aristocrats, generally didn’t do a lot of these things. It is, for instance, noted in the Roman sources when a general chose to eat the same food as his soldiers, because most Roman aristocrats didn’t when they served as generals or military tribunes. The privileges of rank and class applied.

And that’s something we see with medieval aristocrats too. On the one hand, Jean de Bueil talks about the “difficulties and travail” of war, but at the same time, Clifford Rogers notes one (fictional and lavish, but not outrageous) war party “suitable for a baron or banneret” included a chaplain, three heralds, four trumpeters, two drummers, four pages, two varlets (that is, servants for the pages), two cooks, a forager, a farrier, an armorer, twelve more serving men (with horses, presumably both as combatants and as servants), and a majordomo to manage them all – in addition to the one lord, three knights and nine esquires (C. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives through History: the Middle Ages (2007), 28-9).

Via Wikipedia, a section of the Bayeux tapestry. On the left, Duke William and his retainers dine in relative comfort while camped in England while to the right one of his lords directs his soldiers to build a fortified camp. Soldiering could be quite different depending on your social rank!

Jean le Bel (quoted in Rogers, op. cit.) contrasts the situation of the nobles in Edward III’s army (1327), where “one could see great nobility well served with a great plenty of dishes and sweets – such strange ones that I wouldn’t know to name or describe them. There one could see ladies richly adorned and nobly ornamented” while in the camp proper an open brawl between the regular soldiers from England and Hainault broke out and eventually turned into an open battle in which 316 died, but so segregated was the camp that, “most of the knights and of their masters were then at court, and knew nothing of this” (Rogers, 66-7). Likewise, except in fairly extreme positions, most of the ditch-digging, camp-building duties would fall to the common soldiers (and, as Roel Konijnendijk can quite accurately tell you, ditches are important! When in doubt, dig some ditches – or make others dig ditches for you).

That said, these differences are not merely confined to the high aristocrats. Marching under a heavy load is often given as one example of the quintessential ‘soldier experience,’ but it seems that many Greek hoplites went to war with a personal slave or servant to carry their equipment for them, despite being infantrymen. The Romans carried equipment and supplies something closer to what a modern soldier might (both in terms of weight and also, apart from ammunition, in terms of what was carried), but then non-Roman sources like the Greek writer Polybius (18.18.1-7) or the Jewish writer Josephus (BJ 3.95) appear quite stunned with the amount of tools and equipment the Romans carry (and Polybius, by the by, is writing before Marius’ mules). Evidently the Roman impedementia was quite a bit heavier, though even the Macedonians carried much more than a Greek hoplite army (Note Engels, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, 1978 on this).

Roman soldiers from the Column of Trajan (c. 110) crossing pontoon bridges with their equipment (seen at the top held up on sticks in their marching packs, called sarcina). Contrast this with the hoplite leaving home, seen below.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Roth is quick to note (in The Logistics of the Roman Army at War (264 B.C. – A.D. 235) (1999)) that despite either bad or insufficient rations being a common complaint of soldiers, such complaints appear absent from Roman sources, even in the context of legionary mutinies. Indeed, the evidence suggests that Roman soldiers ate quite well, with fairly ample rations. In camp the Roman soldier’s diet was not so different from what he might eat in peacetime (especially once we get into the imperial period with legions stationed in semi-permanent bases); on the march they had to make do with bucellatum, a hard biscuit something like hardtack. But for many Italian peasants, the diet doesn’t seem to have been much worse – or much different – from what they ate in peacetime.

By way of sharp contrast to the plodding, heavily loaded but surely very lethal Roman legionary, the impis of the Zulu traveled fast, light and sometimes somewhat hungry. Zulu warriors generally carried only their equipment on the march, while supplies were carried by udibi, boys serving as porters. Even then, such supplies were minimal – the Zulu force that arrived at Rorke’s Drift (1879) had only been out six days, but none of the warriors in it had eaten in two. Such minimally supplies flying columns, moving fast and with considerable stealth (one cannot read anytthing on the Anglo-Zulu war without noticing how, even with cavalry scouts, Zulu impis seem so often just to appear next to British forces) were the norm for Zulu warfare. And to be clear, this wasn’t some ‘primitive’ or underdeveloped form of war – the light and fast operational movements of the Zulu were intentional (much of it was a product of Shaka’s reforms) and very effective – albeit not so effective as to offset the massive advantages the British possessed in population, economic capacity or military technology. Nevertheless, not even every sort of common soldier was the heavily loaded, slow moving, well-fed ditch-digging sort like the Romans. The ‘soldier experience’ needs to cover the lightly loaded and armed, fast moving, hungry, non-ditch-digging Zulu experience too.

And then of course when we consider nomadic peoples, we find that in many cases their lives on campaign were not that much different from their lives at peacetime, involving many of the same skills and activities.

In short, the experience of the drudgery of war – the bad food, long toil, heavy encumbrance and so on was all still quite contingent (or we might say ‘dependent’) on the society going to war. Social divisions mattered. Expectations about masculine behavior mattered. Military systems mattered. Yes, modern armies in the European tradition expect their soldiers to do a lot of labor and drudgery, but remember where that military system came from: it was the system of the common soldiers serving under the aristocrats who most certainly did not do those things but who did impose sharp, corporal discipline. Which, to be clear, doesn’t make this system ineffective – it was clearly effective. The point here is that it was socially contingent – a different society would have come up with a different system. And they did! The Early Modern European system is only one way to organize an army and historically speaking not even the most common.

Wounds and Healing

What of the wounded? Is their experience universal?

Attitudes towards wounds and the wounded certainly change over time. My late grandfather was wounded fighting in the US Army in Italy during the Second World War. He didn’t talk about it much that I recall, though I was a pest at that age and would ask no doubt more incessantly than I remember. I recall he would tell us, as kids that he had the wound from a landmine, somewhere to the rear. Which was not precisely true – he had been wounded by shrapnel from a shell fragment in the fighting under Monte Cassino. I suspect he wanted a version of the story that put him further from harm, further from combat, so as not to shock us. In any event it was hard to ignore – the shrapnel had done some nerve damage in his arm, which had a slight shake (that got worse with age) from that point forward. I suspect a lot of Americans today have similar stories about Purple Heart family members who would rather not talk about their scars; the wounded veteran who doesn’t like to talk about such things is a common-place in American literature and for a reason.

Marcus Servilius (cos. 202 BC) seems to have been somewhat less circumspect. In 167 (he would have been in his mid-70s by then), he punctuated his speech in the Senate by (in Plutarch’s phrasing) “parting his garment and displaying upon his breast an incredible number of wounds. When wheeling about, he uncovered some parts of his person which it is thought unbecoming to have naked in a crowd [ed.: what a euphemism!]…and said, ‘You laugh at these scars, but I glory in them before my fellow-citizens, in whose defense I got them'” (Plut. Aem. 31.8-9). Such displays, the old Roman soldier showing the scars (ideally always on the chest, but evidently Servilius also had a few on his bum from serving as a cavalryman) are a common-place in Roman literature and was clearly deployed with some frequency for rhetorical effect.

Not that all disabled veterans were so highly regarded by their societies. Geoffrey L. Hudson, in discussing the emergence of a disabled veteran pension system in England in the 1600s (“Disabled Veterans and the State in Early Modern England” in Disabled Veterans in History, ed. D. A. Gerber (2012) notes that the existing charitable system at the time often didn’t want to have disabled veterans in their almshouses because of “the fact that many maimed veterans had been pressed vagrants and convicted felons.” Evidently their wounds had done little to change the overall societies’ low view of them. As Hudson notes initial methods of royal relief “failed because local authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical, resisted privy conciliar initiatives on behalf of ex-servicemen.” Lest you think that the privy council itself was moved by compassion, the key motivation seems to have been “a practical preventative measure against desertion, evasion of impressment and the…public spectacle of former servicemen…begging in the streets.” In any event, the eventual emergence of a pension for disabled veterans was accompanied by laws appointing marshals to capture and punish ‘vagrant’ soldiers (and former soldiers) and force veterans to return to their home counties.

In short, not all societies viewed wounds and the wounded in the same way.

Of course the wounds themselves were also different. One thing Hudson notes in the emergence of an English (and later British) pension and hospital system for wounded veterans was how this process was motivated by the change in the kinds of wounds received created by gunpowder weapons. Now of course ancient weapons could also give disabling wounds (note Debby Sneed’s work on the topic of people with disabilities in the ancient world), but the real difference in the lethality of different kinds of weapons matters quite a bit.

The modern reader, for instance, may be puzzled by the repeated framing in ancient texts of units in combat being ‘wearied by wounds’ since generally speaking a soldier wounded in combat with modern weapons is typically a lot more than ‘wearied’ by the experience. But pre-gunpowder weapons aren’t that lethal, especially with blows land against the limbs instead of the head or the chest (which might be better armored in any case). When you view, for instance, tests of pre-modern weapons, remember that real targets would be armored and often moving to try to minimize the damage of the hit (on this see S. James, “The Point of the Sword: What Roman-era weapons could to do bodies – and why they often didn’t” in Waffen in Aktion, ed. A.W. Busch and H.J. Schalles (2010)). Which is how you have M. Servilius covered in scars and yet still very much alive in his 70s to brag about them.

Via the Smithsonian, a picture showing the use of restorative face masks in wound treatment in WWI. Absent the modern ability to reconstruct a face, soldiers with grievous face wounds sometimes had masks made to meticulously restore the appearance of their face when worn. Such wounds, the products of gas and other modern weapons new to the First World War, had in turn required new treatments.

Firearms – even fairly early firearms – are substantially more lethal (a point W.E. Lee makes in Empires and Indigines (2011) in explaining why even slow-firing muskets so radically raised the lethality of ranged fire exchanges as compared to bows as to force Native North Americans to give up such pitched battles entirely). They inflict very different sorts of wounds, which often require the removal of limbs. It is striking that, prior to gunpowder, the image of the disabled veteran seems to have been a scarred fellow, with all of his limbs, but perhaps a limp or a missing eye (both Philip II of Macedon and Antigonus Monopthalmus, one of his generals, managed each to lose an eye in combat) or requiring a crutch (note Debby Sneed’s piece above for a few pictures; Matthew, A Storm of Spears (2012) also has a relevant discussion of wounds in hoplite combat).

With gunpowder, as Hudson’s essay demonstrates quite clearly (he has some tables on the topic) the picture changes. With musket balls or grape-shot, non-lethal scarring wounds to the body were far less common (such wounds were much more likely to be lethal) while wounds to the extremities seem to have often rendered limbs inoperative, if there was a limb left at all. It was precisely this change in military technology that overwhelmed the old charitable systems of almshouses and forced the reforms Hudson discusses.

And of course not only physical wounds, but mental wounds are also subject to change. I am not going to rehearse the points I have already made about the experience of combat-related mental trauma here, since I have already made them on the blog. But I think it is worth noting that the evidence really does seem to suggest to me that combatants in different societies and time periods experience the emotional turmoil and trauma of war quite differently. Apparent PTSD symptoms are very rare in ancient or medieval literature and where they do appear they are often confined to specific and unusual types of wars (civil wars, for instance, in the Roman context. All of the medieval European examples of PTSD-like symptoms I have seen come in the context of crusading).

But moreover – and we’ve actually already touched on this when discussing fear and courage – mental wounds also seem to vary somewhat from one modern war to the next. As I noted, the hyper-vigilance that is so often a symptom of combat trauma in the veterans of contemporary wars seems vanishingly rare in the ‘shell shock’ of WWI veterans, who are more often described as lethargic, listless and undirected (symptoms that also show up in WWII for soldiers who had been under combat stress for long periods). The issue has been brought up, so I do want to note that I am, by the by, unconvinced by the suggestion that these WWI-era mental wounds were purely or principally the product of concussions from heavy artillery or the like.

But it should not surprise us that just as different kinds of combat and different kinds of weapons inflict different sorts of physical wounds, so too they inflict different sorts of mental wounds. The soldier who doesn’t know when the next enemy might appear in a crowd of civilians is put under a very different strain than the soldier who is subjected to a week-long artillery barrage while hiding underground; both of them are subjected to a very different strain from the man asked to charge over a field with a spear. I have by no means exhaustively read the literature on PTSD either from the historical or psychological angles (though I have tried to read a lot of it), but I sometimes wonder if experts researching PTSD under-appreciate the degree to which they are dealing with a moving target; descriptions of combat stress disorders in early wars are too often, I think, treated as misunderstandings when they may simply be recording different symptoms from different trauma caused by different stress (though of course it is also true that our understanding of PTSD and related mental combat trauma has improved tremendously).

And of course on top of that we have to layer writers who don’t see the war experience as traumatic at all! We have already discussed Bertran de Born (12th cent. AD) and his “great joy” when he sees armies ranged for battle. Elsewhere, Bertran declares “A young man who doesn’t feed on war soon becomes fat and rotten.” The idea that armies were profoundly beautiful, lovely things isn’t restricted to Bertran. Take Sappho’s declaration (6th cent. BC) that (trans. M.L. West):

Some think a fleet, a troop of horse
or soldiery the finest sight
in all the world; but I say, what one loves.

Evidently Sappho knows it to be a truism that some people did think that was beautiful. And here is how Tyrtaeus (7th cent. BC) describes the results of combat (also trans. M.L. West):

His name and glorious reputation never die;
he is immortal even in his grave,
that man the furious War-god kills as he defends
his soul and children with heroic stand.
Or if in winning his proud spear-vaunt he escapes
the doom of death and grief’s long shadow-cast,
then all men do him honor, young and old alike;
much joy is his before he goes below.
He grows old in celebrity, and no one thinks
to cheat him of his due respect and rights,
but all men at the public seats make room for him,
the young, the old and those of his own age.

And of course we’ve also discussed here on the blog ‘Antarah ibn Shadadd who declares, “the battle of ‘Ura’ir was a healing” and that even with “our wounds still fresh” his warriors were “nourished by grim battleswords,” an attitude that seems to echo Bertran’s desire for young men to feast on war, combat seen as something healing and nourishing rather than traumatic.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the departure of a hoplite, apparently being seen off by an old man (probably his father) who stands with the aid of a staff. On a terracotta neck-amphroa, c. 480 B.C.

Conclusion: War Changes Quite a Bit, Actually…

Echoes of those views continue to appear in western literature until the impersonal carnage of the Western Front seem to finally snuff them out. But it isn’t that the generations and generations before 1914 had never experienced war, but that war had changed.

We’ve actually talked before about just how profoundly our modern view of war and battle (and battlefields) is conditioned by the experience of the first world war and the vast literary production of the generation that went through those trenches. Certainly for English (and German and French, etc.) literature, World War I seems to almost snap the tradition in half, making everything before it feel trite and washing the whole of war literature in grim tones of field grey.

And, of course, that is the point. World War I was a new kind of war that shattered the old certainties born out of the old kinds of war. It is often a mistake to assume those old certainties had been born out of some eternal peace, but while the 1800s had not seen a general European war, they had seen many wars, in the many imperial possessions of European countries, on the edges of what the British or French considered ‘Europe’ and also in the heart of Europe itself (not to mention a few dustups in the Americas). These were not peaceful societies confronting their first war and shocked by the experience, but very bellicose societies encountering for the first time a new sort of war and being stunned at how different it was from what they had expected, from the wars of their (recent!) past.

All of which is to say war, war really does change. And warriors with it.

In a sense this is a point about war which is clear even just from the way that we study it – there are books upon books written analyzing the experience of war and attitudes about war in a given society, at a given moment, and as I hope I’ve shown, one thing that emerges very clearly is that such attitudes and experiences change over time and place. Just compare the discussion of combat motivations between, say, James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades (1998) to those in J.E. Lendon’s Soldiers and Ghosts (2005) and you come up with very difference experiences. And neither is quite like what comes out of I. Berkovich, Motivation in War: the Experience of Common Soldiers in old-regime Europe (2017). And radically different from the others is McGinnis, Counting Coup and Cutting Horses (1990) on Great Plains Native American warfare. The mere fact that a series like Soldiers’ Lives Through History is a series of books, rather than one volume on the vast sameness of the combat experience should tell us this.

But I hope, even in this brief overview, to have summarized just a small fraction of that diversity even though I can only write with knowledge mostly from inside of the broader European tradition of war, which naturally shares some cultural DNA with its constituent elements. Doubtless the degree to which war changes would be seem more profound were I writing as an expert in warfare in Africa or Asia or pre-historic warfare.

Instead what we see is the careless but frequent error of taking the modern soldier’s experience and retrojecting it anachronistically into the past. They, as Roel Konijnendijk recently remarked on the r/AskHistorians reddit (because I am not above stealing a good turn of phrase) “depict Spartans doing pushups and following the commands of their drill sergeants like recruits in an Ancient Greek USMC boot camp” to give just one example, even though as we’ve discussed, Sparta and the agoge were no such thing. It is, I think, no accident that one of the others Konijnendijk critiques here is none other than Steven Pressfield (writing Gates of Fire), the very fellow whose model of the ‘universal warrior’ we have been using here as our ‘steel man’ version of this argument.

What we’ve shown so far is that almost any serious engagement with historical research rapidly reveals that there is no universal warrior or war experience, but rather an array of different social values, combat experiences and worldviews. They share in common this thing we call ‘war’ (best defined – borrowing from W.E. Lee, Waging War (2016) with one modification, as an “organized group activity, conducted with lethal effects, that diminishes one [unconsenting] group for the benefit of another”), but that thing, ‘war,’ is itself a super-category that includes many different expressions, some of which are not restricted to humans or even primates. But beyond that, significant, often crucial differences abound. War can be a human universal, but the warrior is not, it turns out, because their existence is too greatly shaped by culture, technology and circumstance.

Now I’ve spent three weeks batting down the idea that this notional of a ‘universal warrior’ or a universal warrior ethos as inconsistent with the evidence we have of the past (or even the present). But this notion didn’t proceed from the historical evidence (obviously), it proceeded from a modern ideology. And that is where we are going next week. In a sense these past three weeks have been a giant prologue to my actual goal, which was to discuss the ideology behind this notion of a universal warrior. But first it was necessary to remove the defense that might be mustered of that ideology that it describes something true.

That defense is gone, cleared away by a flood of evidence suggesting that not all warriors or soldiers viewed the world the same and that very few of them seem to have viewed the world in the way that Pressfield (and others of this ideological persuasion) seem to think was universally true.

And so, with the walls cleared of their anachronistic defenses, we may at last assault the citadel. Next week, we ask: what is the ideology behind this idea of a universal warrior…and just what sort of unfortunate baggage is it smuggling in under that (red, they’re always red; why are they always red? Soldiers wore many colors!) soldier’s cloak?

220 thoughts on “Collections: The Universal Warrior, Part IIb: A Soldier’s Lot

  1. I believe it was Robert E. Lee who said; ‘It is well war is so terrible or we would grow too fond of it.’ Another officer commented on ‘- how nice this would all be is not for the violence and killing.’
    Lee may have been thinking of the adrenaline high of combat, but the other was clearly enjoying the camaraderie and freedom from the usual worries of peacetime life. Both men were talking about an extremely destructive and traumatic modern war. Ancient and medieval warriors wouldn’t perceive war as an evil at all. The Christian Church was pushing that view but it was an uphill struggle. Therefore they’d be much more open to the pleasurable aspects and not seen the need for a ‘but-‘ as Lee and the unnamed officer did. Of course losing friends or being wounded was not fun but there was a good chance that that would happen to other guys.

    1. It’s been a while since I read anything on the ACW, but I remember that Lee’s quote is in the context of the Battle of Fredericksburg when the Army of the Potomac charged fruitlessly against a fortified position and got ground up. I had generally interpreted the sentiment as not so much an adrenaline high, but a sort of “it’s too easy” sort of thing, that he’s winning the battle effortlessly and a caution to remember that despite that everything’s going well from the ANV’s perspective, it’s being bought at the cost of thousands of people getting ground to mulch.

        1. I don’t know. While Lee’s enemies did make quite a few exploitable mistakes, Lee often had to scramble like mad to get his army moving fast enough to exploit them. Or march out against forces he knew had much greater numbers, firepower, and supply. And he could not depend on support from the rear areas to the same scale that Union commanders were accustomed to.

          I think even Lee’s most successful campaigns must have been, for Lee himself, like a swan swimming across a lake. From a distance it looks as if the swan is elegantly drifting, with a quality of effortlessness… but if you could see under the water you’d see the swan’s feet churning up a storm to keep things going.

  2. I wonder how this fits in with the higher initiative required by Western-style armies late WWI and beyond?

    Like what was the mindset behind an Imperial Japanese soldier who was expected to sneak into an American or Australian foxhole at night? Must have been absolutely terrifying yet he was isolated from his unit.

    1. I very much doubt that it was just any Japanese man who was expected to infiltrate in the enemy lines, and cause havoc there. In essence, such feats were done by a few men in the platoon, at the most.

      Doing combat patrols in front of you own lines was not considered a really extraordinary mission for a soldier in WWII. For example, Finnish army did not have “reconnaissance” units except the long-range patrols of the high command which did operational-level intelligence gathering. All patrols within ten or twenty kilometer from the front were conducted by normal infantry. The mission would be given to a junior officer or an NCO who would take maybe a squad’s worth of men along. Typically, volunteers. Volunteering for such missions was considered by the soldiers, according to contemporary research on group cohesion, a private hobby that didn’t give a person privileges in relation to usual chores of daily life.

      I wrote this simply to show that we can assume very little about the mindset: most likely, the infiltrator would be selected because he was considered suitable for the job. However, you can’t really assume that the infiltration would be prestigious or considered really different from other duties.

    2. Maybe not only higher initiative but also the fact that survival on the late WW1 / WW2 battlefield is entirely about concealment, so you’re often not visibly supported by the presence of your mates close around you. Swirling around in my mind is a recollection of Bill Slim saying something about the loneliness of the battlefield, but I can’t find my copy of Defeat Into Victory right now to come up with an exact quote.

    3. I’ve just been reading the book “ANZAC” by John Vader – no relation to Darth 🙂 – have got up to the middle of the book, dealing with Greece, North Africa and Papua New Guinea, and of course, Tobruk and the Rats of Tobruk. The Rats of Tobruk had a principle of aggressive defense, roughly: “No-man’s-land belongs to us, our front is the enemy’s wire”. And that was a largely volunteer army. It seems the AIF – as well as the New Zealand battalions – adopted an aggressive response. Read the stories of the defense of Crete.

      In large part I expect it was due to the social differences between the old-style Imperial forces, heavily under the thumb of the commanding officer/s, and the response to that by the new Dominions, particularly in Australia in response to the Breaker Morant case in the Boer War. And likewise, in response to the meatgrinder tactics of WWI.

      1. Some unlinked observations:

        The ANZACs in both wars were noted for aggressive patrolling. So too were the the VC (“the night belongs to Charlie”) and the Red Army (see ‘hunting tongues’ – capturing prisoners for interrogation).

        I wonder if a lot of our view of World War I is not shaped by the exposure of elites who had no social experience of war and combat. The professional soldiers – and the lower ranks – seem to have been much less shocked and appalled (the professionals because they had seen it already; the lower ranks because it was not too different from heavy industrial work – only, as one Welsh miner noted, with better food and pay, more rest and better attention to safety).

        The social distance between officers and men in the C18 can be overstated. There were plenty of gentlemen rankers, and exposure to disease and wounds was shared. We tend to take our view from the Prussian service and the British Guards, but they were at an extreme of emphasis on social hierarchy. In this context it can be noted that the British navy – that most professional and deadly enemy – de-emphasised distance. Not only were officers required have basic seamanship (‘hand, reef and steer’), but the Victualling Board issued the same rations to everyone from admiral to ship’s boy – if the admiral wanted something different to salt pork, dried peas and biscuit he paid for it himself.

    4. Bill Maudlin commented, in Up Front, about the sort of soldier who did that. Most of them were the sort of men who in civilian life were swamp hunters or Mafia bodyguards. (One was an exiled German who purely hated the German army.)

    5. I would note that this is yet another different culture of fighting – indeed, Germans on the Western Front were shocked by British colonial troops’ night trench raids.

      Speaking from second-hand Israeli experience, the greater initiative expected by a post-WW2 army is mostly concentrated at the junior officer or high-ranking NCO level; for most soldiers the experience is described very similarly to WWI.

  3. “Evidently their wounds had done little to chance the overall societies’ low view of them. ”

    Presumably s/chance/change

  4. I do note that losing eyes seems to continue being a thing into early-modern warfare, though presumably from splinters or ricochets rather than actual hits.

    1. Some examples:
      Nelson lost his eye to debris when a bullet hit a sandbag.
      Adrian Carton de Wiart was actually struck by bullets in the head, but luckily he is invincible.

    2. Yeah, many impacts that would break skin but not leave a substantial scar will still permanently damage the eye. And you can’t armor it because it needs to be exposed to function.

        1. Yeah, transparent armor is a thing (also e.g. tanks will sometimes have it on certain places) – it’s just never going to be as effective per weight or volume as something without that constraint.

          1. Just have very narrow vision slits, like (most famously) on pig-faced bascinets. The human brain can reconstruct surprisingly much from just the breaths on the visor.
            Nitpick: since the early Cold War, tanks usually have periscoped vision ports for better protection. The point works perfectly with aircraft canopies.

          1. You mean Aluminium Oxynitride?

            Besides Aluminium isn’t a particularily strong metal, graphene would probably work better.

    3. There is armour available for your face. There are transparent ballistic visors rated IIIA, sufficient against most pistols and shrapnel. I presume normal soldiers don’t get hit in the face by pistols/shrapnel often enough for the visors to be worth it though.

  5. Re Roman public display of wounds (and the general relationship between war and domestic politics): I remember when Ralph Fiennes came out that one of the reviewers (can’t remember which one) said that one of the problems with setting that particular play in the modern era (the film isn’t specific about its setting, but it looks former Yugoslavia-ish in the 90s or 2000s) is how war and politics interact in the Roman Republic. In Rome, valor on the battlefield would generally take place in full view of a lot of people, but the film has a lot of house-to-house small unit combat. So in the film, there is less of an inherent link between war and domestic politics than in the original setting of the play.

  6. I don’t know if this is a typo exactly, but “fortis” is not grammatically parallel with andreia et al., being an adjective while the other words (except the one I don’t know) are nouns.

  7. “modern deracinated post-industrial societies that have (often for good reasons, like liberating individuals) steadily weakened all of the other social bonds”
    Liberation is perhaps a good *effect*, but it wasn’t the reason; the change happened for economic reasons. Threshing machines and other advances shaved off the peak of agricultural labor demand, thus the “excess” labor could move to cities, where new technologies for organizing labor (loosely speaking, the factory system) “for its own purposes” moulded a social organization of interchangeable people, reciprocally allowing people to change jobs, residence, etc., thus enabling people to escape the now-weaker bonds if they wanted to.
    _____________________

    “organized group activity, conducted with lethal effects, that diminishes one [unconsenting] group for the benefit of another” — if this definition is extended beyond humans, then a group of lions hunting antelopes counts as “war”. Some clause about contesting overlapping ecological (or social/economic) niche(s) is necessary. (And a conspiracy to assassinate “few” people not based on name but group membership (by “few” I mean a low fraction of a group’s membership) would still qualify as “war”.)

    1. I admire (and am constantly tempted) the Marxian approach, in which technological changes produces new relations of production which produce new social behaviors and beliefs (aka the superstructure). A nagging doubt always persists, however, that ideological structures have their own logic, e.g., that Christianity was not simply a product of widespread commerce and increased urbanization in the Roman era, and that Christianity had some effect on the social structures of post-Roman Europe.

      1. The more sophisticated Marxians would share your perception. Engels in particular takes the view that means of production are a constraint, not a determinant, and that social forces have their own logic.

        1. This sounds more sensible to me. I always get the feeling bringing everything back to material and technological issues is a bit of a modern bias. Like looking at those kings and knights and peasants who left for the Crusades and going “naaah, they couldn’t POSSIBLY actually be motivated by some whacky religious belief to do that, must have all been about money, same as us” because we can not understand them. I mean, sure, money was ALSO a part of it (see the sack of Constantinople), but it’s hard to believe it alone explains the whole shebang from inception to end, even the most counterproductive and stupidly masochistic episodes.

          1. Most knights went back home after completing their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, instead of getting themselves new holdings to rule over. Since land was the main source of wealth, this suggests that material gain wasn’t uppermost on most participants’ minds.

            (Plus, of course, crusading was hugely expensive, so only people who were already rich or their associates could generally participate.)

          2. You could argue there was also a prestige component to it – you’d look braver and more virtuous to your peers – but there are limits to how much that can justify as well. And after all, does everyone who today goes to volunteer for a humanitarian cause in some far away, dangerous country, or to join with some local band of freedom fighters, pursue personal wealth? Though to us it may seem weird that a conquest war might be seen as a good thing, that’s how they thought of it.

          3. Though to us it may seem weird that a conquest war might be seen as a good thing, that’s how they thought of it.

            I’d argue that the closest modern analogy would be wars to spread an ideology rather than wars of conquest, since the crusaders were generally fighting to win (back) lands for Christendom rather than for their king or themselves. (The Spanish and Baltic crusades had more of a conquest element, of course.) And we do still generally think of ideological wars as good things, provided that we think the ideology being fought for is a good thing. The American Civil War and WW2 are both generally regarded as good things, for example, as was the war in Iraq until it started to go pear-shaped. And of course, “plucky gang of rebels fighting to bring democracy and freedom to the evil empire/fascist dictatorship” is a standard movie set-up because it can safely be assumed that most of the audience will support the rebels.

          4. Sure, yes, that’s a good comparison. I guess the strange thing to us is that it was a war to liberate mostly *a land* rather than *a people*. But in those times it wasn’t an odd thought.

          5. Response to another comment:
            “Sure, yes, that’s a good comparison. I guess the strange thing to us is that it was a war to liberate mostly *a land* rather than *a people*. But in those times it wasn’t an odd thought.”

            Nor was it that different. People lived on the land and rarely moved, so liberating a land also meant liberating people. Plus, in the context of Crusades, land itself had symbolic value (Holy Land).

          6. I believe many crusaders did get land out of the deal: they didn’t hand the liberated country back to the Roman Empire in Byzantium. As a side note, they hung onto the Kingdom of Jerusalem for eighty years: a respectable length of time as medieval kingdoms go.

          7. I believe many crusaders did get land out of the deal: they didn’t hand the liberated country back to the Roman Empire in Byzantium.

            Some got land; most returned home after the crusade was over. This was even more the case with subsequent crusades.

            As a side note, they hung onto the Kingdom of Jerusalem for eighty years: a respectable length of time as medieval kingdoms go.

            Kingdom of England: 780 years (927-1701)
            Kingdom of Scotland: 864 years (843-1707)
            Kingdom of France: 805 years (987-1792)
            Holy Roman Empire: 844 years (962-1806)
            Kingdom of Portugal: 771 years (1139-1910)
            Kingdom of Sicily: 686 years (1130-1816)

            Etc.

      2. Thank you, but I don’t think of this as a “Marxian” approach (or of myself as a Marxist). If you haven’t yet done so, I recommend that you read the Lonely City posts and/or the recent Dothraki series of our host. The objective (culturally-independent) facts of the economic system (or the subsistence system, when 80-90% of people are engaged in food production), and culture-independent math (game theory) allows prediction of some things about culture.

        “Even if these particular Dothraki didn’t care for weddings […] their chance to flaunt their most expensive bits of clothing […] to demonstrate his own wealth and in doing so both his military success and his ability to provide gifts and status for his supporters […] demonstrate not only trade contacts but also often that the leader has useful ties to foreign leaders […] in short, the sort of leader who can reward faithful warriors richly. […] So even if not one of Drogo’s men cares about their personal appearance at all, it is still politically important for them to dress for success.”

        In a topsy-turvy way, it can even be predicted *whether* culture has its logic!

        Digression: I want to make a distinction between “believe” and “take for granted”. I prefer “believe” for a case where people can describe some alternatives that they *don’t* believe. In other words, that they can doubt whether the thing they believe is true, because they can imagine that the world could be otherwise — and thus they have reasons they can tell you why they think that the proposition they believe is true. By contrast, “take for granted” is when something seems “obvious” but people have no explainable justification for it.

        As repeatedly emphasized in the Practical Polytheism series, ancient religions weren’t backed by theory, and “religion” wasn’t distinct from other areas of life, being learned in the same way as e.g. how to farm (learning by imitation the result of generations’ trial-and-error). With the rise of empires and the intermixing of people with different cultures, this stopped being sufficient, and people wanted to justify their culture. An excellent article I very much recommend: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/08/a-theory-of-religion/

        I’m more wary about describing further changes in the character of religions. The Protestant Reformation turned up mentalism to 11, e.g. the emphasis on “sola fide” (“solely by faith”), meaning that it isn’t the actions and rituals that earn salvation, but beliefs inside your head. Before that, Christianity was much more balanced (and polytheisms cared only about rituals).

        However, people *still* didn’t make a distinction between “religious” (or “spiritual”) belief and beliefs-about-the-physical-world. The early archaeologists who tried to find Noah’s Ark and other biblical things didn’t think they were wasting their time. (Inspired partly because Schliemann did find Troy and the geography around it does correspond to the description in the Iliad.) And they did find something, e.g. Egyptian “the Pharaoh is great” inscriptions saying that at the supposed time of the Exodus, Egypt ruled over most of the Canaan. Oops. It was mostly in this period of Science explaining (often “explaining away”) religious claims that people split religion off into its bubble (“non-disprovable”, “separate magisterium”). (And Science was finally creating a theoretical backing for practical knowledge.)
        _____________________________________________

        However, this shouldn’t be taken to the point of “technological determinism”. To begin with the petty: visual styles with no impact on function are completely unconstrained by practicality. Archaeologists can track to some extent the prehistoric movement of peoples because each group made pottery in somewhat different shapes and with different patterns of decoration. E.g. guess what the Bell Beaker culture is named after.

        More controversially, technological advances don’t happen independently of culture, driven by a purely internal logic of science and economics. The decision about what R&D to fund (even if the context is some craftsman-tinkerer who ends up inventing the flying shuttle or the spinning jenny) depends on not just the point of view of the person making the decision, but also on who gets to decide what to fund. Social structure can also, in some cases, throw technological developments away if it doesn’t suit the interests of those in power (e.g. from the “bread, how did they make it” part III: “… became illegal to mill grain anywhere else and millers were sometimes empowered by local political authorities to destroy the millstones of any illegal mills that challenged the lord’s monopoly”). By the way, the same could happen with religious beliefs: Catharism was evidently quite successful at convincing already-Christian people to convert to it, until the Church set up the Inquisition (that’s where it comes from) and asked the broader French nobility to please mount the Albigensian Crusade. (Supposedly the Papal legate Arnaud Amalric said at the siege of Beziers, when asked how to distinguish Catholics and Cathars, “Kill them all! God will know his own”.)

        1. The story of the papal legate is not recorded in any contemporary history — and there were such histories.

          Indeed, no one claimed it was said until a century later.

    2. Having read The Origins of Political Order, The Weirdest People in the World*, and so on, I should point out that many would say that most societies have been built of extended kinship structures – clans and suchlike. And that one – possibly deliberate – consequence of the battery of Christian marriage laws was to destroy these structures (especially in the areas long influenced by the Church and cut off from more normal parts of the world). This left a bunch of scattered nuclear families left to rebuild civilization on a quite different basis. Consequently, it is not obvious that the average Englishman (for example) is any more individualistic now than in 1820. Or 1620.

      *The joke in this title being that, psychologically and anthropologically speaking, the weirdest people in the world are Westerners.

      1. As a matter of fact, I would like to note that the “Christian” marriage law you mention is not really Christian. The Catholic Church adopted the marriage law of late Roman empire almost completely. The only clearly Christian effect was banning divorce amd adding the priest in the celebration. Otherwise, the “Christian” marriage is very much the same as in fourth century Rome: a private affair between two consenting individuals, witnessed by at least two persons. This was a concept born in an urban, commercial society.

        On the other hand, getting this concept to become the secular law in Northern Europe was not easy. In the old Norse law, it was the ceremonial bedding of the married pair that was the actual legal celebration of the marriage. The church wedding was only a blessing without specific legal validity. Even in the 16th century, Swedish reformers only recommended that “marriages celebrated without a priest tend to become quarrelsome”, and the use of a priest became a legal requirement for the validity of marriage only in 1734.

        1. The theory is that medieval Christian prohibitions on cousin marriage, which have neither Roman nor patristic nor Jewish foundations, prevented clan-based agglomerations of property and clan-based social structures.

        2. The strong Christian objection to divorce is a good illustration of the independent logic of culture. Jewish, Roman and Greek cultures all had divorce – skewed in favour of men, but still there. Jesus’ unusually strict views on the matter (‘those whom God has joined, let no man put asunder’) came into the church, and then into the wider culture (slowly), with considerable consequences for the politics of Europe – cf Henry VIII.

        1. I think the point was (quote from Wikipedia “Consanguinity”):
          “After 1215, the general rule was that while fourth cousins could marry without dispensation” — standing in marked contrast to many other parts of the world (and Europe at other times), where MBD first-cousin marriage was common.

      2. The problem here is that the Western European Family pattern doesen’t map neatly religiously: There are bits of catholic europe that don’t have it, and bits of orthodox europe that does. (and large sections of eastern europe that does not, so it can’t be a broader christian influence either)

  8. The anecdote about Marcus Servilius amuses me quite a bit — I didn’t know until today that there was historical precedent for Forrest Gump showing his butt to LBJ.

  9. Professor Devereux:
    ‘…Apparent PTSD symptoms are very rare in ancient or medieval literature and where they do appear they are often confined to specific and unusual types of wars (civil wars, for instance, in the Roman context. All of the medieval European examples of PTSD-like symptoms I have seen come in the context of crusading)….’
    On a mischievous note, you and some of your regular commenters went the other way on iron mines, I seem to recall, a couple of months ago, where rarity of mention in texts was evidence of how common they in fact were…

    😉

    1. You will need to be more specific. Where exactly did I argue something was common *because* it was rare in the sources?

      Note that this is rather different from noting something is rarely mentioned in the sources but known to be common because, for instance, it appears frequently in the archaeological record.

      1. This from George which you were happy enough with not to query or challenge at the time:

        *******

        George

        September 19, 2020 at 11:26 am

        It looks like the more ubiquitous a practice was the less likely it was to be recorded or even really mentioned, I guess like farming Iron Mining was so common it just faded into the background as a fact of life.
        It’s assumed the reader already understands the practice (or that they think they do) that it would be redundent to bring it up.
        Makes you wonder if any modern system will end up being forgotten entirely because of how foundational it is to society.

        *******

        The scarcity of mentions in records is proof that something was so common that nobody mentioned it!

        You had a good deal of gentle fun at my expense then! 😀

        Anyway, have a good day.

        1. So, 1) I don’t feel the need to respond to every comment, even when they are wrong (although I am not sure this one is – ancient sources tend to be more interested in discussing rare or unusual activities than common, well-understood ones).

          But 2) arguing from silence is not the same thing as recognizing that our sources are more interested in talking about some things than others. There is a reason, when talking about combat trauma in the ancient world, I am quick to point out that our sources are interested in talking about it, treating the occasional event as marvelous and being very interested in talking about other kinds of combat wounds.

          But more broadly, I am not arguing that mining was common because the sources never talk about it. I argue that mining was common because iron mines are archaeologically visible and we find a lot of them. And also because iron objects are archaeologically visible and we find a lot of them and we can extrapolate the necessary mining required to produce them. In short, the commonness of iron mining is established via archaeology and necessary extrapolation from the objects we know these societies to have produced in quantity, not from the relative silence of the sources. You have the argument and its evidence backwards.

        2. Not trying to speak for our host, but it seems to me like there’s a difference between taking something we know for other reasons was common (like iron mining) and then asking why it isn’t common in text, and taking the absence in text as evidence for commonality.

          Like, contemporary novels don’t bother explaining what a computer or cell phone is, or even telling you that characters have them unless it’s directly important to the story. If you’re a future archaeologist digging up the ruins of 21st century America you’re gonna find a lot of cell phones, and the explanation for why they don’t appear more in our writing is going to be that we took them for granted. But that doesn’t mean you can say they must also have been common in regency England because Jane Austen didn’t write about them either.

          In sci-fi, Gene Wolfe handles this really, really well. We always see his worlds through the point of view of the characters. The reader has to puzzle out what’s going unsaid because the characters either take it for granted or misunderstand it themselves.

          Also while I’m thinking about Wolfe, check out the “Latro” series. I’ve been reading it lately and it’s a ton of fun. I think this crowd would really enjoy it. It’s historical fiction from the point of view of a Latin mercenary in Xerxes’ army. Wolfe makes a few irritating mistakes (like he has Latro translate hoplon as “shield” and hoplite as “shieldbearer”), but he’s notable for having *zero* illusions about the Spartans.

          1. IIRC the translator into English(*) comments in the introduction that Latro frequently misunderstands the etymology when he chooses how to translate his terms. (* fictional.)

          2. Hoplon does mean shield, at least in Attic, although it can also mean arms generally. And a hoplite is a man who carries a shield, although the English word shieldbearer normally refers to one who carries the shield of another (i.e., a squire), whereas the hoplite carries the shield in battle.

          3. Looks like there’s a max depth for replies so I’ll put this here,

            @ey81: Good catch, thanks! I recalled aspis for the shield and hopla for the whole getup, but looks like you’re right.

  10. But pre-gunpowder weapons aren’t that lethal,

    All pre-gunpowder weapons were necessarily pre-antibiotics. Any old wound could easily be lethal.

    1. “All pre-gunpowder weapons were necessarily pre-antibiotics. Any old wound could easily be lethal.”
      Sure. But that provides no reasoning or evidence that wounds from pre-antibiotic gunpowder weapons were not far more frequently lethal than those from pre-antibiotic edged weapons. Whereas we have a source given in the blog post for the exact opposite. So what are you trying to say here?

      (I notice this a lot in your comments on this Blog, Mary: they’re short, provide no evidence, and often even no argument, just vague disagreement. An uncharitable interpretation might be that you’re trying to troll, rather than participate in productive discussion. Perhaps for your next few comments you could spend time time working out your argument in detail, and considering and addressing the objections to it, as well as including references for any supposed facts you post. That might work out better for all of us here.)

    2. There are multiple famous Romans who tried to commit suicide with their sword and survived for several hours even if they eventually succumbed to the wound (Marc Anthony, Cato the Younger, etc.). This type of outcome is very rare with firearms.

      On a different note, many cultures did have some rudimentary ways to disinfect wounds. Alcohol (even if not of particularly high concentration, because distilling hasn’t been invented yet), or failing that, even human urine has mild antiseptic properties. In extremis, scalding or hot-iron branding the inside of the wound would also cauterize it. (But note that wounds to the arms or legs, not reaching the chest or abdominal cavity, tend bleed outward and thus have some tendency to clear themselves of foreign particles.) Cover it with a bandage boiled in water, and voila, you have a passable chance of not dying from infection.
      And many cultures, including the Romans, had discovered markedly better ways, too.

    3. It tends to be a bit overstated. Humans are actually pretty resilient and while infections happen, they aren’t exactly inevitable even with relatively minimal cleaning, and the outcomes get dramatically better even with rudimentary forms of sanitation. And as mentioned sanitation didn’t improve until far after gunpowder and their increased lethality (and it should be noted, tendency to lodge bits of metal and other contaminants inside the body)

      1. It should be noted that among the animal kingdom, humans are unusually resilient when compared with similarly sized animals. The enhanced ability for a human to positively contribute to the survival of their genes through imparted knowledge sets up an evolutionary benefit for healing from even crippling wounds. Hence, we tend to heal better (or at least faster, there’s evidence we heal less completely and with more scar tissue) than other similar sized animals.

    4. If we assume an equal lethality rate from infection from skin-piercing wounds, then what we’re left with are the survivors of those wounds. Survivors of pre-gunpowder weapons having cool scars to show off for political purposes, and survivors of gunpowder weapons being so badly maimed that social support laws had to be passed due to their plight.

        1. I think that hydrostatic shock is involved. The relatively slow velocity of non-gunpowder projectile or human-powered edge weapons means that the damage is confined to the actual wound itself. A high-velocity projectile like a bullet uses the body’s own fluids to create extensive damage away from the entry point. And that’s not even including the shatter damage when the bullet strikes bone.

          Bottom line; it’s largely velocity that makes the difference, and gunpowder creates a LOT of velocity.

          1. Hydrostatic shock doesn’t seem to be a significant damaging factor for bullet wounds. It’s not exactly a “settled” question but it seems that evidence for lack of evidence (if you forgive me) is reasonably strong. What’s more important, all black powder weapons and smoothbores especially are firing very low velocity projectiles by the modern standard. If I remember correctly fastest flight arrows and slowest “standard” charges for muskets would overlap in velocity (so yes, there is an obvious increase between an average and an average, but not that great). So hydrostatic effects will be very small even if they do contribute.

            Actual factors contibuting to the increase in lethality would be a) increase in projectile energy regardless of velocity (if you load a firearm with a heavy bolt which Chinese seem to do early on projectile may be no faster than an arrow but with significantly greater penetration because it’s heavier) b) increase in infections since bullets are often dragging debris into wounds, and those wounds being somewhat harder to clean than arrow wounds because flesh is crushed, not parted by a sharp point.

      1. If you want to get really pedantic, I think it was well into the 19th Century that battlefield wounds overcame “camp fever” and other end- and epi-demic disease as killers of soldiers.

  11. Not sure I’m convince by your argument Brett. I may have failed to understand all the twists and turns that underpin it.

    I’m left pondering the question that this sentence raises; “War can be a human universal, but the warrior is not, it turns out, because their existence is too greatly shaped by culture, technology and circumstance.”

    Surely if war is a human universal, then warriors (as in soldiers that fight in said war) are universal to the human condition, purely on the basis that some people are more predisposed to fight than others (an expression of genotype).

    And again, the diagnosis of PTSD is/was relatively rare because the majority 90+% of those who suffer trauma will never develop full-blown PTSD. The fact that we have more soldiers who do is arguably linked to increased survival rates by the simple metric that those who are most likely to develop PTSD are those who have undergone the most severe trauma and survived to live the tale, which prior to antibiotics was less than certain.

    PTSD is a numbers game: not many people get it, and arguably in the past those that did wouldn’t survive prior to modern medicine. This is why I would argue that psychiatric casualties of war will increase as the number of dead decreases (though I will add terms and conditions apply, and errors and omissions excepted, because my assumptions are base on modern technological military with access to the best medical support available).

    1. As it was said in the first part of this: warriors and soldiers are not the same class of people; the status, methods and experiences of a person who goes to war (warrior or soldier) varies so greatly over time that there is nothing beyond “may be in danger of being killed, while maybe killing others” that unites them (you don’t actually have to be blooded to still be considered a soldier, so not even the killing part is necessary). The point is, the definition of universal warrior is excessively broad to the point of uselessness when taken into historical context.

    2. “War can be a human universal, but the warrior is not, it turns out, because their existence is too greatly shaped by culture, technology and circumstance.”

      On the face of it, the idea seems to be that war can be a human universal because all wars have some points in common, although they all have their differences; but warriors can not be a human universal, although all warriors have some points in common, because they all have their differences.

      This seems a silly thing to argue about. Some generalisations must be true about “Warriors”, or we could not recognise them as “Warriors” in the first place. Pressfields generalisations may be wrong, but the only way to know is to consider the ones he chooses to make.

      1. That has been a recurring problem throughout this series, and the comments it has inspired. The discussion tends (when it doesn’t turn into political wrangling) to devolve into debate about the existence of universals, an ontological question which has been the subject of philosophical dispute for several millennia, and is unlikely to be resolved in comments to a military history blog. Prof. Devereux’s discussions of various military systems and experiences are fascinating, but they can never disprove the existence of some underlying universal realities.

          1. I mean.

            I’m pretty sure Dr. Devereaux *DID* say that. Throughout the series he’s said “Pressfield makes these generalizations,” and he’s been refuting these generalizations. The structure of the article is sometimes a bit more complicated than that, but the argument is very much present throughout.

        1. Yeah, but if you read over the series here, the critical claim isn’t “there is literally no such thing as a universal.” The existence of a definition of ‘war’ implies that *something* must be universal, if only the part where “systematic violence by one group against another group” is a recurring pattern.

          But what Dr. Devereaux is trying to prove isn’t “there is no such thing as a universal.”

          It’s “whatever universal elements of ‘being a fighter in a war’ exist, these elements are so heavily altered and reinterpreted through the lens of different cultures, different technology, and different systems for warfighting that they don’t ‘cash out’ into there being a single recurring pattern of ‘HOW to be a fighter in a war.’ All the traits that are adaptive and common in the systems of warfighting we’re now familiar with, were maladaptive and rare in many other times and places, and vice versa. And many of the things we think of as universal elements of ‘soldiering’ are in fact the result of the rise of industrialized conscript armies, and do not resemble the experiences of irregular fighters elsewhere in the world, or of fighters in the history of the same countries that created those conscript armies.”

          Not “there are no universal realities,” but “there are NOT ENOUGH universal realities to fully ‘nail down’ a single One True Pattern that is universally created in response to those realities.”

          It’s sort of like how there is no one Universal Shirt. Certain things about the design of shirts are universal- they have to fit on a bipedal organism, and cover most or all of the torso. But within that variation are a whole lot of different kinds of shirts and ‘shirt-like’ things, and almost any statement you can make about shirts beyond the basic “their function is to cover the upper body in some way” breaks down sooner or later.

          1. So far we have a claim that in some cultures warriors are expected to courageously raid the enemy, and in other cultures, they are expected to courageously hold the line against the enemy. But they are always expected to courageously fight the enemy. And that in some cultures warriors are loyal to each other because they have pre-existing social bonds, and in other cultures they are loyal to each other because the army has created artificial social bonds. But they are still loyal to each other because they have social bonds with each other.

            So in all cultures, warriors are expected to be loyal to each other as a consequence of some kind of social bond, and to courageously fight the enemy.

            So we have a series that declares that you should not make generalisations about warriors, whilst appearing to demonstrate that the most important generalisations people make about them are true.
            All may become clear after the last part of this series. But for the moment I fail to see the point of the argument. All it has done is show that there are some differences between warriors in different wars. I should think everyone knew that already.

            And we certainly have a single recurring pattern of “HOW to be a fighter in a war”. It is to be loyal to the comrades you are bonded to, for whatever reason, and to courageously fight the enemy.

          2. Everything is a universal if you define it broadly enough. All definitions are to some extent arbitrary. The question is whether the broad definition is useful.
            War for example is defined by the OED largely in terms of states and nations. That limits it to social organisations that have sufficient structure to formally declare war and to mobilise troops. Now, I think our host would say that broadening the definition to first system conflict between non-state societies is useful, partly because he’s interested in conflicts between states and non-state societies, and partly because comparison with what non-state societies do is enlightening, precisely because it highlights that many aspects of ‘war’ are contingent and don’t have to be done that way. (No doubt I’ve missed reasons or misunderstood reasons.)

            On the other hand, the argument so far has been that in ‘be loyal to your comrades’ and ‘courageously fight the enemy’ the concepts of ‘courageously fight’ and ‘loyal’ and ‘comrades’ have either been expanded to the point that they’re either truisms saying little of substance, or else that they’re too narrow and importing inaccurate assumptions.
            So for example armies organised around heavy infantry units holding ground or around elite heavy cavalry tend to call military forces that engage in hit and run tactics cowardly and not courageous, because the habits of mind and risk assessment needed to engage in the preferred tactics of heavy infantry or heavy cavalry are quite different from those needed for hit and run tactics. Now, there is some overlap between the conceptions of courage: I doubt many societies have two virtue terms for control of fear that are felt to conflict with each other. But saying that they both enjoin ‘courageously fighting the enemy’ says little unless you overstate the overlap.
            English has plenty of near synonyms. Imagine we routinely used ‘courage’ and ‘fortitude’ for holding your nerve in the face of fire or the approaching enemy, and not backing down from a fight, and we used ‘boldness’ or ‘bravado’ or ‘daring’ for the qualities of initiative required to pull off risky hit and run manoeuvres. At that point, the idea that there’s something in common between the two fighting styles seems to disappear as a puff of linguistic imprecision.

    3. Well, let’s see:
      1) Warriors are not the only people who ‘do war’ as the first post points out. The human urge to fight may be a human universal, but apparently very little else about war is and there is no consistent set of warrior values or a warrior experience.
      2) “increased survival rates” – both you and Mary are making a lot of assumptions about combat survival rates in the absence of any actual hard data and those assumptions are wrong, especially for pre-gunpowder warfare. The ‘scarred veteran’ was a trope for a reason – lots of wounds delivered to armored bodies with swords or spears or arrows are survivable. The wounds that are most at risk of infection are deep puncture wounds (though even these wounds aren’t a death sentence) and so part of the change in lethality in war with gunpowder is that the advent of guns means that nearly all wounds are the maximum-risk-deep-puncture wounds because it is the only kind of wound a firearm deals. The WIA typically outnumbered the KIA, often by several times over, even in pre-modern warfare.
      3) PTSD is utterly unrelated to any kind of physical wound or trauma. It even manifests in soldiers who haven’t been in combat. You do not have to be hit, or wounded, to get PTSD. PTSD is a response to mental trauma, not physical trauma. So in theory every solider in an ancient hoplite army would be candidate for getting PTSD, given the mental trauma of the fear of battle and the act of fighting and potentially killing, even though fewer might be wounded.

      1. You may well be right about points one and two. However, point three you have misunderstood my argument.

        The research done by clinicians who treat PTSD (I was one of those clinicians) shows that very few people go on to develop PTSD after a trauma event. So much so that one has to ask why is that?

        I argued, probably incorrectly, that the only way I could understand that was that people who suffered the sorts of trauma that would have grown into PTSD probably died. You are correct that this is an assumption.

        So if not death, then what accounts for the lack of PTSD in past conflicts?

        It could be that PTSD is a modern construct of post-modernist thought affecting medical diagnosis. No, I’m not being serious, but it’s an argument. Or conversely, something about wars fought by modern, technological societies is a factor? Or, perhaps a combination of technology, society, and knowledge in learning (modern militaries base their training on learning theories) is at the root of the increase of PTSD diagnosis.

        I will however, stand by my prediction that future conflict will produce more psychiatric casualties, perhaps even more than physical casualties as warfare becomes remotely driven conflict.

        Yours sincerely…

  12. The line about Native North American warriors melting away instead of standing and fighting a European army was striking, because it exactly matches the mythology of the colonial army in the American Revolution that I was taught in school.

      1. A Gurkha to John Masters, while they are outnumbered and pinned down by the Japanese in a jungle somewhere in Burma in 1944: “we’d be in real trouble now if we were fighting Pathans”

    1. That was explicit in the version of colonial mythology that I got. George Washington fought for the British in the French and Indian War, and saw how well the Native American tactics worked against the standard British tactics. So when it was his turn to fight against the same British tactics, he adopted the Native American tactics that had worked in the past, and they continued to work, because the British Army was apparently slower to learn. *inserts tongue in cheek* A classic tale of American ingenuity, where brave and clever colonists adapted to the environment of their new home in ways that the stodgy, traditionalist British could never bring themselves to do. Proof positive that Americans were a new nation, separate from the British, and deserving of independence. 😉

      1. I’m not particularily well versed in gunpowder warfare but didn’t both sides use skirmish tactics with their light infantry? And both sides also fought in pitched battles.

        The biggest problem was support, a large portion of british politcians had sympathies to the americans and so were only willing to give limited support to the army sent against the americans.

        1. I’m not particularily well versed in gunpowder warfare but didn’t both sides use skirmish tactics with their light infantry? And both sides also fought in pitched battles.

          Yes, the British had learnt the value of skirmishing in the Seven Years’ War.

      2. Washington actually tried reslly hard to create a regular, proffesional army. He finally got it and won the war, but he had to be silent about how hard it was. The colonies refused to levy high taxes, punish colonists who would not re-enlist or allow officers to punish soldiers. The american troops were a collection of militias even in the same colony. They had to be mobilized and commanded by persuasion and not coercion. They were tribal by birth and were professionalized by education

        1. General von Steuben wrote ‘I tell a German soldier what to do and he does it. I must explain why he should do it to an American soldier and then he does it!

  13. Far as I remember, the “war, war never changes” quote was a part of an introduction, to explain why the world is a nuclear wasteland. Since evil AI was already taken by Wasteland, the reason that Fallout gave for nuclear war was a plain old conflict over resources, and the quote appeared with the reasoning that it is mostly ever the same even if justifications differ. That would have been all, but the game sold well, and the following games turned it into a catchphrase with most of them dropping once in the beginning and then forgetting about it. (I’m inclined to say only New Vegas had a plot that lived up to it.)

  14. Yes, but it was cowardly when the Indians did it against the colonials, and The Modern Way of War when the colonials did it against the British!

    I suppose it would also be what the light cavalry did in every army in Europe.

  15. “In short, the singularity of those bonds is by no means historically universal, but in many societies would have instead been paired with equally strong and demanding bonds based on family, clan, neighborhood, village or patronage – merely one thread in a web of many threads.”

    This is a thought provoking statement. It implies that in “many” societies, people outside the army (if there is a well-defined army) have strong bonds with each other, comparable in strength to those that might hold a force together in battle. And also that in our society, such bonds are rare, outside the military. AFAIK, both implications are true.

    So in at least one manner, modern soldiers today are more like people in the past, in that they are strongly bonded with each other, than modern civilians, who are not. So modern soldiers are timeless, in the sense that they are a lot more like their predecessors, in an emotionally important manner, than carpenters, textile workers, or other civilians.

    1. True enough. Heavy industry is an exception – people working in groups with machines bond very tightly.

        1. Probably – but they will go to insane lengths to save their machines. They are united in service to the engine/ship/locomotive/gun…

  16. With reference to the point early on about the American/Western way of training and indoctrinating troops: does anyone know if there’s good literature on the relative performance of the American proxy armies in their various wars of the last 60 years and their local opponents? My vague impression is that the American style proxies frequently get beaten despite their superior numbers and better equipment and support, and have bad unit cohesion (the South Vietnamese ARVN is the most famous example, but the classic campaign is perhaps the way a few thousand ISIS overran entire US-trained Iraqi divisions a few years back). Could this be linked to this notion that applying an culturally inappropriate method of army building doesn’t work well? Presumably this has been studied quite extensively given it lies at the root of the American inability to definitively win wars recently?

    1. There is an essay from an American officer giving his perspective from the 1990s on “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” but I think most people’s diagnosis of the problems with the ANA and Iraqi army are massive corruption of a kind which Thucydides slyly alluded to (Manning 2021 pp. 201, 202). If the people in charge of the army are more interested in making money selling supplies or collecting pay for vanished soldiers than in building an effective fighting force, that force won’t be effective. Take the same recruits and put them in a better organized army that has some basic regard for their well-being, and they will be good soldiers!

      de Atkine, Norvell B. (1999) “Why Arabs Lose Wars.” Middle East Quarterly 6.4 http://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars

      1. OK, I kind of buy that, but then how come the Americans so reliably create officer corps that prefer selling the weapons to fighting the enemy.? I mean, this happens (or seems to) *every time*!

        1. It may be situational.

          The US isn’t coming into countries that started out “normal,” then needed help figuring out how to Fight Good so they could defend themselves. The US is trying to train armies countries where, for whatever reason, the political situation is already in disarray and the country’s population isn’t entirely sure they want to BE part of the country as it now exists. This situation may or may not be the US’s own doing (it depends on the situation), but it’s a recurring theme.

          See, Dr. Devereaux talks about how cohesion, not ideology or nationalism, keeps individual soldiers fighting within the army during a battle. And I’m quite sure that’s true, but I suspect that when you ‘zoom out’ from the actual battle things get more complicated. The officer corps’ motivation to keep *leading* the army relies in part on whether the officer corps is more loyal to the country (or the ideological movement) than to themselves.

          If the officer corps doesn’t feel any particularly strong nationalism, patriotism, or ideological commitment to their very artificial propped-up country, then the army’s leadership falls apart. A lack of executive direction makes it far easier for things like corruption to settle into place, either by the officers themselves or tolerated by it. And since the officers in a Western-style army are, *UNLIKE* their men, not part of a tightly integrated social system… Well, if they start to crack under the stress of battle, they lead the whole army into rout along with them.

          The US rarely finds itself trying to create and train an army in a nation-state that has not somehow failed or been crushed by invasion, and so the products of the military training are often not so good…

        2. I’m sure you’ve seen commentary on this blog about how every military is, by necessity, a reflection on and extension of the society that creates it

          It might be uncharitable to say that most American-“created” officer corps are an extension of an unstable colonialist puppet state propped up by a lot of half-measures, under stress by the previous low-effort fixes, and peopled by the desperate and the opportunistic.

          But if, however uncharitable, it isn’t inaccurate, it might go a way to explaining the issues.

          1. I think that’s at least partially correct. There were some voices elsewhere in this thread asking what was the point of the kind of analysis that Bret has bene doing here (what is a warrior? What is a soldier? What makes them fight? How does that relate back to their society, and their place in their society?) And it seems to me that it’s *completely* relevant, and the inability to answer these kind of questions in a profound way which has led to defeat after defeat for the most technically proficient army the world has ever seen. As mentioned elsewhere in this part of the thread, earlier European colonial powers seem to have been a bit more savvy about trying to tap into local social trends and role expectations in developing native armed forces, but the US seems to have been focused on the technical aspects of creating a fighting force (such as marksmanship or air support co-ordination), forgetting that the most basic attribute of a soldier is not technical skill but a willingness to fight. And yes, of course it’s tricky getting someone to basically to fight for a foreign country. But there are ways round that. You could make it more explicit and up front (some kind of Foreign Legion). You could develop a clearer ideological agenda and focus on recruiting your officer and NCO corps from people who support that. Presumably some of these things have been tried (I know that one that has worked somewhat is creating self-consciously ‘elite’ forces within the wider army). But when I used to follow this a decade ago I was struck to which the Americans reduced everything to numbers gone through infantry training, and percentage of battalions capable of directing air support, and very little was mentioned about what exactly was going to motivate these men to fight.

    2. This is complicated, not least because the American Way of War is mainly focused on destroying peer opponents, i.e., similar formed mechanised armies – in a lot of ways, the Soviet Army of the Cold War is more similar to the US military than something like the VC or DAESH. Hence the relative ease with which US forces shattered the Iraqi Army, built on the Soviet model, twice, only to struggle trying to defeat the Iraqi insurgency.

      Also complicated by the plethora of cases – both the US and the USSR (or PRC, especially after the two parties ways) provided some sort of support for basically every one of the new countries that formed out of the colonial empires of Europe, or for insurgents trying to overthrow the immediate post-colonial order. Each of which produced specific outcomes at least as dependent on specific local circumstances as they were dependent on foreign support. Especially since that support often. did not come through the military, but through CIA, and sometimes the Special Forces, neither of which were as wedded to the “main force” military’s idea of what an army ought to be like.

      If anything, the failure of the ARVN and Iraqi suggests that cohesion is *partially* dependent on officer-enlisted relations, and possibly enlisted investment in the realm they are fighting for – the Italians in WWII were likewise noted for their unwillingness to fight as hard as they might, and at least anecdotally blamed their officers, who supposedly did not share the hardships of their men.

      1. Just for clarity, the question is not about the performance of US units in these conflicts which has been very extensively discussed. However the defeat of US political objectives in these conflicts has usually come down to the inability of their proxies to hold their ground despite huge recruitment and investment. I’ve seen remarkable little discussion of why that keeps happening, despite it being the Achilles heel of US warmaking for well over half a century (70 years if you include the very variable performance of the South Korean army in the early part of the Korean War)

        1. I thought the basic idea was understood – it’s just plain hard to “hold ground” if enough of the people there don’t want you to be there, without resorting to tactics that, uh, the Romans would have recognized. (Insert obligatory nuance about how it’s spectrums within spectrums, and lots of individual people making lots of individual choices, and how outliers in all directions average out to a vague center, etc.)

          The Union Army faced a similar problem during Reconstruction after the American Civil War. And the And so did the police during the protests in America this past summer, in particular the Seattle CHAZ/CHOP. It’s easy to hold ground if you don’t care how brutal you are, but it’s hard to hold ground while playing by a fixed set of more-or-less civilized rules that your adversaries understand and can work around. See also, the Chinese PLA tanks in Tiananmen square vs. one unarmed man in ordinary clothes. And for a fictional representation, Batman vs. Joker in “The Dark Knight”.

          As for the “defeat of US political objectives”, I’d say the problem is that politicians set those objectives with unrealistic expectations of what can actually be done. Defeating the Iraqi army in a pitched battle is easy for us. Building a functioning democracy is hard. But that’s what we set as our victory condition, and so all the insurgents had to do to “win”, was keep us from succeeding until we gave up. There’s a great quote from a marine in the book “Generation Kill”: “Iraqis don’t really seem good at fighting, but then they never really completely surrender either.”

          1. But that’s where Clausewitz war is an extension of politics comes in: War is always waged for some kind of political purpose, and all the killing and such is in order to achieve that purpose. both selecting the purpose and the means to achieve it in turn requires further political considerations, there is no, and can never be, a “blank space military solution that only focuses on military things”. You always have to take into consideration the political ramifications of your strategy (both internally and externally)

          2. These conflicts make a case that the larger cause is an important factor in military performance. The same Iraqis who did poorly for Saddam turned out and fought long, hard and successfully against ISIS when the cause was their homes and religion in the Shi’a militia pushback. Same in Syria and Lebanon with Hezbollah. The Vietnamese peasants who gave up in the ARVN were resourceful and incredibly persistent opponents in the VC. The Cuban volunteers who beat the South Africans were motivated beyond their opponents (and their allies) and so on.

            Nor is this confined to insurgencies – the Nazis were only able to raise a few divisions from occupied Europe, but whole armies flocked to the Allied cause. A large part of US difficulties is that the vision it presents is simply not attractive to much of the target population.

          3. “The Cuban volunteers who beat the South Africans…”

            An interesting reading of what happened in Angola. The Cuban “volunteers” were nothing of the kind, and on the battlefield the results were…somewhat inconclusive. The South Africans decided they couldn’t sustain the war, but that decision was not the result of being driven from the field in disorder.

          4. It seems to me that the failure of Reconstruction is best attributed to the unwillingness of the United States Army to base its support in the south on the black ex-slave population and to arm and train that population to ultimately take over the military and policing role.

            In Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq there were not large resident populations likely to be supportive of the United States and the US puppet states have been rather too obviously puppets. But the black population in the South was much more robustly supportive of the United States.

      2. As an additional comment. The US tried to build mass armies or their infrastructure from the beginning. This meant that recruits and officers were not properly screened or trained. The colonial forces of european states or Japan were built slowly with attention to loyalty. These forces were small but quite effective. Insurgents usually won after these forces were disbanded after WW2

    3. The answer is motivation and unit cihesion. VC, NK army and Daesh had historical aims to achieve: liberate the country. Officers and soldiers truly believed that and generally could mingle with each other easily. There was also little value for defeat. Peasants and rebels were known to lose frequently so a few defeats were viewed as normal. US raised troops have to fight for some rich guy back home, not very motivating. The officers are part of social elite and are more connected to it than the soldiers. Expectations for victory are high and a single defeat can ruin morale and prestige. SK army did fight very well but had a liberation ethos. The korean society had a reduced elite after the departure of the Japanese.

  17. Bret, once again, I have not read the comments to remove duplicate corrections from this list of typos:
    Caption to screencap from Fallout 4: Fallout 4. As we’re -> Fallout 4). [that is, insert closing paren]
    same pressures, by the well, -> by the way
    argument where by this -> whereby
    and ‘soldiering’ where different -> were different
    minimally supplies flying columns -> supplied
    especially with blows land against -> when(?) blows OR is it blowslanding(?)
    very difference experiences -> different
    this notional of a ‘universal -> notion
    ethos as inconsistent -> is inconsistent

    1. Marshal’s work has its problems → Marshall’s work
      humans tend to bond in conditions of shared adversary → shared adversity

  18. I have been reading Tom Shippey’s remarkable meditation on Tolkien, The Road to Middle-Earth. Shippey reads Bilbo as a kind of half-way figure or even an emissary between ancient and modern. Of course, Tolkien’s scope, and Shippey’s too, is far more restricted than yours: the “ancient” is that pre-Norman society which produced the Old English and Norse poems and sagas; the “modern” is early 20th century England. Still, similar themes surface. Here is a contrast in the meaning of courage:

    Few modern readers of Beowulf, or the Elder Edda, or the Icelandic ‘family sagas’ can escape a certain feeling of inadequacy as they contemplate whole sequences of characters who appear, in a casual and quite lifelike way, not to know what fear is. How would we manage in such a society? … To this self-doubt Bilbo Baggins makes a sober but relatively optimistic response. His style of courage shows up when he is in the dark and alone … when he takes a ‘leap in the dark’ … when he faces the giant spider and kills it ‘all alone .. without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or anyone else’ … as he creeps down the tunnel to his first sight of Smaug.

    Shippey makes much of the anachronism of how ancient and modern values are opposed in the story:

    The solitary conquest of fear: the fierce denial of it. These two conceptions, one modern, one archaic, circle around each other most of the way through The Hobbit. It would be wrong to say they are ever resolved, but they do at least reach climaxes of anachronism and clash of style near the end; first in the death of Smaug, then around the Battle of Five Armies.

    By the death of Smaug, Shippey is referring to the discipline of Bard the Bowman, which he notes is a “much altered word”:

    Its earliest English meaning is ‘flogging’ … Later on the word comes to mean teaching or training, especially military training or drill … In Tolkien’s day the word had come to signify the most prized of all British imperial qualities, a specialised cold-bloodedness and readiness to take punishment which the OED finds itself unable to defined.

    This latter is the discipline of Bard, who urges the Master to “order them to fight to the last arrow.”

    Fighting to the last round is of course the traditional phrase; being a ‘discipline’ concept, it post-dates musketry. But Tolkien has transferred the ethic of Waterloo or Albuera back to ancient days … the phrase ‘hold one’s ground’ is note even recorded by the OED till 1856 …

    By the Battle of Five Armies, Shippey is referring to the highly formal negotiation between Thorin and Bard; as he says, “the laborious legalism of this is straight out of Icelandic saga: one thinks of the hero of The Saga of Hrafnkell ticking off the appropriate compensations for the murders he has committed …” This is juxtaposed with Bilbo’s attempt to solve the impasse of the heroes by the methods of the businessman:

    Bilbo’s behaviour is solidly anachronistic, for he is wearing a jacket, relying on a written contract, drawing a careful distinction between gain and profit, and proposing a compromise which would see Bard’s claim as running expenses (almost tax-deductible) … it is fair to say that no character from epic or saga would even begin to think or talk like Bilbo.

    However, Shippey arrives at a different destination than you:

    What chapter 16 and the scenes around it do most powerfully, perhaps, is to enforce a plea for tolerance across an enormous gap of times and attitudes and ethical styles … throughout The Hobbit there have been scenes where the pretensions of one have been exposed by the other … by the end even the two linguistic styles have become invulnerable to each other’s ironies:

    ‘Good-bye and good luck wherever you fare!’ said Balin at last. ‘If ever you visit us again, when our halls are made fair once more, then the feast shall indeed be splendid!’

    ‘If ever you are passing my way,’ said Bilbo, ‘don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!’

    There is not much in common between the language of these two speakers; nevertheless it is perfectly clear that they are saying the same thing

  19. There are definitely different views of war amongst those who have been part of it, and the contrast between two such and their experiences can be seen with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as expressed in their writing. Lewis was 19 and morally guilted into signing up to do his duty in the First World War, while Tolkien was 23, grimly hung on despite heavy hinting from his relatives until he had completed his degree and married before joining, and hated the experience. You can see within The Lord of the Rings how war and battle are not glorious, even though they can be portrayed as such.

    While Lewis acknowledges the glamour of war or at least the martial spirit in this long extract from “That Hideous Strength”:

    “Down in the kitchen MacPhee sharply drew back his chair so that it grated on the tiled floor like a pencil squeaking on a slate.

    “Man!” he exclaimed, “it’s a shame for us to be sitting here looking at the fire. If the Director hadn’t got a game leg himself, I’ll bet you he’d have found some other way for us to go to work.”

    Camilla’s eyes flashed towards him. “Go on!” she said, “go on!”

    “What do you mean, MacPhee?” said Dimble.

    “He means fighting,” said Camilla.

    “They’d be too many for us, I’m afraid,” said Arthur Denniston.

    “Maybe so!” said MacPhee. “But maybe they’ll be too many for us this way, too. But it would be grand to have one go at them before the end. To tell you the truth, I sometimes feel I don’t greatly care what happens. But I wouldn’t be easy in my grave if I knew they’d won and I’d never had my hands on them. I’d like to be able to say as an old sergeant said to me in the first war, about a bit of a raid we did near Monchy. Our fellows did it all with the butt end, you know. ‘Sir,’ says he, ‘did ever you hear anything like the way their heads cracked?’”

    “I think that’s disgusting,” said Mother Dimble.

    “That part is, I suppose,” said Camilla. “But . . . oh, if one could have a charge in the old style. I don’t mind anything once I’m on a horse.”

    “I can’t understand it,” said Dimble. “I’m not like you, MacPhee. I’m not brave. But I was just thinking as you spoke that I don’t feel afraid of being killed and hurt as I used to do. Not to-night.”

    “We may be, I suppose,” said Jane.

    “As long as we’re all together,” said Mother Dimble. “It might be . . . no, I don’t mean anything heroic . . . it might be a nice way to die.”

    And suddenly all their faces and voices were changed. They were laughing again, but it was a different kind of laughter. Their love for one another became intense. Each, looking on all the rest, thought, “I’m lucky to be here. I could die with these.” But MacPhee was humming to himself:

    “King William said, Be not dismayed, for the loss of one commander.”

    Upstairs it was, at first, much the same. Merlin saw in memory the wintry grass on Badon Hill, the long banner of the Virgin fluttering above the heavy British-Roman cataphracts, the yellow-haired barbarians. He heard the snap of the bows, the click-click of steel points in wooden shields, the cheers, the howling, the ringing of struck mail. He remembered also the evening, fires twinkling along the hill, frost making the gashes smart, starlight on a pool fouled with blood, eagles crowding together in the pale sky. And Ransom, it may be, remembered his long struggle in the caves of Perelandra. But all this passed. Something tonic and lusty and cheerily cold, like a sea-breeze, was coming over them. There was no fear anywhere: the blood inside them flowed as if to a marching-song. They felt themselves taking their places in the ordered rhythm of the universe, side by side with punctual seasons and patterned atoms and the obeying Seraphim. Under the immense weight of their obedience their wills stood up straight and untiring like caryatides. Eased of all fickleness and all protestings they stood; gay, light, nimble, and alert. They had outlived all anxieties; care was a word without meaning. To live was to share without effort this processional romp. Ransom knew, as a man knows when he touches iron, the clear, taut splendour of that celestial spirit who now flashed between them: vigilant Malacandra, captain of a cold orb, whom men call Mars and Mavors, and Tyr who put his hand in the wolf-mouth.”

    1. I’m not sure if it was Lewis or some other who said soemthing like “Yeah, the trenches were bad, but not as bad as being forced to play cricket at school.”

      1. IIRC, in Surprised by Joy, CS Lewis wrote that you could speak more freely in the Army. At school he was always required to pretend enthusiasm for House and School sports teams, and playing certain sports (mostly by the other students). In the Army, no one expected him to pretend to enjoy the war.

  20. I’m going to repeat my (~80% joking) suggestion that Bret Devereaux add one to the estimated length of all future series to account for the segment that turns out longer and wordier than he anticipated.

    Beyond the banal observations that humans are social animals that build relationships with each other and that humans tend to bond in conditions of shared adversary, there is nothing here. Those same conclusions might as well be marshaled to support the ‘universal graduate student’ or the ‘universal video-game crunch developer.’

    Universal salaryman. Universal astronaut. Universal construction worker. Universal employee of Universal.
    Part of me wants to expand on some of these “universal occupations” to show how intellectually bankrupt the concept of a “universal warrior” as anything but an artificial ideal is. Another part just wants to think of other people working under adverse conditions and/or whose profession names sound silly with “Universal” attached.

    The privileges of rank and class applied.
    Soldiering could be quite different depending on your social rank!
    Social divisions mattered.

    If there is a universal aspect of war, it is this. The pressures and injustices of the civilian social order were replicated in the military, except that imperilment via exploitation and resource deprivation was replaced by imperilment by making the peasants hold the line.

    Not that all disabled veterans were so highly regarded by their societies.
    [T]he existing charitable system at the time often didn’t want to have disabled veterans in their almshouses because of “the fact that many maimed veterans had been pressed vagrants and convicted felons.”

    Good thing that societies which regard their veterans as highly as we do care for them well enough that they aren’t left with such shitty options, right?

    Of course the wounds themselves were also different.

    Quick personal anecdote: I’ve never been a soldier, but I’ve been to the ER a few times—once for cutting the back of my leg while whittling, twice for frying-oil burns. On one hand, the two types of “wounds” had some obvious parallels—an initial moment of confusion and pain, panic, hurrying to somewhere I can provide immediate relief, others nearby sorting out things and helping me calm down, a trip to the ER for treatment, getting the limb in question wrapped in bandages, going home.
    That said, the details are all different. The details of the pain, the immediate discomfort from the treatment, the recovery. And alright, part of the experiential difference might have been the fact that I cut my leg in middle school and burned my arm in my 20’s, or that one was at home and the other at work, but those differences aren’t much compared to the differences between soldiers and wars on different continents and in different millennia.

    The issue has been brought up, so I do want to note that I am, by the by, unconvinced by the suggestion that these WWI-era mental wounds were purely or principally the product of concussions from heavy artillery or the like.

    I’m sure their psychological health was affected by concussions from artillery shockwaves. I’d say the same about contemporary food preservation technology, local geology, and butterfly populations.
    Jokes aside, this has always felt like an attempt to legitimize the psychological trauma of respected veterans as a real health issue and not just a psychological one.

    Echoes of those views continue to appear in western literature until the impersonal carnage of the Western Front seem to finally snuff them out. But it isn’t that the generations and generations before 1914 had never experienced war, but that war had changed.

    Not to downplay how much war changed, but I feel confident saying that the kinds of people who would find war least traumatizing and most glorious (see the “universal aspect of war” above) were no longer the only voices being recorded.

    (red, they’re always red; why are they always red? Soldiers wore many colors!)

    Red symbolizes the blood of blood, the fire of anger, and the frustration at having to wash blood out of your clothes again.

    1. Talking about the Universal Warrior or Universal Astronaut strikes me as silly, but it does not follow that you can not make generalisations about warriors or astronauts. At which point, complaining about the Universal Warrior turns into an argument the terminology used to express a generalisation. Rather than an argument about the accuracy and reliability of the generalisation.

      1. I’d say that the purpose of this article series is less to say “There are no generalizations that can be made about warriors” and more “The generalizations that can be made about warriors are not substantial or meaningful enough to justify how people talk about the Universal Warrior”.

        1. Perhaps, but you cannot do that without discussing “how people talk about the Universal Warrior”. And we have not seen that so far. If someone were to say that “Warriors care about courage and mutual loyalty”, I have seen nothing so far to disprove that. Do people say more than that about “the Universal Warrior”?

          1. Perhaps, but you cannot do that without discussing “how people talk about the Universal Warrior”. And we have not seen that so far. If someone were to say that “Warriors care about courage and mutual loyalty”, I have seen nothing so far to disprove that. Do people say more than that about “the Universal Warrior”?

            Yes. Bret’s provided some citations for the “universal warrior” model he’s specifically responding to, and this Friday’s post is going to go over that in more detail.

            That should be obvious. What’s the point in just saying “Warriors care about courage and mutual loyalty”?

    2. “an attempt to legitimize the psychological trauma of respected veterans as a real health issue and not just a psychological one.”
      This is going off topic, but polytheistic cultures wouldn’t have needed such an attempt in the first place. They took for granted e.g. that some people have numen while others don’t. The idea that all people are spiritually identical, and therefore psychological issues are not “real”, is a later invention.

      Red: people do turn a shade redder when their muscles need more oxygen, when they need to get rid of heat, or when they are embarrassed.

      Silly answers:
      – Operational movement speed is very important to armies for supply reasons, thus all soldiers wear red, because the red ones go faster. (Whereas horse nomads wear purple, hence their ability to surprise the agrarian armies.)
      – Roman legionaries were red, except the praetorian guard, which was blue.
      – Color-coded for your convenience. The viewers need to tell apart the sides when the fight dissolves into a confused melee, after all. Give at least one of them unhistorically shaped equipment, too. (Or lots of furs and leathers.)
      – Visual emphasis in general. Red pops against the background, especially since it was all gray-brown before the mid-20th century. (Are the effects of industrial-era air pollution getting retrojected?)
      – You can show a red cloak gradually accumulating dirt and grime as the campaign goes on and the soldiers don’t even wipe it off.

      1. Color-coded for your convenience. The viewers need to tell apart the sides when the fight dissolves into a confused melee, after all.

        Not silly. This is the entire history of heraldry boiled down into a tweet-sized chunk. And even the foot soldiers needed to be able to tell “our side” from “their side” in the Fog Of War.
        There’s a reason that “Wearing the other side’s uniforms (in combat)” is Perfidious And Against The Laws And Mores Of Warfare.

        Likewise “Visual Emphasis in general.”

        1. Oh, I deleted the remark about heraldry before posting? Oops. I was trying to poke fun at too many things at once (the “dissolves into a confused melee”, the ragged furs, the unhistorical equipment) and apparently I managed to lose this one.

      2. This is going off topic, but polytheistic cultures wouldn’t have needed such an attempt in the first place. They took for granted e.g. that some people have numen while others don’t. The idea that all people are spiritually identical, and therefore psychological issues are not “real”, is a later invention.

        That’s not really a polytheistic thing. On one hand, such beliefs are pretty common (since some psychological issues are really, really obvious); on the other hand, numen is a specifically Roman belief, not applicable to polytheists in (say) Germany, ancient Greece, India, etc.

        Not to mention that that’s less “they don’t have this problem” and more “they replaced this problem with a different justification for discriminating against people with psychological issues”. Speaking of which, the problem I’m referring to isn’t “People think psychological problems don’t exist because all men are created equal,” but “People view psychological problems as a problem caused by the victim not willing themselves out of a problem that only exists in their own head”. It’s not “People don’t get PTSD,” it’s “Only wimps get PTSD”.

    3. I don’t know about astronauts, but plenty of contemporary lawyers (I am one) have noticed strong similarities between Chaucer’s serjeant and their colleagues. So maybe there is no Universal Warrior, just a Universal Lawyer. Depressing thought.

    4. As the NFL can inform you, there is a thing called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Lots of concussions or sub-concussive brain injuries can lead to a serious illness that mostly expresses as mental health problems.

      I find it entirely plausible that WWI soldiers who had lived under artillery bombardment for years suffered from CTE. But the recent cases of CTE are that it’s an illness that takes 20 or so years to develop after the brain traumas, so we’d expect WWI veterans to be developing CTE during and immediately after WWII. Shell-shock is clearly a different phenomenon, and seeing it as a type of PTSD – where the nature of the PTSD depends on the nature of the trauma – seems entirely reasonable to me.

      1. The NFL can inform me, but it’s pretty clear they don’t want to.

        It seems to me that the kind of physical shock you’d get from being near an exploding artillery shell is rather different than the kind you’d get from getting hit with a solid object. And, as you note, the symptoms of NFL concussions don’t match with the symptoms that people were using artillery shells to explain.

        As I said:

        I’m sure their psychological health was affected by concussions from artillery shockwaves. I’d say the same about contemporary food preservation technology, local geology, and butterfly populations.

        I’m sure the physical impact of artillery had an effect on soldiers’ mental health, but only in such a vague sense that that statement could apply to almost anything. Certainly not in a specific “This is why shell shock happened” way.

  21. “Most knights went back home after completing their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, instead of getting themselves new holdings to rule over. Since land was the main source of wealth, this suggests that material gain wasn’t uppermost on most participants’ minds.”

    This doesn’t seem valid to me. Sure, land was the source of long-term wealth, but caskets of gold or even suits of armor weren’t trivial either. Viking raids tended to be hit-and-run and no one suggests they weren’t in it for material gain.

    I make no assertion about the motivations of Crusaders; I’m just saying that going home needn’t imply that material gain wasn’t a motivation, or that the knight going home wasn’t notably wealthier than when he started.

    1. The classic theory of materialistic crusading was that crusaders were generally landless younger sons who couldn’t expect to inherit the family estates and so had to look elsewhere for wealth. These are the sort of people who would want to get control over a patch of land, if they could.

    2. 80-90% percent of the crusaders returned home after a visit to Jerusalem and a few months of campaigning. Loot from battle was not very profitable. City sacking could make you rich. The assaults on Damascus and Alleppo were motivated only by strategic reasons and not financial ones. The assaults on Zara and Constantinople were blackmails o the crusaders by the Venetians: do as we they or you don’t see Jerusalem.
      The crusading armies were powerful enough to conquer Middle East if that was their intention. Military action was always a side goal and intended only for the security of OutreMer, not its expansion.

      1. Outremar was a complete failure as a colonial venture. There never were enough westerners willing to settle there. Why is a question. The popular narrative is the Middle East was more advanced and luxurious. People should have wanted to stay if that were true.
        Instead Crusaders fought a few battles, maybe got some loot, picked up ideas about fortifications and interior decor, and went back to benighted, chilly Europe.

        1. “The middle east” is large, advanced and populous: the area round Palestine is… Not. It’s occasionally strategically important, but it’s mostly arid bordering on desert, Jerusalem itself is weirdly annoyingly located. It largely becomes strategically important if you control other places (Syria-Anatolia, Mesopotamia or Egypt, mainly) and want to get between them, but it’s not really a plum prize itself. It was targeted for ideological/religious reasons, not economic ones.

          1. True enough. The Lord Our God did His Chosen People no favors when He picked out our Promised Land. Mind you after the Sinai pretty much anywhere looked good!

  22. For me, the ‘war never changes’ of the Fallout series is not about how the experience of war stay the same (indeed the wars that predate the games are rather third system, whereas the games contains examples of first system), but rather how war is inevitable, how in a world brought on by a war between nuclear powers wars will continue to be waged, for pretty much the same reasons as before the nuclear devastation.

    > modern deracinated post-industrial societies that have (often for good reasons, like liberating individuals) steadily weakened all of the other social bonds

    I have a hard time seeing how removing social bonds is a positive change or how removing social bonds to your neighbors or extended families can be liberating

      1. I don’t think it’s unusual at all. Most people value social bonds very highly — which is why, for example, people will often go to considerable lengths to avoid being ostracised by their peer group. And it may not be a coincidence that the modern West has both extremely high rates of mental illness and extremely weak social bonds.

          1. In a traditional society, that would be not be an afterthought. Furthermore, it would not be governed by how emotionally unpleasant ostracism is.

        1. >which is why, for example, people will often go to considerable lengths to avoid being ostracised by their peer group.

          This is exactly why it can be liberating to not have those bonds – because you can’t be coerced by the threat of ostracism.

          1. That’s like saying that suicide is liberating because you can’t be coerced by the threat of murder.

            No, it is not at all. From your various messages it’s clear that you have a strong personal preference for fixed social bonds over more individual liberty, which is fair enough, but that seems to have heavily coloured your views, from your assumption that others would be happier in a particular situation because you would be to your unwarranted implications that various social ills must be due to reduced enforcement of social bonding rather than any of the many other factors also involved.

          2. Unlike suicide, the cost/benefit of cutting ties with your community can change a lot depending on how much you need those ties to survive, and how nice that community is to you. The advantage of a liberal, loosely-connected society is that you can cut harmful ties easily without harming your ability to do basic things like finding a job and a place to live.

            (The classic example would be a gay kid with homophobic parents, who might reasonably decide that being able to have an open relationship with someone they love is more important than their relationship with their parents.)

            And even if I did allow the suicide comparison, there *are* situations where it would be better to die than to allow yourself to be coerced by the threat of murder. If you can understand why someone would rather die than betray their country, you should be able to understand why someone would rather cut ties with a community than allow it to control their [religion, sexuality, employment, social status, etc.]

          3. No, it is not at all. From your various messages it’s clear that you have a strong personal preference for fixed social bonds over more individual liberty, which is fair enough, but that seems to have heavily coloured your views, from your assumption that others would be happier in a particular situation because you would be to your unwarranted implications that various social ills must be due to reduced enforcement of social bonding rather than any of the many other factors also involved.

            It’s an empirically-verifiable fact that rates of subjective wellbeing in the West are lower than they were fifty years ago, and that this decline has coincided with a steady weakening in social bonds. Moreover, we know that many people derive a large amount of happiness from interpersonal relationships, so it’s plausible that making it harder to form deep and lasting relationships would result in people feeling less happy. Of course, it’s possible that this is all just a coincidence and that there’s some other factor that explains all this — but if so, I’d like at least one of the people disagreeing with me to give some indication as to what this might be. Simply gesturing to the possibility that there might be something else is intellectually lazy.

          4. Unlike suicide, the cost/benefit of cutting ties with your community can change a lot depending on how much you need those ties to survive, and how nice that community is to you.

            The analogy is that, in both cases, you’re pre-emptively depriving yourself of something (life, social ties) to stop others from depriving you, thereby losing it anyway.

            The advantage of a liberal, loosely-connected society is that you can cut harmful ties easily without harming your ability to do basic things like finding a job and a place to live.

            The increase in mental illness and deaths of despair over the past few decades suggests that, even if some ties are harmful, most people are better off with them than without them. Or, to put it in other words, a liberal, loosely-connected society might have some advantages in specific areas, but it doesn’t have the advantage on net.

            If you can understand why someone would rather die than betray their country, you should be able to understand why someone would rather cut ties with a community than allow it to control their [religion, sexuality, employment, social status, etc.]

            “There are some things more important than community ties” doesn’t imply “A society with weak community ties is better than a society with strong community ties”, any more than “There are some things more important than life” implies “A society with a high death rate is better than a society with a low death rate”.

          5. If someone’s willing to deprive himself of something, why should we accept your judgement about their view to him over yours? He knows his situation better than you do.

          6. It’s an empirically-verifiable fact that rates of subjective wellbeing in the West are lower than they were fifty years ago, and that this decline has coincided with a steady weakening in social bonds.

            It’s interesting that you choose to look at a fifty-year period of lesser overall decline in social bonds in the West (around 1970-2020, as compared to 1920-1970) and ignore other major factors during that period (for example, around 1970 was when the trend of increasing lower- and middle-class wealth reversed itself). It really looks here as if you’ve plucked out of everything that’s happened during the last few centuries a particular time period and correlation that produces an explanation that pleases you.

            Of course, it’s possible that this is all just a coincidence and that there’s some other factor that explains all this — but if so, I’d like at least one of the people disagreeing with me to give some indication as to what this might be. Simply gesturing to the possibility that there might be something else is intellectually lazy.

            No, what’s intellectually lazy is not to know even the most basic arguments against a position you’ve taken, particularly when you’re so strongly asserting it. How can you have such confidence in your conclusion, particularly one so broadly drawn in such a complex environment, if you don’t know any of the arguments against it?

            If you take no care at all to protect yourself against confirmation bias in your own thinking, it’s unlikely that any evidence brought up by others will help you reach more accurate conclusions.

          7. No, what’s intellectually lazy is not to know even the most basic arguments against a position you’ve taken, particularly when you’re so strongly asserting it. How can you have such confidence in your conclusion, particularly one so broadly drawn in such a complex environment, if you don’t know any of the arguments against it?

            Mate, I’m literally the only person to even try to cite any actual evidence in this entire discussion. As for counter-arguments, the only ones made in this thread have been (1) the existence of unhappy people in high-cohesion societies (unhappy people exist in any society), and (2) there were other factors involved as well (which is no doubt true, since any society-wide phenomenon is affected by multiple things, but this doesn’t prove that weakening community bonds wasn’t also a factor). Now you are resorting to angry invective and coming up with excuses for not providing any evidence for your own position. Maybe my explanation is false, but this conversation has certainly given me no reason to think so.

          8. Mate, I’m literally the only person to even try to cite any actual evidence in this entire discussion.

            I’ve just had a quick go over every comment you’ve made to date on this post, and I see not a single citation. I do, however, see a lot of unsupported assertions.

            …there were other factors involved as well (which is no doubt true, since any society-wide phenomenon is affected by multiple things, but this doesn’t prove that weakening community bonds wasn’t also a factor…

            I don’t see anybody arguing here that it isn’t a factor. I do, however, see you claiming that it’s the primary factor, and that fixing this would fix the problem, which I (and apparently others) do not find to be a compelling argument. It’s not incumbent on us to prove that weakening social bonds is not the primary factor; it’s incumbent on you to prove that it is, since you’re the one making a strong claim here.

            As for counter-arguments, the only ones made in this thread….

            Again, the counter-evidence is widely available, and not bringing it up and addressing it yourself is not honest argument. If you want knowledge, you need to properly seek it, not start with an assumption that pleases you and then claim it must be true unless others are willing to do the work to show you’re wrong.

            Maybe my explanation is false, but this conversation has certainly given me no reason to think so.

            You will never have any reason to think so until you do a proper investigation yourself, considering the already widely-available evidence against your hypothesis as well as that for it. Trying to dump that work on random people in a comments section on the Internet will not lead to enlightenment.

    1. The social bonds may come with obligations for undesired roles and activities. We are are family of coal miners so of course you will go down to mine with Uncle Jimmy. Or women are expected to be subservient to men and hey the foreman’s son has eye on you and if you two got together Uncle Jimmy might get more overtime.

      1. Or women are expected to be subservient to men and hey the foreman’s son has eye on you and if you two got together Uncle Jimmy might get more overtime.

        It isn’t obvious to me that doing away with social bonds will make people less likely to abuse their power. If anything, it’s probably going to be the reverse — the fewer obligations you have to those lower down than yourself, the less you have to hold you back from exploiting them.

        1. I think you’ve got the argument the wrong way around there. Less need for social bonds to live a successful life (at least to the degree that you can put food on your table and have a place to live) is the cause; the reduction in use of these social bonds is an effect. It’s the former that gives more opportunity to leave explotative situations that reduces the abuse of power.

        2. the fewer obligations you have to those lower down than yourself, the less you have to hold you back from exploiting them.

          It depends on whether obligations resulted in somebody being lower than another. The peasant is allowed to hunt on the kings land during a famine. Did the social obligation of the king to the peasant help protect the peasant during the famine, or was the prevention of the peasant to hunt on the lands during normal times exploitative in the first place?

          1. It depends on whether obligations resulted in somebody being lower than another.

            You’re always going to have people being higher or lower than others. Even if you start out with a position of perfect equality, some people are going to be smarter, stronger, more charismatic, or whatever, than others, and will be able to leverage their advantage to gain more influence and prestige.

            The peasant is allowed to hunt on the kings land during a famine. Did the social obligation of the king to the peasant help protect the peasant during the famine, or was the prevention of the peasant to hunt on the lands during normal times exploitative in the first place?

            An interesting question, but since I never committed myself to the proposition that every single obligation in every single high-cohesion society was good, I don’t think it’s very relevant.

          2. Would there have been anything on the king’s land to hunt, if the peasant weren’t prevented in normal times?

          3. “Would there have been anything on the king’s land to hunt, if the peasant weren’t prevented in normal times?”

            Probably so. There were peasants long before there were any kings or lords.

    2. I have a hard time seeing how removing social bonds is a positive change or how removing social bonds to your neighbors or extended families can be liberating

      It’s liberating if you’re well-off, healthy, and want to sleep with someone or smoke something that your neighbours would disapprove of. Less so if you’re old and frail and rely on your neighbours coming round every day to check that you’re alright, or if you can only afford to live in a crime-ridden sink estate and can’t go out at night for fear of being mugged.

      1. More so if you are the only daughter, required to stay home and look after your mother, of that old and frail woman whose tongue is not at all weakened — or, for that matter, her Cluster B personality disorder, such that she delights in causing you pain

        1. Of course, the daughter might have a different perspective once it’s her turn to become old and frail and she needs someone else to do her shopping and clean her house. Like I said, weakening community bonds can be liberating if you’re healthy and rich enough to live independently, less so if you rely on other people for your wellbeing.

          1. She’s going to be old and without children in either scenario because her mother will never let her marry. Consequently you are citing a virtue your system does not have.

          2. She’s going to be old and without children in either scenario because her mother will never let her marry. Consequently you are citing a virtue your system does not have.

            “Community bonds” include those between neighbours, so even childless people would benefit from having strong community bonds. (Especially childless people, in fact, insofar as family members generally need less external prompting to help out than non-relatives do. There’s a reason why extended kin groups so often form the basis of societies with weak institutions.)

            More generally, of course no method of organising society is going to produce the optimal outcome in every conceivable situation. The question is whether one method will produce better outcomes on average than another method, and the fact that you need to appeal to edge cases like a sadistic old woman with a personality disorder who refuses to let her only daughter marry is, if anything, evidence against your preferred position.

          3. So she gets to be an exploited servant to her sister-in-law in her old age after her mother dies?

          4. Suffice to say that it’s an “edge case,” but a common enough one that plenty of people who know a large number of people will *instantly* recognize the domineering or narcissistic mother who asserts a de facto state of ownership over a daughter and tries to reduce her to a live-in servant. God knows I recognize that pattern- not my own immediate relatives, but I know someone who knew someone who matches the description.

            Furthermore, this is only one of numerous edge cases. There are others. The underlying point is that there are a *lot* of different underlying issues that subjugate a lot of people in different ways. Or subject them to one form or another of often-gendered petty tyranny.

            There is real value to strong social ties that promote social cohesion… but that value is obtained at a price, and the price is often paid by quietly miserable people whose suffering the would-be patriarchs choose not to see, or choose not to care about.

          5. There is real value to strong social ties that promote social cohesion… but that value is obtained at a price, and the price is often paid by quietly miserable people whose suffering the would-be patriarchs choose not to see, or choose not to care about.

            Rates of mental illness are currently at historic highs, and deaths of despair in the US have become so common that the American life expectancy has started to go down for the first time in a century. Any society is going to have some “quietly miserable” people, but if you actually care about reducing their number, you should want to strengthen social bonds, not weaken them.

          6. It is impossible to generate accurate statistics on historic levels of mental illness because the category of mental illness has been steadily growing.

          7. It is impossible to generate accurate statistics on historic levels of mental illness because the category of mental illness has been steadily growing.

            Even when we look at specific mental illnesses like depression, the rate is higher than in previous decades. A similar pattern holds with self-report surveys like “On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you?” or “How many friends do you have?” And then, of course, there are all those people drinking themselves to death or dying of opioid abuse. I don’t think the recent decline in US life expectancy can be attributed to researchers nowadays having a broader definition of death.

          8. And then, of course, there are all those people drinking themselves to death….

            Yes, drinking oneself to death was certainly unknown before the start of this decline you’re talking about.

            I don’t think the recent decline in US life expectancy can be attributed to researchers nowadays having a broader definition of death.

            There are obvious and huge differences in how the medical system is run and income inequality (which has a large and obvious correlation to life expectancy) between the U.S. and other Western (particularly OECD) countries. Presenting such an atypical example with an entirely opposite life expectancy trend from the rest of the West is such a breathtakingly dishonest argument that I really feel there’s no point in further discussion.

          9. Yes, drinking oneself to death was certainly unknown before the start of this decline you’re talking about.

            False dichotomy. You might as well say, “People die violently in both Switzerland and Afghanistan, therefore you’re no safer living in the former than in the latter.”

            There are obvious and huge differences in how the medical system is run and income inequality (which has a large and obvious correlation to life expectancy) between the U.S. and other Western (particularly OECD) countries. Presenting such an atypical example with an entirely opposite life expectancy trend from the rest of the West is such a breathtakingly dishonest argument that I really feel there’s no point in further discussion.

            “Many commentators have suggested that poor mortality outcomes can be attributed to contemporaneous levels of resources, particularly to slowly growing, stagnant, and even declining incomes; we evaluate this possibility, but find that it cannot provide a comprehensive explanation. In particular, the income profiles for blacks and Hispanics, whose mortality rates have fallen, are no better than those for whites. Nor is there any evidence in the European data that mortality trends match income trends, in spite of sharply different patterns of median income across countries after the Great Recession.” Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5640267/

            As for differences between the US and the rest of the world, the United States puts a higher premium on individual freedom over social bonds than most other Western countries, so it’s not surprising that trends related to weakening social bonds should appear first/more strongly in the US. Do note that according to the same paper, other English-speaking countries, which tend to fall between the US and Europe on the personal freedom vs. social bonds scale, have also shown “substantial positive trends in mortality from drugs, alcohol and suicide”, albeit not as much as the US.

    3. Removing a *dependence* on social (familial, neighborhood, tribal) bonds for survival is liberating, as people can more feasibly get away from abusive or oppressive situations. Abusive parents on the farm? Go get a factory or office job in the city! Fail to have children who’ll support you? Social Security will provide. Have odd interests and talents? A complex market society with extensive public funding of academics is more likely to have a niche for you (which may, sadly or not, take you away from home.)

      Social bonds can be great; they can also be horribly stifling, or worse. Modern urban society offers more choice to the individual, thus liberation, at the expense of a small community to reliably fall back on.

  23. Bret, I think you perhaps go a bit far with ” a product of elite aristocratic (read: officer) disdain for their up-jumped peasant soldiers and thus the assumption by those aristocrats that the only way to get such men to fight effectively was to relentlessly drill them.”

    I would have to see some citations to contemporary officer-aristocrats writings to be persuaded (and more than simply the “scum of the earth” sort of comment- which Wellington intended as a compliment!)

    I think it far more likely that European linear musket tactics were a natural evolution of the pike squares and then interspersed-pike-and-arquebus squares of the Renaissance and 30 Years’ War. The invention of the bayonet made every musketeer his own pikeman, and the ethos of standing shoulder-to-shoulder continued. In fact, I have a notion (will have to look into it) that the plug bayonet was an influence on developing unison musket drill, since at any given time a company would be *either* missile *or* melee troops, and a commander had to keep control over their status.

    1. I would definitely like to know more about the actual training of pre-modern soldiers. “Warrior” training is pretty well-known: Fighters from hunter-gatherer societies often fought with the same weapons they hunted with, which they would practice using from boyhood. Knights typically progressed from page, to squire, to knighthood. But I would think that even if Green, Roman, and medieval soldiers didn’t do the boot camp-style training, they would still need to learn how to quickly organize into formation, become proficient with their specialized weapons, and obey the orders of their superiors immediately and with exactness. Yet we don’t get much pop-history about that aspect of pre-modern fighting life.

      1. We know a bit about Roman drill (though not enough to reconstruct it). They did practice drills in formations and with weapons, leading to Josephus’ famous observation that “Roman drills were bloodless battles, and their battles bloody drills.”

        That said, we know that Greek soldiers – hoplites – did not do this. Xenophon is quite clear (I note this in the Sparta series) that fighting as a hoplite required no special training and prior to the Hellenistic period (where the military model is the Macedonian army, which probably did drill) we see no trace of systems to, for instance, train men to quickly form in line or perform standard maneuvers, in Sparta or anywhere else. The fact is, as Xenophon points out, basic fighting with a spear and shield may be done with some effectiveness largely on instinct. Crucially, in such a formation, there *were* no specialized weapons – hoplites all had the same basic equipment.

        1. What about those engaging in battle (I will use ‘fighters’ as a super-category embracing both soldiers and warriors) who were not hoplites?

          Fighting while riding a horse, or hitting targets with long-ranged weapons such as slings and bows, is clearly a skill requiring practice.

          My impression is that the fighters who used such weapons *would* practice, it’s just that the practice tended to be informal and integrated into civilian life. Someone who went into battle as a skirmisher throwing javelins probably practiced throwing weapons (including spears) now and then in normal life, for instance.

          Does that seem about right?

          1. Or they used them for other things.

            David, after all, was a shepherd. He fought a mighty warrior, and he knew how to use a sling because he knew what to do if there was a predator coming for his herds. The skills are transferable.

    2. Such contempt is absolutely all over the sources. See W. Lee, Waging War (2016), ch7 for notes.

      Your plug bayonet theory is tempting but runs afoul of the chronology. Uniform drill is a product of the countermarch (in use with Maurice of Nassau in the 1590s), while the first plug bayonets only appear in Europe in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and are only standardized in 1671. But the counter-march (a formation six deep with each man firing in turn and then moving to the rear) required every single fusilier to be in fairly close synchronization to produce a continuous fire (which is what they were drilling for, not bayonets, which came only decades later).

      The emergence of western style drill and discipline is a topic than has been studied extensively and there’s quite a literature on it (again, raid Lee’s footnotes to get that literature) and I am merely laying out the fairly well established conclusions of much of that literature.

  24. I just want to throw in that some (many?) modern fighters *do* see war as invigorating. I have read numerous firsthand accounts in that direction — at least once as part of an essay requesting that popular culture stop treated veterans all as damaged victims.

  25. On drill – we can be sure that troops using pikes (eg Macedonians or Swiss) practiced moving in formation. Such long weapons have to be raised and lowered in unison, and troops move in unison with their weapons raised or lowered as needed, or they trip each other up and become hopelessly tangled. Spears, axes and swords don’t present this problem, nor does archery. Musketry – especially with matchlocks, as pointed out above, does, and field artillery needs crew practice. We can be sure that some rudimentary form of drill goes back at least to the mid 15th century in Europe.

    1. Swordmanship and archery requires the most extensive training program – usually a few years. Axe training at huscarl level probably also required some extensive training.
      Spears and pikes are rather easy on individual training – maybe a few weeks.
      Swiss pike formations possibly required the longest training among phalanx/ shieldwall formations.They were deployed as fast columns which crashed into the sides and rear of the enemy. No other society used them this way as it was difficult to maintain speed and spear/pike formation while moving over rugged terrain or taking large casualties from archers / canons. Still the swiss were not rated as good swordsmen, skirmishers or even assault troops when using helberds.

      1. “Training” and “drill” are probably different things in this context: You can be trained as a swordsman or archer and be fairly competent at it on your own, but to be a good pikemen you need to train *with other people*, in a collective fashion.

  26. “And we certainly have a single recurring pattern of “HOW to be a fighter in a war”. It is to be loyal to the comrades you are bonded to, for whatever reason, and to courageously fight the enemy.”

    But what ‘loyalty’ and ‘courage’ mean differ at the level of actual behavior.

    1. Absolutely. As noted, a key part of the 1st gen raiding warfare is finding undefended villages and thoroughly murdering all the elders, women and children therein. I’m not sure that’s what people really mean when they talk about the Universal Warrior in a positive way.

        1. a) I’m not sure how much the adherents of the Universal Warrior archetype would consider the guy who presses the red button to be part of that archetype.

          b) I wonder whether ICBM (or high-yield strategic nukes in general; excluding tactical nukes as well as Hiroshima-level strategic nukes) should be considered a part of warfare at all. If war is the means that are employed when diplomacy has failed, ICBM are either a tool of diplomacy to deter your rivals from war, or they are the means that are employed when war has failed.

    2. Aircraft fly in different ways, but it is still a perfectly accurate generalisation to say that aircraft fly. No amount of pointing to the differences between a Zeppelin and a Sopwith Camel will change that.

      1. I think that with this comment you (probably uniwittingly) make Bret’s point quite well, at least to anybody familiar with the technical details of aircraft.

        It’s indeed true that you can find unimportant generalisations amongst machines that fly (and let’s not forget hovercraft and rockets in this) such as, “in their primary travel mode they don’t touch the earth’s surface.” But a competent airship pilot who dares to fly a fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft without understanding stalls[1] will soon certainly find themselves in deep trouble (and most likely dead), if they even manage to get off the ground. On the other hand, important things that all flying machines do share in common, such as navigation, are shared by sea-going ships as well, or even someone riding a horse cross-country.

        Remember, Bret is not saying here that there are no generalizations at all to be made about warriors, but that there are no useful ones that are broad enough to cover all warriors, yet narrow enough they they are characteristics of just warriors themselves, rather than, say, “people doing dangerous jobs that require bravery,” including firefighters and suchlike.

        [1] I use “stall” as the term of art here (see “Stall (fluid dynamics)” on Wikipedia). There is no other concept so vital to understand for something that uses a wing or similar surface to generate lift, since this is all about “when does and doesn’t that surface generate lift.” That’s not to say that the concept doesn’t have applicability and use in other instances as well, but for airships the level of applicability is akin to that for boats and automobiles, i.e., dependent on how much the designers decided to make use of certain aspects of fluid dynamics in the design.

        1. Remember, Bret is not saying here that there are no generalizations at all to be made about warriors, but that there are no useful ones that are broad enough to cover all warriors, yet narrow enough they they are characteristics of just warriors themselves, rather than, say, “people doing dangerous jobs that require bravery,” including firefighters and suchlike.

          People generally get more upset over people trying to kill them than over risks from other sources — hence, for example, terrorism and murder causes much more consternation than normal accidents, even if the latter cause more deaths. So I think that the experience of undergoing danger in battle probably is different in important respects to the experience of undergoing danger in a burning building.

          1. Actually, no: the primary drivers of naïve risk perception are a) the amount of control an individual feels he or she personally has over the risk and b) the novelty of the risk. This is why we as a society spend hundreds or thousands of times as much money and effort on mitigation of some (in current society) relatively low risk activities such as air travel as we do on much higher-risk activities such as road travel.

  27. OK, this is mostly off topic.
    ( But you brought up the St Crispin’s day speach)
    So, long ago ( high school? ) I was reading about customs in Wales, in ‘pagan/ tribal’ times.
    (Type one warfare, blood feud, all that.) Most of it I don’t remember. But one thing stuck in my head, and changed how I looked at the “Band of brothers” bit.
    If you were riding with someone who was in a feud, and it caught up with them, you could *opt Out*, say ” This is Not my Feud”.. leave.
    OR, if you chose to stay and fight with them, (As IF you were Kin) you could thereafter *legally* claim kinship!
    So Henry is evoking ‘ the old ways’ and hinting that He is part of that tribal system, that they, in fact,*will be* kin to him, if they join this fight.

    Has Anybody here heard of such a thing?

  28. > e.g. S.L.A. Marshall, Men Against Fire (1947), though subsequent literature on the topic is voluminous and Marshal’s work has its problems, but its conclusions are broadly accepted having been confirmed in subsequent studies

    I am confused as to why Marshal is still cited, since he fabricated his data and his claim that men are unwilling to fire in combat has been extensively criticized. I recall that popular military historians like Keegan and Beevor praise him in their works, but I either cannot find myself to agree or completely misunderstand them. Could someone elaborate?

    1. It’s in the sentence there. Marshall saw what he wanted to see (he has his problems, I would say a blanket declaration that he fabricated all of his data is too much), which is a real problem, but he was also notably the first to have some key ideas for which he gets credit, even if his research was lackluster.

      The real argument about Marshall has to do with his ratio-of-fire theory (rather than cohesion, which is broadly accepted). Some studies (particularly in the Soviet army, I am to understand) seem to support Marshall’s conclusions, as did subsequent (and more rigorous) studies of U.S. Army combat performance. On the flip side, studies of Canadian and British soldiers tended to suggest the issue wasn’t firing so much as *effective* firing (that is, firing at targets rather than just blazing away at nothing). In the event, it seems to me that the plurality opinion is that Marshall’s work itself was slipshod, but the conclusions had some validity anyway and so you have to cite him because after all he had the idea first.

      You actually find similar issues with A.T. Mahan by the way – the running joke is naval studies is that ‘everything good in Mahan is plagiarized; everything bad is original’ but the work was so subsequently influential that it gets cited for its influence if nothing else.

  29. It’s interesting that the universal warrior discussion revolves only around infantry. Are tank people, altillery, helicopter pilots, fighter pilots, bomber pilots, killing drone operators, anti-aircraft operators, submarine or missile cruiser staff not warriors? If they are, what kind of common experience or way of fighting do they have?
    Even within infantry, different forces have very different combat experience, like individual snipers or commando units.

    Some of these modern forces fight closer to the 1st and 2nd systems: commando units, snipers or helicopters often attack pinpointed targets and yield once goal is met or there is resistance.
    On the other hand, WW2 era bomber runs with defence planes had similar formation issues as 2nd era fighting.

    1. Most of those you list have only been around for about a hundred years or less, only within industrialised westernised societies waging war, and in relatively very small numbers.

      In historical armies the majority of warriors/soldiers in the majority of armies have been infantry. I’m fairly sure we have far more primary sources and archeological evidence for infantry than any other troop type. Even today, most of the fighting warriors/soldiers in any army, western or not, are infantry. (Yes the tooth to tail ratio means there are far more supporting troops than front-line “combat” roles.)

      Historically cavalry do what the infantry did, but from a horse. Similar issues of danger and cohesion and training and motvation. Artillery were also infantry with bigger weapons, standing alongside the infantry on the battlefield, until around 1900 CE.

      And yes people do study the experiences of pilots, drone operators, etc. Read for example “Wired for War” by PW Singer. But at the time of writing, this is very new and very limited in scope.

      If there’s going to be any kind of universal soldier or warrior experience, it should show up in the study of infantry.

      1. Yes, I mostly stuck with infantry and a bit of cavalry because I thought it was probably a bit obvious that the experience of airmen or submariners or even sailors was extremely subject to technological change and so could hardly be generalized into time periods when those forms of warfare were not prominent or simply didn’t exist.

        I try to do this, to engage the strongest form of an argument, even when I think the argument is bad.

  30. “that there’s some other factor that explains all this”

    Rise in neoliberal policy, erosion of good jobs and safety nets, more economic stress about housing, education, and health care? At least in the US. For depression, higher rates of diagnosis.

  31. Any commentary on the native American soldier societies like the Cheyenne “Dog Soldiers”? The soldier societies seem to be a counterpoint to the “disorganized organization” trope of native American warfare. Yes? No?

  32. Hi, I’ve been enjoying your blogs from time to time, this one reminded me of a brief Reddit post of mine that seems relevant and possibly unknown and of interest to you. https://www.reddit.com/r/AskLiteraryStudies/comments/crbeiy/11th_century_antiwar_poetry/

    Also, I recently finished War and Peace… Honestly, I’m a little exhausted from it and not looking to embark on a long read of related material, but I was curious whether you have any brief general comments that wouldn’t take too much of your time and also whether you’d consider blogging about it at some point in the future. In particular much of his thesis seemed to me to be somewhat obvious in a modern context, if perhaps somewhat overstated. Is that true? Is that at all to his credit?

    Thank you very much,

    Aaron Kastel

    On Fri, Feb 12, 2021, 14:16 A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry wrote:

    > Bret Devereaux posted: ” This is the continuation of the second part of a > three part (I, IIa, III) discussion of the notion that there is a > ‘universal warrior’ – a transcendent sameness about either the experience > of war or ‘warrior values’ which might provide some sort of usefu” >

  33. “often for good reasons, like liberating individuals”
    you need to try and be more objective. i know it is very hard for you liberals, but you need to realize not everyone has the same view as you, so you should try and be at least a little bit objective, rather then shoving your opinion down everyone’s throat.

    1. Funny, I remember when it was the conservatives who were all about rugged individuals and individualism and it was the ‘liberals’ (in the American sense) who were accused of being identity-driven group-over-individual closet communists.

      In any event, no I do not think I will keep my worldview to myself. I am well aware that people differ. I have always had good friends who supported the party I didn’t. I still do. I know I am hardly overbearing on the topic because y’all never seem to guess my politics right.

      But yes, as with the official position of every American president in my lifetime, I support individual liberty as a key concept underlying a free society. If you don’t like free societies, you are going to find my blog a difficult read. But I have no intentions of censoring myself to please authoritarians, left or right (and before you jump to the ‘I am not an authoritarian’ defense – the question here is ‘is individual liberty good,’ where a ‘no’ answer quite literally defines authoritarianism – to abuse an old (and apocryphal) quote, ‘we have already established that and are just haggling over the price,’ or rather in this case, the ideology).

      So no, I do not cater to authoritarians on my blog and I will not.

    2. How is a blog post shoving anything down anybody’s throat? If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

  34. On recruitment, I will note that German recruitment was relatively local until conscription was put on hold in the 21st century; units were part of a Wehrkreis, and conscripts reported to those units. It was not at all unusual for people from the same town or village to serve their term in the same unit (and in WWII, fight for as long as they lived). In fact, three of the people in my basic training company in 1992 had graduated school with me.

    There were exceptions, mostly in WWII. The Luftwaffe recruited nationally, Luftwaffe paratrooper units recruited from active-duty infantry units, and the Grossdeutschland regiment did likewise.

    The officer corps was (and is) significantly more deracinated; the men might all be from Swabia, but their company, battalion and regimental commanders could be from anywhere. This could (and can) lead to tensions.

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