Always Kept on a Tight Rein

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Colonel Ardant Du Picq decries the tendency of superiors to infringe on the authority of inferiors:

It results in lessening the authority of subordinate officers in the minds of their soldiers. This is a grave matter, as only the firm authority and prestige of subordinate officers can maintain discipline. The tendency is to oppress subordinates; to want to impose on them, in all things, the views of the superior; not to admit of honest mistakes, and to reprove them as faults; to make everybody, even down to the private, feel that there is only one infallible authority. A colonel, for instance, sets himself up as the sole authority with judgment and intelligence. He thus takes all initiative from subordinate officers, and reduces them to a state of inertia, coming from their lack of confidence in themselves and from fear of being severely reproved. How many generals, before a regiment, think only of showing how much they know! They lessen the authority of the colonel. That is nothing to them. They have asserted their superiority, true or false; that is the essential. With cheeks puffed out, they leave, proud of having attacked discipline.

This firm hand which directs so many things is absent for a moment. All subordinate officers up to this moment have been held with too strong a hand, which has kept them in a position not natural to them. Immediately they are like a horse, always kept on a tight rein, whose rein is loosened or missing. They cannot in an instant recover that confidence in themselves, that has been painstakingly taken away from them without their wishing it. Thus, in such a moment conditions become unsatisfactory, the soldier very quickly feels that the hand that holds him vacillates.

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