Not Fear of Death

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

What motivates a soldier to dangerous and difficult deeds during combat is not fear of death, David Grossman (On Killing) reminds us, but a powerful sense of accountability toward his comrades on the battlefield:

Ardant du Picq referred to this as “mutual surveillance.” It is this process of mutual surveillance that ensures that crew-served weapons such as cannon or machine guns will almost always fire effectively in combat.

Marshall noted that a single soldier falling back from a broken and retreating unit will be of little value if pressed into service in another unit, but if a pair of soldiers, or the remnants of a squat or platoon, is put to use, they can generally be counted upon to fight well. The difference in these two situations is the degree to which the soldiers have “bonded” or developed a sense of accountability to their comrades. Du Picq sums this matter up when he says that “Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely. There,” says du Picq “is the science of the organization of armies in a nutshell.”

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