What troops fight for

#1
A thoughtful and timely commentary:

In the heat of battle, troops hope to live up to those who have gone before
Matthew Bogdanos, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON POST
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'Any man in combat who lacks comrades who will die for him, or for whom he is willing to die," William Manchester wrote of his time as a Marine in World War II, "is not a man at all. He is truly damned." A century earlier, Robert E. Lee famously remarked that it was good that war "is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it."

Neither was glorifying war — both hated its carnage. They were, rather, paying homage to the unique bonds forged in war, especially the one that enables so many to risk their lives, not only for friends but also for those they might have just met or have nothing in common with back home.

This extraordinary feature of combat is depicted in movies in bold, heroic colors, without depth or explanation. Most leaders in the military, however, spend a lifetime trying to understand its complexity. Our pursuit usually starts at Thermopylae, a mountain pass in northern Greece where, in 480 B.C., 300 Spartans faced the entire Persian army. Leonidas, the Spartan king, had a choice: retreat, and live to fight another day, or stand. When the Persian king offered, "We do not want your lives, only your arms," Leonidas answered, "Molon labe" — come and get them. They held out for seven days, fighting until their weapons broke and then, Herodotus says, "with bare hands and teeth." Their spirit lives whenever wounded soldiers ask to return to their units rather than rotate home or sentries rest their chins on the point of a bayonet to stay awake so others sleep safely.

Before going into harm's way, we reflect on this remarkable aspect of combat. Using its history as a source of pride and inspiration, we make this bond part of our ethos. We are humbled to follow, yet hopeful to live up to, those who have gone before — as at Belleau Wood in 1918. When his men were being cut to pieces by German machine guns, Marine 1st Sgt. Dan Daly, already the recipient of two Medals of Honor, charged the guns shouting, "Come on, you sons-o'-bitches! Do you want to live forever?" More than just history, this retelling to each new generation becomes a pledge: Although some will die, those who follow will keep the faith by keeping our memory — a promise of immortality that asks, instead, "Don't you want to live forever?"

Post-deployment, we are also engaged, pausing to value what has occurred, trying to reconcile the horrors of combat with the bond created during those horrors. Perhaps it is the dimly perceived recognition that together we are better than any one of us had ever been before — better maybe than we ever would be again. Or the dawning awareness that if we store up enough memories, these might someday be a source of strength, comfort or even our salvation.

Take the simple act of goodbye, of wishing comrades in arms fair winds and following seas. Those who have seen action together are not morbid about it. Just serious. It is, after all, the nature of the profession of arms that goodbyes are frequent and often final. But there is also the recognition that each of us has our own life and family to go back to in the "world." And even if we do "keep in touch," it will never be as pure as it was when I had your "six" (your six o'clock, your back) and you had mine.

We examine as well the many contradictions of life in a combat zone. Our eyesight and hearing are sharp, our other senses keen. The water always quenches our thirst. The sky is bluer than we thought possible. And we're with the best friends we'll ever have. The good gets better, but the bad gets worse. We always have some minor eye or ear infection, our feet hurt all the time, and sleep is sporadic. The heat is sweltering, the cold bone-chilling. We're constantly tense to the breaking point. And lonelier than we ever imagined.

Once you've experienced it, the memory never leaves — even after those fair winds and following seas have taken you as far as they did Sen. Mike Mansfield. After serving two years in the Marines, he spent 34 years in Congress (the longest-serving majority leader ever) and 11 years as ambassador to Japan. He died in 2001 at 98. His tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery bears seven words: "Michael Joseph Mansfield, PVT, US Marine Corps."

Because of the business we are in, expected to fight and die without complaint, we also cultivate this bond to call on when needed. At times, it means being ruthlessly hard, as at Balaclava in 1854. When the "thin red line" of the 93rd Highlanders were all that stood between the Russian onslaught and the British camp, Sir Colin Campbell commanded the regiment he loved, "There is no retreat from here, men — you must die where you stand." At times, it means having compassion, as on Tulagi Island in the South Pacific in 1942. After an all-night attack, Marine Pfc. Edward "Johnny" Ahrens lay quietly in his foxhole. He'd been shot twice in the chest, and blood welled slowly from three deep bayonet wounds. Thirteen dead Japanese soldiers lay nearby; two others were draped over his legs. Legendarily tough Lewis Walt — later assistant commandant of the Marine Corps — gently gathered the dying man in his arms. Ahrens whispered, "Captain, they tried to come over me last night, but I don't think they made it." Choking back tears, Walt replied softly: "They didn't, Johnny. They didn't."

Being effectively ruthless and genuinely caring are each manifestations of courage. The ability to effect their integration and foster the bond between leader and led can spell the difference between defeat and victory, because wars — fought with weapons — are won by people. Your sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers. We are honored to lead them.

Bogdanos, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves who has served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, is an assistant district attorney for New York City and the author of 'Thieves of Baghdad.'
 
#2
Professor Richard Holmes used to give a good talk to Staff College etc about the Bonds of Mateship. His view was that men did not fight for Queen and Country and often not even for the Regiment and its history. Instead you fought for the blokes beside you and bescause you did not wish to look a cu*t in front of your mates. Seemed to make sense.

whf
 
#3
War is actually a metaphor for the struggle within ourselves, each and every one of us, man's timeless struggle between choosing good or evil. War itself is focussing only on the metaphor, not the real issue. Commanding a division in the field I suspect may sometimes be less difficult than keeping ones mouth shut at the appropriate time.
 
#6
Fallschirmjager said:
I fight because:

1. I get paid to do it and it's expected of me in my job.
2. If I don't the enemy might kill me.
I think there is a difference between what motivates individual soldiers on the one hand and why some people are facinated by war on the other.
As you imply, it's a job. Most of us would agree with that.
 
#7
Beak_Peckham said:
Fallschirmjager said:
I fight because:

1. I get paid to do it and it's expected of me in my job.
2. If I don't the enemy might kill me.
I think there is a difference between what motivates individual soldiers on the one hand and why some people are facinated by war on the other.
As you imply, it's a job. Most of us would agree with that.
There is a difference by people fascinated by war and those who actually go to war. No room for romantic ideas by people fascinated by war.
 
#8
Cabana said:
Beak_Peckham said:
Fallschirmjager said:
I fight because:

1. I get paid to do it and it's expected of me in my job.
2. If I don't the enemy might kill me.
I think there is a difference between what motivates individual soldiers on the one hand and why some people are facinated by war on the other.
As you imply, it's a job. Most of us would agree with that.
There is a difference by people fascinated by war and those who actually go to war. No room for romantic ideas by people fascinated by war.
True
 
#12
Many soldiers throughout the centuries fought and still fight primarily because they have to and because by doing so they may just keep themselves alive. First and foremost in any battle or firefight the person you are trying to keep alive is yourself. Your mates come second really. That's not to say you're jacking on them but not many men would rather die to keep someone else alive. Who can honestly say that if they go out on patrol and someone has to die they'd rather it be them then anyone else?

I must add that putting your life at risk to save a mucker who is injured or needs help for whatever reason is not the same thing. Many of us would put our lives at risk to save a mucker. However we don't actually fight in the first place for our muckers. They can look after themselves unless injured as i've said.
 
#14
scarletto said:
Im sure that a lot of people think music starts playing when the fighting starts, and everything goes into slo-mo and you see the bullets in the air.
You mean it doesn't?

I haven't been involved in a huge amount of fights as it aint my job to destroy the enemy, those I have been involved in we were bumped whilst going from A to B. To this end we fought because we wanted the fuckers to stop shooting at us.
 
#15
People used to think that there was also sometimes a kind of idealism, people fighting for a cause.

In truth, forces people tend to be pretty cynical.
 
#16
Beak_Peckham said:
People used to think that there was also sometimes a kind of idealism, people fighting for a cause.
In some conflicts there will be. Look at the Germans protecting their homeland against the Russians in WWII or the Russians protecting their homeland from the Germans. Look at the RAF fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain or even the Anglo saxons in the Battle of Hastings! There is more to fight for when the war is more on a personal level.

However do soldiers really give a fuck what happens to Afghanistan. Are they ready to die for that country when thousands of young Afghanis are over here doing fuckall? We may well die but not for that country. Only because we ended up dying doing our job.
 
#18
I can see it now, Roman troops looking at Jesus on cross. 1st legionary - "we won't hear from him again" 2nd legionary "nice one centurion". Cynical, military people, as if.. Don't forget sarcastic :(
 
#19
Possibly more that you have! (eg 2 years as an infantry officer during the Dhofar War,as well as Aden and Ulster.As you will know 9 Sqn people can turn their hand to other matters,as well as doing their own job!

llech said:
Fallschirmjager said:
muhandis89 said:
Soldiers fight-primarily-for their friends.
What a load of crap. Been in many firefights sapper?
Have to agree with you FJ, its what youre paid to do.
 
#20
But,hey,what do I know?

muhandis89 said:
Possibly more that you have! (eg 2 years as an infantry officer during the Dhofar War,as well as Aden and Ulster.As you will know 9 Sqn people can turn their hand to other matters,as well as doing their own job!

llech said:
Fallschirmjager said:
muhandis89 said:
Soldiers fight-primarily-for their friends.
What a load of crap. Been in many firefights sapper?
Have to agree with you FJ, its what youre paid to do.
 

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