[October 28, 2019] It is a military axiom that goes back further than the recorded history of men and warfare. Men fight in war not to achieve a strategic aim but because of their comrades fighting alongside them. Camaraderie is their motivation.
“I hold it to be of the simplest truths of war that the thing which enables an infantry soldier to keep going with his weapons is the near presence or the presumed presence of a comrade … He is sustained by his fellows primarily and by his weapons secondarily.” – S.L.A. Marshall, chief U.S. Army combat historian
One might believe that the idea of camaraderie is old fashioned and lacks utility in modern warfare or today’s commercial-manufacturing sector. One might also believe that camaraderie is a throw-back to the days that men and women lacked the intelligence and incentive to work as part of a group or team to accomplish any particularly difficult task.
I’ve been asked many times to define the idea of camaraderie. College students, business people, family members; all have questioned me about camaraderie and why it matters. We do exist in a highly technological society with many safeguards, security procedures, and built-in and crash-proof jobs and tools. The definition of “camaraderie” is one of those things you know it when you hear it.
In classic definition style, camaraderie is “a spirit of good friendship and loyalty among members of a group.” My first comments to friends, family, and colleagues on this idea, however, are that I cannot define camaraderie with just words. Like the Indian fable of the blind men describing an elephant, I too have a limited perspective.
I believe camaraderie is fundamentally societal and biological in origin. Those who have it are also those who have survived over the thousands of years humans have existed. We are predisposed to have it and are motivated by it. We know that camaraderie is friendship, trust, solidarity, commonality, spiritualness, closeness, and much more all rolled into one. And, we’ve all experienced it and know how it “feels.”
Camaraderie is a primal brotherhood (or sisterhood, all in the broadest sense) brought on by the sacrifice of the many for a common goal. I was asked once what I missed most about the military after being in it for 40 years. My answer is always the same, “I miss the people.”1 That is what camaraderie is and what it will always be.