Why Do Soldiers Fight?  (Part 1)

By | December 10, 2019

[December 10, 2019]  Why do soldiers fight? This age-old question is as valid yesterday as it is today.  When I was young, I had the honor of being around recently-returning Korean War veterans. I would listen a great deal and hear them tell the tales of why they fought.

This subject is in two parts.  The first, today, I will give the most common answer to the question.  Since the beginning of the war on terrorism, there has been a concerted effort by the military to answer the question, Why do soldiers fight?   Part 2 will be on some surprising information on other motivations.  Hint, it’s about patriotism.

It was hard for me to think about why someone would fight in a war and be at risk of being seriously wounded (or even maimed) or killed.  That question was right up there with questions about God and his relationship to us.  It was simply beyond my comprehension what the answer could be to either.  But, what seemed to come from deep within me was the ability to at least ask questions.

Curiosity drove me to be around those veterans.  And I had questions my dad or my granddad, neither of which was in a war, could answer.  My uncle “DJ,” on the other hand, was a combat veteran of World War II, but he rarely talked about his experiences.  His son (my cousin) and I would never get to hear him explain why he fought.  Maybe that is what drove me to be so inquisitive.

New professional studies had added some perspective to the question of why soldiers fight.  Dr. Leonard Wong is an associate research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.  He published a paper called “Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War.”  You can see the full text of the article here (PDF version, approx. 1.8 MB, see link).

Dr. Wong validated the popular belief that unit cohesion is a key issue in motivating soldiers to fight.  I have regularly referred to this as “camaraderie,” and it is the leader’s inherent responsibility to mold and encourage it.1  Camaraderie is the spirit of trust and friendship veterans have for one another.  It’s the glue that holds veterans together.  Once “infected” by it, you can rarely be without it.

I remember going to the local VFW with my Uncle DJ.  The room they met was intimidating, full of smoke, and the smell of old bodies and beer.  It was usually dark and dirty, and yet I found the presence of these old WWII veterans (they were probably about 45-55 years old in 1960) mesmerizing.  I hung onto their stories like the best stories from the Bible.  We were in the Deep South, and your military service, to them, was a badge of great honor.

Yes, it was the camaraderie that pulled them together.  To be there and witness it, would be something I would never forget.

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  1. https://www.theleadermaker.com/its-the-camaraderie/
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Why Do Soldiers Fight?  (Part 1)

  1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Excellent mini series, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks. I just read them both (Part 2 came out today 12/11/2019). Keep up the great work.

  2. Karl J.

    I appreciate the article on why soldiers fight. I would like to see how this links into the idea of leadership. How does leadership help or support soldiers to fight. This linkage, I believe, is crucial to fully understanding this phenomenon and without the look into it, we will not have a good understanding.

    1. Andrew Dooley

      Excellent thought to “connect the dots” on leadership and the psychology of soldiering. I too would appreciate more on the subject.

  3. Max Foster

    There will be folks who read this leadership website by Gen. Satterfield and say, “Why would I care?” But remember that what is written here does not just apply to “Soldiers” but also to any walk of life. Whether it be a leader of a commercial company, a housewife, a student in High School. The application is generous and applicable across all cultures and time.

    1. Valkerie

      If you have good friends, then you are on the edge of camaraderie. If you were in battle or a similar difficult situation where your life and the lives of those around you were in jeopardy, then only then do you truly know camaraderie. Maybe if you are on a strong sports team will you gain it, but there are not many other avenues to the experience. Just saying! It matters. And that is WHY we should care about these articles with General Satterfield and in his blog.

      1. old warrior

        Well argued point and I must say that I agree completely. I was in the Vietnam War and was a foot soldier (US Infantry). You get to learn a lot from experiencing this kind of fear and camaraderie really up front and personal.

      2. Dennis Mathes

        Valkerie, well said. That is one of the reasons I’ve been such a long-time reader of this leadership blog. Other blogs are just too long and time consuming.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Excellent comments Max and Valkerie. I too believe that if you cannot ‘connect’ with people, then you will struggle in life. That’s a simple fact that cannot be ignored. Thus, you must inject yourself into situations that make you a better person.

  4. Harry Donner

    Yes, an age-old question that occasionally needs to be re-examined. Being in the US Army myself, it is important for me to know what motivates my soldiers. Is it money (no, of course not)? Is it patriotism (maybe)? Is it camaraderie? Yes!

    1. JT Patterson

      Good comment, Harry. I didn’t know you were in the Army.

      1. Doc Blackshear

        Hi guys, yes, there are a number of people here in Gen. Satterfield’s blog that are currently in the military. I appreciate and thank them for their service. Please add to what Gen S. has written for us, as that helps me better understand what he writes. 😊😊😊😊

  5. Tom Bushmaster

    Nice series. I look forward to tomorrow’s article.

    1. Eric Coda

      This is, Tom, one of the main reasons that I keep coming back to this leadership blog. Gen. Satterfield has carved out a narrow niche that allows people like me (simple, junior team leader) to pick up some nice hints about leadership and get some examples of how it can be applied in every day circumstances. I’m glad you’ve decided to make comments here in the forum. Keep it up and thanks.

      1. Xerxes I

        Thanks Eric, all of us who are new (been on the website less than 2 years) appreciate the fact that more experienced folks are liking our comments.

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