[December 11, 2019] Yesterday I published an article answering the question, Why do soldiers fight? See it at this link (here). It’s an old question but one that helps us peer into the motivations of the men who see combat up-close and personal. Today, I’ll be providing some interesting and perhaps surprising information on other motivations.
“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, military historian
S.L.A. Marshall gave a good accounting of the primary motivation of the foot soldier. Camaraderie is the primary factor that keeps the combat man in action. The presence of others around him is the reason the soldier does not run away, collapse in terror, or loses faith in the military. That answer is common, but there are other reasons as well.
In Dr. Leonard Wong’s work1 at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, he found that patriotism was also a highly motivating factor. While some have argued that ideology, patriotism, or fighting for the cause were not major factors in combat motivation, Wong saw it differently. Liberating the people and bringing freedom were common themes in describing combat motivation.
“While the U.S. Army certainly has the best equipment and training… a human dimension is often overlooked … its soldiers also have an unmatched level of trust.” – Dr. Leonard Wong, U.S. Army War College
These soldiers trust each other and their leaders because their leaders have competently trained their units. Besides, since the U.S. ending the draft in 1972, the military has had to attract its members rather than conscript them.
Trust can be easily lost. Time tests trust. It is, and will always be, the duty of all leaders, at all times, to ensure that the trust soldiers have in their NCOs and Officers never fades.