Why Do Soldiers Fight?  (Part 2)

By | December 11, 2019

[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.



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.

16 thoughts on “Why Do Soldiers Fight?  (Part 2)

  1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Thanks, Gen. Satterfield. Well written and argued. I think what you’re saying is that camaraderie and patriotism are the two main driving forces today for the US Army. I will assume that it applies to all the other military services, but also to any organization.

    1. Xerxes I

      So very true! Trust is at the heart of ALL social relationships. The more trust, the more vulnerable, but also the more effective the group is.

    2. Albert Ayer

      “If you don’t have the discipline to do a good job, you will not be trusted. Leadership means learning many lessons. Remember this one.” — General Satterfield

      1. Dead Pool Guy

        Discipline and trust go together and are, in fact, not really separable. One cannot be had without the other. That is why the political systems in the West (particularly in the US) are showing strains. Trust is being lost in the social institutions that hold the society together. The Democratic Party in the US is hell bent on destroying the nation by being seen as the party of compassion. In reality, they are the part of hate and destruction.

  2. Eric Coda

    Dr. Wong is a really smart guy. I’m glad they have him at the US Army War College. I don’t know how you get into that “college” but it sounds pretty awesome. I would surely like to go. I wonder what the qualifications are for the average person?

  3. Wilson Cox

    I’ve been a fan of SLA Marshall for a long time. I’ve read his books and papers. While some criticize his research methods (I’m not sure if they are right) SLA Marshall nevertheless opened our eyes to how the Infantryman on the battlefield behaved. We took his ideas and integrated them into combat formations. That being said, our Infantryman today are more lethal to the enemy than anytime in the past.

    1. Army Captain

      Wilson. Thanks, I was going to write something like this but you beat me to it. Yes, SLAM (as he is often known as) did give us some ideas — like the average Infantryman does fire his rifle much during combat. We have put training in place that ensures that is no longer true. Plus, better marksmanship training overall.

  4. Tom Bushmaster

    A great ending to your series. I’d always been taught that the basis for holding large armies in the field was not a top-down structure of punishment for those who didn’t obey but the greater idea of protecting the nation. That is patriotism in its essence. Well written and educational. Thank you Gen. Satterfield for another worthy series.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Patriotism is considered something ‘bad’ these days. Maybe that idea of ‘bad’ is coming from a bunch of wimps who were probably beat up as kids in the school yard. Patriotism is good. It’s protection for the group from outside enemies. BTW, it works!!!

    2. Doc Blackshear

      Any group of people who cannot or will not protect themselves, will eventually fade away or be outright destroyed.

      1. Scotty Bush

        The average person walking the street doesn’t understand this, not because they never heard it but because they believe in some PC socialism nonsense. Young people today are simply too intellectually lazy to figure much out on their own.

      2. Yusaf from Texas

        Well said, Doc. This is a big issue. Too bad that so many cannot see it for what it is. Do not ignore social interaction rules that have been effective over the past thousand years because you “know better.” This gets back to young socialists today thinking they are intellectually and morally superior to everyone else today and in the past.

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