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Thread: Should morale be a principle of war?

  1. #1

    Default Should morale be a principle of war?

    The Principles of War are mostly defined as guidelines and “best practices” that have generally proven true throughout the history of warfare. The US Army for instance, currently recognizes nine principles of war, which are as follows [1]:

    Objective
    Offensive
    Mass
    Economy of Force
    Maneuver
    Unity of Command
    Security
    Surprise
    Simplicity


    Taken together, these principles help commanders plan for and conduct successful military operations. However, given moral forces and an obvious physical/human element to the history and character of warfare, one may beg the question… should morale be a principle of war?

    Though it is curiously absent from US doctrine, morale has been a staple of warfare since the beginning, predating even strategy and tactics. Unit cohesion on the battlefield, not generalship, was what arguably contributed the most to victories in the great shoving matches between ancient and medieval armies – success going to the side who didn’t flee or surrender. In addition, morale is embodied in warrior ethos, which more often than not, relates back to a set of heroic ideas that allow a solider to overcome their natural fear of death – courage being the most important one. Finally, a strong argument can be made that many elite units (to include modern guard units), are not so much defined by their fighting prowess or equipment, but by their personal loyalty to the commander, their cause, and willingness to fight to the last man.

    To quote Napoleon; “an army's effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.” A lesson that certainly proved true during the mass desertions that resulted from the Russian campaign, and repeated again centuries later when ISIS routed a modern Iraqi Army.

    Yet one of the strongest arguments that can still be put forward in favor of morale are the principles of Surprise and Security. If Surprise is a viable method of securing victory (via shock), and if Security means never letting the enemy acquire an unexpected advantage, then morale, and its effects on combat power, must be seen as a tested and true principle of war.

    Where morale could come up short however, is that it is too often confused as a goal by inept military planners. The principles of war are meant to be means to an end (elements of strategy), whereas too often the morale of individuals soldiers, and its focus on well-being, are incompatible with actual military objectives. The achievement of specific collective goals, to include national interest, must come before a soldier’s mood and happiness.

    A strategy based on esprit de corps is obviously no strategy at all.

    Finally, if morale has been on the battlefield since the beginning, then so has weapons tech. Revolutions in military affairs mean that modern battlefields are more rapid, deadly, and decisive than ever before. The arrival of destructive ordnance and mechanized armies (to include high-speed standoff weaponry) is in effect the arrival of perfect soldiers, impervious to fear and fatigue, who obey orders and can kill without question. Though moral forces have always been linked to our ability to resist, the awesome and destructive power of physical force means are feelings on the matter are less important than ever.

    In short, morale may have driven soldiers to fight, to stick around and give it their all in the face of overwhelming odds, but in the end, unlike the other principles of war, it probably won’t save him.

    Unit dispersion, not cohesion, is now the best means to insure victory and survival.

    ---
    [1] Principles of War (US Army) http://www.digitalattic.org/home/war/fm1005/
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; October 17, 2019 at 12:21 PM.
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  2. #2
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    Nice post.

    Unit dispersion, not cohesion, is now the best means to insure victory and survival.
    Perhaps. But moral is more than just what one guy does. It matters even more in a dispersed unit. It means you trust yourself to be scattered with a plan that is already not working out the way it did on the white board, but the other troops you can't see are all in and working to finish the objective as well or not running. Moral is not a individual thing but a collective one. I can't recall the source but an incidence at Khe Sanh comes to mind. A Marine patrol gut suckered into a trap and was pinned down. Command scraped up enough choppers to evac the living but was going to order the lieutenant in command to leave the dead. Reply from said officer all his men are leaving this hill or none of them. Now I don't now how you take that in the moment. This guy is nuts and is going to get me killed over guys already dead, or in this unit even if you get separated and lost we will not just cut and run at the first chance. Either one effects moral but that is different than say the personal bravery on any one person. The most brave hero in the world is not necessarily going to stand around and risk death if he thinks nobody else will for whatever the job/mission is and his individual death will accopblish nothing.

    All the more important in a environment when all the modern comm gear dispersed action requires goes belly up. Also I'll be impressed with stand off weaponry and drones and the like when they actually get used in a peer war.

    But yes I would vote it in on the list now or in Sargon's day. You have to have a clear eyed way make an assessment of your units and individual troopers and if in any particular group what battering they can withstand as a group.
    Last edited by conon394; October 17, 2019 at 12:46 PM.
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    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

  3. #3
    paleologos's Avatar You need burrito love!!
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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    It seems to me that morale is considered a principle of soldiery and is at the same time both an objective and one of the outcomes of leadership.

    Leadership is exercised at all times, at all levels and by everyone.
    Leadership is any action, utterance, method, or omission that either engenders, or guides a behavioral response on the part of other people.
    For example, a soldier telling their commander that an item of the offered meal is stale, is exercising a form of leadership, regardless of whether he realizes it, as the commander would be required by his mandate to respond to such information, most likely not in plain sight of the troopers.

    If I were to define morale I would -with some tentativeness- posit that it is the gut feeling that one's position in the grand scheme of things is the best possible, all other things considered, which derives from both a sense of belonging to the nation, and the conviction that the rule of one's commanders is legitimate, their orders wise, that the commanders themselves are subordinate to the nation-not arbitrary, the objectives of the nation are benevolent, the methods pursuant said objectives are well thought off and the duties that have been distributed are both equitable and necessary to be executed for the survival of both self and brothers-in-arms, especially under enemy fire.

    Now, considering that soldiers of any rank are not free agents but subordinate to a command structure, whatever water the proposed definition may hold, can best be understood within the context of Social Contract theory.
    I find myself leaning towards Jean Jacques Rousseau's line of thought.
    Link 1
    Link 2 (Wikipedia).


    Seventy eight years ago, as the USA were preparing for an actual, conventional shooting war against a peer power (for the last time in their history), it became apparent that victory would not have been likely, perhaps even possible, without the conviction of moral superiority and the personal sense of duty.
    Below you can read the rationale that convinced the elites of the nation to dig deep in their pockets to finance the operations and policies that made the Greatest Generation:

    ...

    As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone. Those who man our defenses, and those behind them who build our defenses, must have the stamina and the courage which come from unshakable belief in the manner of life which they are defending. The mighty action that we are calling for cannot be based on a disregard of all things worth fighting for.


    The Nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fibre of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.


    Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world.
    For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

    The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple.
    They are:

    • Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
    • Jobs for those who can work.
    • Security for those who need it.
    • The ending of special privilege for the few.
    • The preservation of civil liberties for all.
    • The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.


    These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.


    Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.

    As examples:


    • We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
    • We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
    • We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.


    I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call.

    A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my Budget Message I shall recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying today. No person should try, or be allowed, to get rich out of this program; and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.


    If the Congress maintains these principles, the voters, putting patriotism ahead of pocketbooks, will give you their applause.


    In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.



    • The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
    • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
    • The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world.
    • The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.


    That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.


    To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

    ...

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
    6 January,
    1941 State of the Union address.
    Link to full speech.


    So, to answer your initial question, morale is inevitably a factor in war, as it is one of the nations assets of power, this one being psychological in nature.
    But there is only so much that a commander can do for morale.

    For example, a commander has the duty to build in his subordinates the conviction that he will not mismanage their lives in combat.
    But in the worst possible case, he only has the ability to mismanage their lives tactically.

    Morale requires that soldiers feel valued operationally, strategically and politically as well.
    And that is not in the purview of the commander, ergo the absence of a chapter on morale from US Army manuals.
    Had there been such a chapter, the authors would be required to demonstrate citation on social research and that would demonstrate the absence of the Four Freedoms concerns and considerations from modern US politics.
    The military are simply not allowed to launch jibes against their masters.
    Last edited by paleologos; October 17, 2019 at 04:06 PM.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    Another fine thread DC.

    My Australian army friends note a few points about US Army doctrine and tactics.

    1. The US looks after the moral of its soldiers very carefully. The army supplies better food and housing than most other armies. One mate noted they had ice cream in Iraq.

    2. US infantry teams seem to be built around high morale individuals. On patrol their infantry "bunch up" in a way that allows them to lend moral support to one another (and especially the "natural leaders"): the UK and AUS soldiers this is anathema and soldiers remain many metres apart to minimise the risk of a machine burst taken down a section on contact. In part this reflects the US capacity to "bring it" to any fire fight: they wear the risk of higher initial casualties because they usually have a disproportionate capacity to return fire and call in support. The AUS and UK response is to scatter, survive the initial stage and methodically resolve the combat with a lower chance of casualties.

    My own reading suggests the US army in particular has worked very hard on the morale aspect from the recruitment, training, arming, doctrinal, tactical and supply aspects. The severe breakdown in morale reported from Vietnam (there were instances where soldiers claimed to have gone "on strike" refusing to patrol and fragging officers that forced them out) brought a very carefully though tout response, and the recent "steamroller" victories since then seem to vindicate the choices made. Casualties have been minimal and horrific incidents resulting from breakdowns of morale such as occurred at Abu Graib remain rare (unlike the rash of war crimes that occurred in Vietnam).

    It may be that morale is not mentioned explicitly in the field manual because it is more a matter for training (where morale can be inculcated) and other factors. Certainly the US to my limited knowledge has addressed and continues to address the question of its soldier's morale as a matter of the highest importance.
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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    The severe breakdown in morale reported from Vietnam (there were instances where soldiers claimed to have gone "on strike" refusing to patrol and fragging officers that forced them out) brought a very carefully though tout response
    Obvious the all volunteer force was a key change. The replacement strategy used by the us of dribbling in short term draftees, volunteers and professionals to units one or two at a time was particularity pernicious. Even worse was the 6 month rotation for junior officers who could have provided experience and stability with longer tours.

    https://www.historynet.com/vietnam-w...ion-policy.htm
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB Dromikaites

    'One day when I fly with my hands - up down the sky, like a bird'

    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    Israel has a conscript military. The concept of a volunteer force is overrated in my opinion. As a theoretical concept, morale is certainly important and something that should be cultivated. As a principle of war? No, it's only use, in my opinion, is in calculating a unit's ability to fight. A hypothetical kamikaze unit would have to be eliminated to the very last man in order to destroy its ability to fight. An Iraqi division? Probably much, much less. Principles of War, much like the Russian Way of War is simply an identification of variables that affect the outcome of modern conflict, and how those variables interact with each other. The actual nuance and calculations are missing. That's where morale belongs. Ultimately conflict is simply a battle of two systems, and modern conflict determines which system is superior very, very quickly.

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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sukiyama View Post
    Israel has a conscript military. The concept of a volunteer force is overrated in my opinion.....
    While I take your point its worth having look at the relative performance of conscript and voluntary forces in the same military tradition. In the case of 20th century Australia we had a mix of conscript ("National Service" for deployment only within the national boundaries) and volunteer. When manpower ran perilously low full conscription was moved but defeated in two plebiscites.

    There was an understanding that the war was not an existential one, rather an Imperial adventure and significant fractions of the political leadership refused to countenance conscription.

    Australian forces remained fairly high quality and effective to the war's end, albeit dislike by the Germans because of an unprofessional tendency to shoot prisoners.

    In WWII there was the same split, conscript in the "nashos" and volunteers in the overseas army. The National Service units were deployed to the Australian colony in New Guinea under a shonky ruse: the "chocos" (chocolate soldiers-concripts were thought by the regulars to melt under the heat of battle) are renowned for their fighting retreat along the Kokoda trail but its a bit of a myth: we were outperformed by the IJA (also conscripts) and retreated hundreds of miles.

    Australian performance in WWII is marked by some infamous indiscipline among regulars and conscripts as well as some hard fighting. The initial stages of the Kokoda campaign were characterized by the Australian conscripts retreating rapidly: almost no prisoners were taken, partly because many Japanese chose not to surrender, but those who did were usually shot out of hand (which probably was a cause of the reluctance to surrender). In North Africa the Australian regulars (volunteers) performed well in combat but still committed atrocities such as shooting German prisoners. The Fall of Singapore saw some infamous Australian indiscipline: some of it may have been British scapegoating but the Australian force collapsed and their general abandoned his post when ordered to surrender.

    My general impression is the US has a similar history of less effective conscripts and more effective regulars. They certainly share Australia's poor reputation for shooting prisoners.

    I am not sure why Revolutionary France, Imperial Japan and Bismarkian Prussia and its German successor states were able to field effective armies of conscripts but they did. I guess effective propaganda and mobilisation of the "national spirit" through state control of institutions is important, and the fairly higher degree of personal liberty (or at least less central control of education etc) in Australia, Great Britain and the US means conscription produces worse soldiers.
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    I think the effectiveness of conscripts varies greatly, depending on the state of military technology and the nature of the conflict. For example, if the equipment that is expensive to produce or difficult to use provides a huge bonus, then the role of conscripts is relatively marginal. Industrialisation has reversed the balance, but scientific progress in robotics may lead to a return to the situation, when hastily recruited militia was an easy prey for noble cavalry. Additionally, prolonged warfare smooths the differences between professional soldiers and conscripts, as the latter gain experience, by participating in battles and coexisting with the former.

    The armies of revolutionary France performed pretty terribly in the beginning, as numerous beheaded generals can attest, but their quality was gradually improved, as they evolved from raw recruits into grizzled veterans, while the more meritocratic system guaranteed the emergence of more open-minded reforms and tactics. On the other hand, conscript armies have always performed horribly, in conflicts where the enemy is sneaky and there's no real incentive to aim for victory. A typical modern example of this failure is the disastrous Egyptian intervention in the civil war of North Yemen.

    Of course, the quality of the conscripts can be heavily influenced by constant training and the professionalism of the officer corps. However, both these factors are extremely lacking, especially nowadays. Firstly, in times of peace, neither the authorities nor the officers nor the soldiers are particularly willing to commit themselves to costly and demanding exercises, without the prospect of an immediate and obvious benefit. Secondly, in the majority of countries, the quality of the officer corps has been steadily declining, because a career in the army is hardly the best option for the crème de la crème of our societies.

    Back in the 18th century, an illustrious career in the army was almost the only option for a wealthy teenager*, who wasn't really attracted to theology, law or perhaps medicine. Currently, on the other hand, few would be really willing to subject themselves to rigid discipline, a mediocre salary and the caprices of their worthless superiors. This is why maintaining an expensive conscript army is completely unreasonable for every state that does not have to deal with an active insurgency. From my experience, the only reasons for still implementing obligatory conscription in an otherwise peaceful country concern purely domestic goals. Namely, supporting a service-orientated economy dedicated to satisfying the needs of the conscripts and employing an overgrown officer corps of potential voters. Meanwhile, rampant corruption and incompetence ensure that the army, despite its impressive budget, is barely capable of joining military parades.

    As for morale, it's probably not included, because it's not very easily undermined by outside causes. Propaganda leaflets thrown by bombers are probably the biggest waste of resources, even though printing is quite cheap. Morale usually disintegrates, at least in what concerns modern conflicts, as a result of war weariness, severe injustice inside the army and the civilian society and the collapse of the economy. The Czarist regime melted away, not because the Kaiser convinced the Russians to desert their monarch, but because the elites had been absolutely discredited, while the quality of life was in shambles. Neither the French nor the Germans rallied behind the Empire and the Third Reich in 1814 and 1945 respectively, since they have been both exhausted from the never-ending war. The overwhelming power of the Coalition and the Allies also played a role, but the principles of military doctrine only care about what leads to the aforementioned domination, not about its impact.

    *Fun fact: The sudden loss of prestige is sometimes considered by historians as a relatively minor factor that contributed to military coups in Latin America and Iberia, as it encouraged the hostility the officer corps felt towards the middle-class and the civilian administration.

  9. #9
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sukiyama View Post
    Israel has a conscript military. The concept of a volunteer force is overrated in my opinion. As a theoretical concept, morale is certainly important and something that should be cultivated. As a principle of war? No, it's only use, in my opinion, is in calculating a unit's ability to fight. A hypothetical kamikaze unit would have to be eliminated to the very last man in order to destroy its ability to fight. An Iraqi division? Probably much, much less. Principles of War, much like the Russian Way of War is simply an identification of variables that affect the outcome of modern conflict, and how those variables interact with each other. The actual nuance and calculations are missing. That's where morale belongs. Ultimately conflict is simply a battle of two systems, and modern conflict determines which system is superior very, very quickly.
    Israel is not planning to or actuality fighting wars all over the world. It is fighting local wars that its population generally sees as wars of national survival. That is a situation ideal for conscription to shine.

    In any case my point was not so much volunteer better as a truism, but the all volunteer military allowed the US to avoid sidestep the political and legal issues that created the disastrous way conscript soldiers were implemented in a 'small colonial war' at the end of a long logistical chain and so far to keep it from repeating. You note nobody bothered to also change the way the draft is organized, because then as now Congress likely does not have will to seriously consider necessary changes because well it involves considering a peer war and all that entails, best just hope it never happens.

    edit:

    Here:

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/pe...litary-3354093

    See you can see the volunteer military basically sided stepped the 24 month draft issue for the US (and also as implemented back in nam its poor matching of people to job). IRR means issue the stop loss and nobody is counting down to their particular day home, just the unit.
    Last edited by conon394; October 19, 2019 at 12:39 PM.
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB Dromikaites

    'One day when I fly with my hands - up down the sky, like a bird'

    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    Quote Originally Posted by conon394 View Post
    Israel is not planning to or actuality fighting wars all over the world. It is fighting local wars that its population generally sees as wars of national survival. That is a situation ideal for conscription to shine.
    Yeah, I suppose we'd have to create a different thread to have that discussion, which is also a very interesting one, imo.

    In any case my point was not so much volunteer better as a truism, but the all volunteer military allowed the US to avoid sidestep the political and legal issues that created the disastrous way conscript soldiers were implemented in a 'small colonial war' at the end of a long logistical chain and so far to keep it from repeating. You note nobody bothered to also change the way the draft is organized, because then as now Congress likely does not have will to seriously consider necessary changes because well it involves considering a peer war and all that entails, best just hope it never happens.

    edit:

    Here:

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/pe...litary-3354093

    See you can see the volunteer military basically sided stepped the 24 month draft issue for the US (and also as implemented back in nam its poor matching of people to job). IRR means issue the stop loss and nobody is counting down to their particular day home, just the unit.
    That's a pretty interesting read, thanks.

  11. #11
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: Should morale be a principle of war?

    I should have refined that a bit more since I said Stop Loss

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/mi...p-loss-3345246

    In other words even if you are at 8 years, but are in an active war you can't start counting down the days.
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB Dromikaites

    'One day when I fly with my hands - up down the sky, like a bird'

    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

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