What Decides the Quality of Soldiers

What Decides the Quality of Soldiers

By No. 2890 C.W.C. J. I. B. Williamson (Excerpt from the 1952 Review)

In considering the characteristics of armies and their men, it is not sufficient simply to realize what qualities produce good soldiers. It is all very well to know this, but that is hardly enough. What we really want to know is how these qualities are produced.

Although a soldier is well trained in the techniques of war, and although well disciplined, he is of little value unless he has the will to fight. The will to fight is motivated by an ideology or a possession which he wants to defend or conquer and-by confidence in his ability to will. But the will to fight, and especially the will to win, is naught unless grounded on courage.

But what decides the courage of a man, or of a group; for surely it is more than a thing of chance? History indicates that courageous qualities vary with nations and religions. This should suggest at least a partial answer to the question: what produces a soldier of quality? It seems reasonable that the answer should be found under three headings:


(a) Physical Environment;

(b) Ideological and/or Religious Environment;

(c) Military Organization.

To illustrate the influence of the physical environment, let me use a statement by Stewart of Garth which was quoted by Field Marshal Wavell in his forward to The Black Watch and the King’s Enemies.

“In forming his military character, the Highlander was not more favoured by nature than by the social system under which he lived. Nursed in poverty, he acquired a hardihood which enabled him to sustain severe privations. As the simplicity of his life gave vigour to his body, so it fortified his mind. . . He was taught to consider courage as the most honourable virtue, cowardice the most disgraceful failing. . . With such principles, and regarding any disgrace he might bring on his clan and district as the most cruel misfortune, the Highland private soldier had a peculiar motive to exertion.”

In the next part of the quotation, note the application of organization to utilize these traits.

“. . . When in a national or district corps, he is surrounded by the companions of his youth and the rivals of his early achievements; he feels the impulse of emulation strengthened by the consciousness that every proof which he displays, either of bravery or cowardice, will find its way to his native home.”

This is no formal proof, but certainly serves to illustrate the influence of physical environment upon the quality of man. The value of British regimental organization is demonstrated. In effect it may be called a trick,. Whether consciously or unconsciously arrived at, to utilize the national characteristics of the British as far as producing reliable armies is concerned.

Men will not fail if they realize the news of their exploits will return to their homes and families; especially when courage is placed on such a high plane. If a man is faced with the choice of a brave death or a cowardly survival, he may very well , if his comrades are from his own town or maybe his own street be expected to prefer an honourable death to disgrace oh his family. ‘Loss of face’ in a community is a serious blow. If on the other hand he knows that he will not have to live with his buddies and his reputation for the rest of his life, he is quite likely to select the cowardly survival-unless of course, he is ideologically directed to courage.

Now we may look briefly at this religious or ideological influence. Consider the Japanese soldier. We all remember the news of how Japanese snipers would tie themselves into trees and fight to the bitter, often painful end. There was never any hope of news of their deeds returning to their homeland, their deeds were without earthly reward. Theirs was a religious reward. The Japanese’s died so bravely you may say because of a religious fanaticism. Quite right! But this surely proves that religion has been an influence on soldierly qualities. Admittedly an extreme example has been used, but it does make a point.

This has been a brief discussion, but the points are worthy, it is hoped, of consideration, and the conclusions which may be drawn, of application.

Courage, it would seem, is a necessity in reliable soldiers, and the degree of courage which men possess depends upon:

(a) Physical Environment of their homes and homeland;

(b) Religious and/or Ideological Background, and the efficiency with which the group characteristics are utilized upon;

(c) The Military Organization.

Wise military organization bolsters reliability, it can make men obey their courageous ideals.

General Patton of the American Army was admittedly a showman, but he did understand certain human characteristics-he had to. In a comment on courage he wrote:

“Discipline, pride, self-respect, self-confidence and the love of glory are attributes which will make a man courageous even when he is afraid.”

-And in referring to his nation he stated a fact which I hope they have overcome, and of which I hope we are not so guilty.

“It is an unfortunate and-a tragic fact that, in our attempts to prevent war, we have taught out people to belittle the heroic qualities of a soldier.”