Command is not a prerogative, but rather a responsibility to be shared with all who are capable of filling up the spaces in orders and of carrying out that which is not openly expressed though it may be understood. Admittedly, it is not easy for a young officer, who by reason of his youth is not infrequently lacking in self-assurance and in the confidence that he can command respect, to understand that as a commander he can grow in strength in the measure that he succeeds in developing the latent strength of his subordinates. But if he stubbornly resists this premise as he goes along in the service, his personal resources will never become equal to the strain which will be imposed upon him, come a war emergency. The power to command resides largely in the ability to see when a proper initiative is being exercised and in giving it moral encouragement. When an officer feels that way about his job and his men, he will not be ready to question any action by a junior which might be narrowly construed as an encroachment upon his own authority. Of this last evil come the restraints which reduce men to automatons, giving only that which is asked, or less, according to the pressing of a button.
There are other men who have as sound a potential as these already-made leaders, but lack the initial confidence because they were not constructively handled in earlier years. They require somewhat more personal attention, for the simple reason that more frequent contact with their superiors, words of approval and advice as needed, will do more than all else to put bottom under them. They must be encouraged to think for themselves as well as to obey orders, to organize as well as to respond, if they are to become part of the solution, rather than remaining part of the problem, of command. If left wholly to their own devices, or to the ministrations of less thoughtful subordinates, they will remain in that majority which moves only when told. It takes no more work, though it does require imagination, to awaken the energies of such men by appealing to their intelligence and their self-interest, than to nauseate them with dull theory, and to cramp them by depriving them of responsibility.
Careful missionary work among these "sleepers" is as productive as spading the ground, and sprinkling a garden patch. When an officer takes hold in a new unit, his main chance of making it better than it was comes of looking for the overlooked men. He uses his hand to give them a firm lift upward, but it will not be available for that purpose if he spends any of his time tugging at men who are already on their feet and moving in the right general direction.
In the words of a distinguished armored commander in our forces: "To the military leader, men are tools. He is successful to the extent that he can get the men to work for him. Ordinarily, and on their own initiative, people run on only 35 percent capacity. The success of a leader comes of tapping the other 65 percent." This is a pretty seasoned judgment on men in the mass, taking them as they come, the mobile men, the slow starters, the indifferent and the shiftless. Almost every man wants to do what is expected of him. When he does not do so, it is usually because his instructions have been so doubtful as to befog him or give him a reasonable excuse for noncompliance. This view of things is the only tenable attitude an officer or enlisted leader can take toward his subordinates. He will recognize the exceptions, and if he does not then take appropriate action, it is only because he is himself shiftless and is compassionate toward others of his own fraternity.
It is the military habit to "plow deep in broken drums and shoot crap for old crowns," as the poet, Carl Sandburg, put it. As much as any other profession, and even possibly a little more, we take pride in the pat solution, and in proof that long-applied processes amply meet the test of newly unfolding experience. But despite all the jests about the Gettysburg Map, we wouldn't know where we're going if we couldn't be reasonably sure of where we've been.
Therefore, it is as well to say now that from all of the careful searching made by the armed services as to the fighting characteristics of Americans during World War II, not a great deal was learned in addition to what was already well known, or surmised. The criteria that had been used in the prior system of selection proved to be substantially correct; at least, if it had faults, they were innate in the complex problem of weighing human material, and were beyond correction by any rule of thumb or judgment. Men were chosen to lead because of personality, intelligence at their work, response to orders, ability to lead in fatigues or in the social affairs of organization, and disciplinary record. In combat these same men carried 95 percent of the load of responsibility and provided the dynamic for the attack. But in every unit, there was almost invariably a small sprinkling of individuals, who having shown no prior ability when measured by the customary yardsticks of courtesy, discipline and work, became strong and vital in any situation calling for heroic action. They could fight, they could lead, they knew what should be done, they could persuade other men to rally around, and by these things, they could command instantly the previously withheld respect of their superiors.
Neither the scientific nor the military mind has yet been able to provide the answer as to how men of this type—so indispensable to the fighting establishment in the thing that matters most, though lacking in strong surface characteristics—can be detected beforehand, and conserved, instead of being wasted possibly in a labor or housekeeping organization.
All concerned recognize the extreme importance of the problem, and would like to do something about it. What is as yet not even vaguely seen is the large possibility that the problem might be self-liquidating if all junior officers became more concerned with learning all they could about the private character and personal nature of their subordinates. This does not mean invading their privacy; but it implies giving every man a fair chance to open up and to talk freely, without fear of contempt. It means studying the background of a man even more carefully than one would read a map, looking for the key to command of the terrain. These are usually repressed men; many of the foreign-born are to be found among them; they cover up because of pride, but they are not afraid of physical danger. Once any man, and particularly a superior, gets through the outer shell, he may have the effect of a catalyst on what is happening inside. If such men did not have basic loyalty, they would never fight. When at last they give their loyalty to an individual, they are usually his to command and will go through hell for him.
There was an Oklahoma miner named Alvin Wimberley in 90th Division during World War I. On the drill field, he could do nothing correctly. He couldn't step off on the left foot; he would frequently drop his piece while trying to do right shoulder. Solely because his case was unfathomable, his platoon leader asked that he be taken to France with the unit instead of separated with the culls. At the front, Wimberley immediately took the lead in every detail of a dangerous sort, such as exploding a mine field, or hunting for traps and snares. His nerve was inexhaustible; his judgment sure. There was, after all, a simple key to the mystery. Wimberley had led a solitary life as a dynamiter, deep under ground. He was frightened of men, but danger was his element. When he saw other men recoil at the thing which bothered him not at all, he realized that he was the big man, though he only stood 5 feet 3 inches in issue socks.
To know men, it is not necessary to wet-nurse them, and no officer can make a sorrier mistake than to take the overly nice, worrying attitude toward them. This, after all, is simply the rule of the well-bred man, rather than an item peculiar to the code of the military officer. But it is a little less becoming in a service officer than in anyone else, because, when a man puts on fighting clothes in the name of his country, it is an insult to treat him as if he were a juvenile.
In any situation where men need to know one another better, someone has to break the ice. Where does the main responsibility lie within a military unit? True enough, the junior has to salute first, and in some services is supposed to say, "Good morning!" first, though beating a man to the draw with a greeting is one way to win him.
However, the main point is this: unless an officer has himself been an enlisted man, it is almost impossible for him to know how formidable, and even forbidding, rank at first seems to the eyes of the man down under, even though he would be loath to say so.
Many recruits have such a mistaken hearsay impression of the United States military system, that it is for them a cause for astonishment that any officer enjoys free discussion with them. They feel at first that there is a barrier there which only the officer is entitled to cross; it takes them a little while to learn better.
But in the continuing relationship, it is the habit of the average well-disciplined enlisted man to remain reticent, and talk only on official matters, unless the officer takes the lead in such way as to invite general conversation. For that matter, the burden is the same anywhere in the service in relations between a senior officer and his subordinates, and the former must take the lead if he expects to really know his men.
Many newly joined officers believe, altogether mistakenly, that there is some strange taboo against talking to men except in line of duty, and that if caught at it, it will be considered infra dig. There is always the hope that they will remain around long enough to learn better.
WRITING AND SPEAKING
Other things being equal, a superior rating will invariably be given to the officer who has persevered in his studies of the art of self-expression, while his colleague, who attaches little importance to what may be achieved through working with the language, will be marked for mediocrity.
A moment's reflection will show why this has to be the case and why mastery of the written and spoken word is indispensable to successful officership.
As the British statesman, Disraeli, put it, "Men govern with words." Within the military establishment, command is exercised through what is said which commands attention and understanding and through what is written which directs, explains, interprets or informs.
Battles are won through the ability of men to express concrete ideas in clear and unmistakable language. All administration is carried forward along the chain of command by the power of men to make their thoughts articulate and available to others.
There is no way under the sun that this basic condition can be altered. Once the point is granted, any officer should be ready to accept its corollary—that superior qualification in the use of the language, both as to the written and the spoken word, is more essential to military leadership than knowledge of the whole technique of weapons handling.
It then becomes strictly a matter of personal decision whether he will seek to advance himself along the line of main chance or will take refuge in the excuse offered by the great majority: "I'm just a simple fighting file with no gift for writing or speaking."
How often these or similar words are heard in the armed services! And the pity of it is that they are usually uttered in a tone indicating that the speaker believes some special virtue attaches to his kind of ignorance. There is the unmistakable innuendo that the man who pays serious attention to the fundamentals of the business of communication is somehow less possessed of sturdy military character than himself. There could hardly be a more absurd or disadvantageous professional conceit than this. It is the mark only of an officer who has no ambition to properly qualify himself, and is seeking to justify his own laziness.
Not all American military leaders have been experts at polishing a phrase or giving clear expression and continuity to the thoughts which made them useful in command. But of those who have excelled in the conduct of great operations, at least four out of five made some mark in the field of letters. A long list would include such names as U. S. Grant, W. T. Sherman, Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, James G. Harbord, Henry T. Allen, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Jr., H. H. Arnold, Douglas MacArthur, William F. Halsey, W. B. Smith, Joseph W. Stilwell, Holland M. Smith, and Robert L. Eichelberger among many others.
Of them all, it can be said without exception that they acquired their skill at self-expression by sustained practice which was part of a self-imposed training in the interests of furthering their military efficiency. No one of them was a born writer. There is no such thing. Nor did any one of them owe his abilities as a writer to any other person. Writers are self-made. But it is a reasonable speculation that history might never have heard of the greater number of these men had they not worked sedulously to become proficient with the pen as well as with the sword. Granting that they had other sound military qualities in the beginning, an acquired ability to express themselves lucidly and with force became a touchstone to preferment. The same thing holds true of their celebrated military contemporaries almost without exception. Even those who had no public reputation for authorship, and would have been ill at ease if called upon to speak to an average audience, knew how to use the language in presenting their thoughts to their staffs and their troops, whether the occasion called for a succinct operational order, a doctrinal exposition or an inspirational message on the eve of battle.
Wherever one looks, the same precept may be noted. It was not coincidence merely, but related cause and effect, that Ferdinand Foch was one of the ablest military writers of the twentieth century before he won immortality on the field of war, that the elder von Moltke was as skilled with ink as with powder, and that we still marvel at the picture of the great von Steuben dictating drill manuals far into the night so that there would be greater perfection in his formations on the following day. The command of language was one of the main sources of their power over the multitude.
As it was with these commanders, so it is with leadership at every level: Men who can command words to serve their thoughts and feelings are well on their way to commanding men to serve their purposes.
All senior commanders respect the junior who has a facility for thinking an idea through and then expressing it comprehensively in clear, unvarnished phrases. Moreover, even when they are stilted in their own manner of expression, they will warm to the man whose style achieves strength through its ease and naturalness. They will quickly make note of any young officer who is making progress in this direction and will want to have him around. He is a rare bird in the services, and for that reason his opportunities are far above the average. Staff work could not be carried forward at any of its levels if it were not for this particular talent, and command would lose a great part of its magnetism.
Toward the building of a career, the best break that can come to any young man is to have three or four places bidding simultaneously for his services. There are possibly better arguments than that as to why perfection in writing should be a main pursuit of the service officer, such as the sense of personal attainment which comes of it.
Any man who has the brain to qualify for commission can make of himself a competent writer. Because of natural limitations, he may never come to excel in this art. But if he has had average schooling, knows how to open a dictionary, can find his way to a library, is willing to commit himself to long study and practice, particularly in nonduty hours, and will finally free himself of the superstition that writing is a game only for specialists, he can acquire all the skill that is necessary to further his advance within the military profession.
That is the great difference between writing ability and specialized knowledge in such fields as electronics and atomic research.
But where should work begin? How about a little practical advice?
The only way to learn to write is to write. That is it—there is no other secret than hard, unremitting practice. Most writers at the start are mentally muscle-bound, and poorly coordinated. They have thoughts in their heads. They think they can develop them clearly. But when they try to apply a largely dormant vocabulary to the expression of these thoughts, the result is stiff and selfconscious.
The only cure for this is constant mental exercise, with one's pen, or over one's typewriter. After a man has written perhaps a half million relatively useless words there comes, sometimes almost in a flash, and at other times gradually, a mastery not only of words, but of phrases, sentences and the composition of ideas. It is a kind of rhythmic process, like learning to swim, or to row a boat, or navigate an airplane. When a writer has at last conquered his element, his personality and his character can be transmitted to paper. What is said will reflect the force, adaptability, reason and musing of the writer. In fact, the discipline through which one learns to write adds substance to thought, whereby one's ideas are given body and connection. Such common faults as wordiness, overstatement, faulty sentence structure and weak use of words are gradually corrected. With their passing, confidence grows. This does not mean, however, that the task then becomes easy. Though its rewards will increase, good writing continues to be a strain even to the man who does it well. Many celebrated men of letters never get beyond the "sweating" stage, but have to fight their way through a jungle of words, and rewrite almost endlessly, before finding satisfaction in their product.
This description makes it all seem more than a little formidable. But what was promised in the first place was that any service officer, who will accept the necessary discipline, can make himself reasonably proficient as a writer, and thereby further his professional progress. What he writes about during the conditioning period makes very little difference. It might be an operational order one night, a treatise on discipline the next, a lecture to his men on the elements of combat the third. Fortunately, the list of topics within the services and directly applicable to their operations, is practically inexhaustible. That is a main reason why the military establishment is a better school for writing than perhaps any other place in our society.
Winston Churchill, whose gift of forceful expression is the envy of all other writing men, won his literary spurs in his early twenties as a soldier with the Malakand Field Force. He saw the essential idea—that to learn English, he had literally to learn, just as though he had been acquiring Latin or French. As a writer, his main strength is his employment of Anglo-Saxon, the words of our common speech.
But simply to take regular exercise in composition is not quite enough. Of it would come the shadow but not the substance. To progress as a writer, one must become a student of the best things which have been written by men who understand their craft. A military officer can do that without going beyond the field of military studies, if that should be his disposition, such is the richness and variation of available works in this realm of literature. The purpose at hand is not only to seek great ideas for their own sake but to make careful note of the manner in which they are expressed. So doing, one unconsciously invigorates his own powers and adopts techniques which the masters have used to great advantage.
To paraphrase what a distinguished journalist once said on this subject in a speech to young writers: "For an officer it is in the first place a shame to be ignorant—ignorant, as not a few are, of history and geography: and in the second place, it is a pity that any officer should lack a vigor in writing which can be produced through imitation of vigorous writers."
As to what is best worth seeking, a man can not go wrong by "falling in love" with the works of a relatively limited number of authors who kindle him personally. It is all right to widen the field occasionally, for diversion, for contrast, for sharpening style, and for balancing of ideas, but strength comes of finding a main line and holding to it. No man can read a book with sympathetic understanding without taking from it something that makes him more complex and more potent.
The main test is in this: if you read a book and feel stirred by it, even though alternately you strongly agree with certain of its passages and warmly contend against others, something new has been added. The writer is making you see things. Your own powers of observation are being made more acute. All good writers are in a sense hitch-hikers. While going along for the ride, and enjoying the essence of some highly developed mind, they are not loath to study the technique by which some other man develops his driving power, and to make note of his strong words and best phrases for possible future use.
It is a good habit to underscore passages in books which have contributed something vital to one's own thought—always provided that the books have not been borrowed.
Without mentioning names, we can take a cue from a man who some years ago entered one of the services while still a youth. He had had little formal education, but he began an earnest study of military literature, and the search for knowledge whetted his thirst to join the company of those who could speak to the world because they had something to say. He read such books as were at hand, and clipped pieces from magazines and newspapers which had particularly appealed to him, for one reason or another. Whenever he saw a new word, he wrote it down and sought the meaning in the dictionary, considering whether it had a shade of meaning which added anything important to his vocabulary. This done, he wrote sentences, many sentences, employing his new words in various ways, until their use became instinctive. On this foundation alone, he built his career as a national writer. There was nothing extraordinary about this start and the ultimate result. Literally thousands of Americans have qualified themselves for one branch or another of the writing profession by what they learned to do in military service. Too, an ability to "organize a good paper" has been a large element in the success of most of the men who have moved from the military circle into top posts in the diplomatic service, in education or in industrial administration. Had they been capable only of delegating this kind of work, their powers would never have been recognized.
As a practical matter, it is better to concentrate on a few elementary rules-of-thumb, such as are contained in the following list, than to bog down attempting to heed everything that the pedants have said about how to become a writer.
The more simply a thing is said the more powerfully it influences those who read. Plain words make strong writing.
There is always one best word to convey a thought or a feeling. To accept a weaker substitute, rather than to Search for the right word, will deprive any writing of force.
Economy of words invigorates composition.
To quote Carl Sandburg: "Think twice before you use an adjective."
It is better to use the adverb because an adverb enhances the verb and is active, whereas the adjective simply loads down the noun.
On the other hand, it is the verb that makes language live. Nine times out of ten the verb is the operative word giving motion to the sentence. Hence, placing the verb is of first importance in giving strength to sentence structure.
In all writing, but in military writing particularly, there is no excuse for vague terminology or phrases which do not convey an exact impression of what was done or what is intended. The military vocabulary is laden with words and expressions which sound professional but do not have definite meaning. They vitiate speech and the establishment would gladly rid itself of them if a way could be found. Men fall into the habit of saying "performed," "functioned" or "executed" and forget that "did" is in the dictionary. A captain along the MLR (main line of resistance) notifies his battalion commander that he has "advanced his left flank" when all that has actually occurred is that six riflemen from the left have crawled forward to new, and possibly, untenable ground.
It is better at all times to rein in. The strength of military writing, like the soundness of military operations, does not gain through overstatement and artificial coloring. The bigger the subject, the less it needs embroidery.
For lucidity and sincerity, the important thing is to say what you have to say in whatever words most accurately express your own thoughts. That done, it is pointless to worry about the effect on the audience.
The list of suggestions could be extended indefinitely. But enough has already been said to stake out a main line for those who have already decided that this subject deserves their interest.
A majority of the world's most gifted writers would in all probability be struck dumb if put before an audience; though dealing confidently with ideas, they lack confidence when dealing with people. The military officer has need of both talents, and as to where the accent should be placed, it is probably more important that he should speak well than that his writing prose should be polished. A unit commander may permit a clerk or a subordinate to do the greater part of his paper work, either because his own time is taken with other duties or because he is awkward at it, but if he permits any other voice to dominate the councils of the organization, he soon ceases to exercise moral authority over it.
Of this there is no question. The judgment men take of their superior is formed as much by what he says and how he says it as by his action.
The matter of nerve is a main element in speaking. When an officer is ill at ease, fidgety and not to the point, the vote of his command for the time being is "no confidence," and so long as he remains that way, they will not change, no matter though his good will shines forth through other acts.
On the other hand, the military crowd is an extremely sympathetic audience. It has to be; it is drawing pay for so being. But even if that were not true, the ranks have a generous spirit and are ever disposed to give the newcomer an even break. If he meets them confidently and calmly, measures his words, smiles at his own mistakes and breaks it off when he has covered his subject, they'll pay no attention to his little fumbles, and they'll approve him. There is no better way to pick up prestige than through instruction or discourse which commands attention, for despite all that is said in favor of the "strong, silent man," troops like an officer who is outgiving, and who has an intelligence that they can respect because they have seen it at work.
As for how an officer should talk to men, his manner and tone should be no different than if he were addressing his fellow officers, or for that matter, a group of his intellectual and political peers from any walk of life. If he is stuffy, he will not succeed anywhere. If he affects a superior manner, that is a mark of his inferiority. If he is patronizing, and talks to grown men as a teacher might talk to a class of adolescents, the rug, figuratively, will be pulled from under him. His audience will put him down as a chump.
It is curiously the case that the junior officer who can't get the right pitch when he talks to the ranks will also be out of tune when he talks to his superiors. This failing is a sign mainly that he needs practice in the school of human nature. By listening a little more carefully to other men, he may himself in time attain maturity.
Concerning subject matter, it is better always to aim high than to take the risk of shooting too low. It is too often the practice to spell out everything in words of one syllable so that the more witless files in the organization will be able to understand it. When that is done, it insults the intelligence of the keenest men, and nothing is added to their progress. The target should be the intellect of the upper 25 or 30 percent. When they are stimulated and informed, they will bring the others along, and even those who do not fully understand all that was under discussion will have heard something to which to aspire. The habit of talking down to troops is one of the worst vices that can afflict an officer.
There are no dull lecture topics; there are only dull lecturers. A little eager research will enliven any subject under the sun. Good lecturing causes men's imaginations to be stirred by vivid images. Real good is accomplished only when they talk to each other of what they have heard and sharpen their impressions. Schopenauer somewhere observes that "people in general have eyes and ears, but not much else—little judgment and even little memory," which isn't far wrong. Consequently, competent lecturing entails the employment of every technique which can be used to hammer a point home. In this way, a truth or a lesson has a better chance of adhering because it is identified with some definite image. Simply to illuminate this point, it is noted that the jests which best stick in the memory are those which are associated with some incongruous situation. To relate a pertinent anecdote, to provide an apt quotation from some well-known authority and to draw upon our own rich battle history for illustrative materials are but a few of the means of freshening any discussion and sharpening its purpose. Men are always ready to listen to the story of other men's experience provided that it is told with vigor. And insofar as combat is concerned, such teaching is in point, for what has happened once will happen again.
For his way as an instructor of young infantry officers of the A. E. F. in 1918, Lt. Col. H. M. Hutchinson of the British Army was awarded our D. S. M. Officers who sat at his feet at Gondrecourt were unlikely ever to forget the point of such an anecdote as:
"There will be no 'Stack arms' in my army. It is a thing one sees on a brewer's calendar—The Soldier's Dream—showing a brave private sleeping under a stack of rifles which it will take him a good half-hour to untangle when the call comes to stand to. No, a soldier had better carry the rifle with him to his meals, have it beside him always, lavish his care upon it, and in short treat it more like a wife than a weapon.
"I am reminded of the times in South Africa when we would come to a country inn where a chap could stop for beer. Well, a soldier would walk into the place, and immediately he would stand his rifle in a corner—like an umbrella, you know—'We've arrived!'—and he'd get well into his beer and a song, say, and suddenly firing would break out on the inn from four sides.
"It seemed that a Boer had slipped into the entry and picked up all the rifles and passed them around to his mates in the bushes, and—well—there you are!"
As a cadet and later as an instructor at Sandhurst, Colonel Hutchinson well knew the usefulness of the anecdote in catching and holding the attention of the young. Who could forget the lesson in this, related at Gondrecourt:
"In my youth I was a dashing ignoramus with clearer ideas than I now have on the line of demarcation between the officer and his men. They sent me out to South Africa during the trouble and I brought a detachment into a country village. It seemed quite unpromising but I was told of a sort of place 3 miles in the country that you would call a chateau in France. So I cantered out and spent the night, turning my men over to a sergeant-major. After a refreshing breakfast along in the middle of the morning—the late middle of the morning—I rode back into town, but try as I might I could not locate a single one of my men.
"Now nothing, you know, is as ineffective in a war as an officer without his men. Well, I spent the day in agony and it was not until along at dusk that the first of the blighters straggled in—quite drunk, all of them, and swearing to a man that they had engaged in five ferocious battles. It seems that about 2 miles away, in a barn, they had come on a hogshead of ginger brandy, and had stayed with it to the bitter end. Need I say that it was a great lesson to me, and that from then on I was never billeted farther than 15 rods from my men.
"As a matter of fact, I love ginger brandy."
Or this, in which the whole lesson of exactitude in the written communication is implicit:
"Now on the subject of messages, it might be well to say immediately that as far as I know no one ever received a written message during a battle. They may be written, but that I think is as far as it goes. However, they are occasionally received before and after battles, and in this connection let me say that it is no earthly good writing generalities to signify times and places.
"I mean to say, suppose you are writing a message and you write 'Report after breakfast.' Well, to Sergeant Ramrod it might mean stand-to at 3 in the morning; while to Captain Brighteyes it would mean, say, 8 o'clock. But to Colonel Blue-fish it would signify some time after 11, depending quite a bit on how the old fellow felt.
"So it is better to say 7 o'clock in the morning, if that is what you mean, for after all there is only one 7 o'clock in the morning. And, by the way, I must warn you chaps against the champagne on sale in the Cafe de l'Univers down here in the square. It is made in the basement—of potatoes."
On as simple and basic a thing as continuing liaison between small units, the Colonel's listeners never forgot his elementary parable:
"One rule is about all a chap can handle in a battle, and as good a one as any to remember is to keep in some sort of touch with the chaps to your right and left. If you do this—and I dare say you Americans will have as much trouble as ourselves in remembering to—then a great deal of distress to yourselves and all hands will be obviated.
"Now here we have a triangular wood. There is to be an attack, and the objective is this line beyond the wood. So on this side of the wood at the hour of attack the Welsh Guards go forward—and on this side, here, the Inniskilling Fusiliers, and a tremendous battle ensues. Well, after an hour or two, with not much progress, it is discovered that the Welsh Guards have been firing into the Inniskilling Fusiliers, and the Fusiliers have been firing into the Welsh. This is thought a bit thick, you know, even in the confusion of battle. So eventually it is stopped."
Some of the experts warn the lecturer who is only a beginner against the use of humor, commenting that if a joke is unlaughed at, it is disconcerting to all concerned. The only intelligent answer to that is: "Well, what of it?" The speaker who is going to cringe every time one of his passages falls a little flat had best not start. This happens at times to every lecturer; there are good days and bad days, live audiences and sour ones. If a man takes his work seriously, it is hardly within nature for him to harden his emotions against an unexpectedly dull reaction. But he can keep from ever showing that he is upset if as a speaker he consciously forms the habit of rapidly driving on from one point to another.
Thus as to the use of humor in public address, it is not only an asset but almost a necessity. It is better to try with it, and to fall flat occasionally, thereby sharpening one's own wit through better understanding of what goes and what does not, than to attempt to go along humorlessly. Said William Pitt: "Don't tell me of a man's being able to talk sense. Everyone can talk sense. Can he talk a little nonsense?" Even more to the point is the remark of Thomas Hardy that men thin away to insignificance quite as often by not making the most of good spirits when they have them as by lacking good spirits when they are indispensable. Fighting is much too serious a trade to have a large place for men who are dry as dust.
One of the spellbinders of ancient Greece, we are told, orated on the sands with his mouth filled with pebbles. In World War I, it was the custom of many higher commanders to take their officers out for voice exercises and have them talk through 150 feet of thicket; they were not satisfied unless the words came through distinctly on the far side. If, under average acoustical conditions, a military officer cannot get across to five hundred men, he needs to improve his voice placement. It is remarkable what miracles can be worked by consistent exercise of the vocal cords.
The final thought is that it is all a matter of buildup. An officer can cut his audience to his own size, and strengthen his powers and his confidence as he goes along. That is his supreme advantage. He can start with a short talk to a minor working detail and move from that to a more formal address before a slightly larger group. By taking it gradually, and increasing his store of knowledge in the interim period, he will see the time come when he can hold any audience in the hollow of his hand. This is precisely the routine which was followed by most of the military leaders who have been celebrated for their command of speech.
THE ART OF INSTRUCTION
Keep it simple.
Have but one main object.
Stay on the course.
Put it out as if the ideas were as interesting and novel to you, as to your audience.
By abiding by these few simple rules you will keep cool, preserve continuity and hold your audience.
Instruction is just about the begin-all and end-all of every military officer's job. He spends the greater part of his professional life either pitching it or catching it, and the game doesn't stop until he is at last retired. Should he become a Supreme Commander, even, this is one thing that does not change; it remains a give-and-take proposition. Part of his time is taken instructing his staff as to what he wants done and just as much of it is spent in being instructed by his staff as to the means available for the doing of it.
Instruction is the generator of unified action. It is the transmission belt by which the lessons of experience are passed to untrained men. Left uninstructed, men may progress only by trial-and-error and the hard bumps which come of not knowing the way.
Need more than that be said to suggest that the officer who builds a competent skill in this field, so that it becomes a part of his reputation, has at the same time built the most solid kind of a foundation under his service career?
The services do not discard that kind of man when the economy pinch comes and the establishment has to contract. The Reservist, who is known as a good instructor, is always on the preferred list. In any period of emergency, such officers move rapidly to the top; there are always more good jobs than there are good men. Look back over the lineup of distinguished commanders from World War II! It will be found that the high percentage of them first attracted notice by being good school men.
Within the services, in all functions related to the passing on of information, the accent is on "knowing your stuff." The point is substantial, but not conclusive. It is upon the way that instruction is delivered rather than upon its contents as such that its moral worth rests. The pay-off is not in what is said, but in what sinks in. A competent instructor will not only teach his men but will increase his prestige in the act. There are many inexpressibly dull bores who know what they're talking about, but still haven't learned how to say it, because they are contemptuous of the truth that it is the dynamic flow of knowledge, rather than the static possession of it, which is the means to power and influence. As technicians, they have their place. As instructors, they would be better off if they knew only half as much about their subject, and twice as much about people.
To know where truth lies is not more important than knowing how to pitch it. Take the average American military audience: what can be said fairly of its main characteristics? Perhaps this—that it is moderately reflective; that it is ready to give the untried speaker a break; that it does not like windiness, bombast or prolonged moralizing; that it refuses to be bullied; and that it can usually be won by the light touch and a little appeal to its sporting instinct. It is the little leavening in the bread which makes all the difference in its savor and digestibility.
In World War I an American major, name now long forgotten, was given the task of making the rounds of the cantonments, talking to all combat formations, and convincing them that the future was bright—no Boy Scout errand. But wherever he went, morale was lifted by his words. In substance, what he said was this:
"None of us cares about living with any individual who wants every break his own way. But when the odds are even, the gamble is worth any good man's time. So let's look at the proposition. You now have one chance in two; you may go overseas, you may not. Suppose you do. You still have one chance in two. You may go to the front, or you may not. If you don't, you'll see a foreign country at Uncle Sam's expense; if you do, you'll find out about war, which is the toughest chance of them all. But up there, you still have one chance in two: you may get hit, or you may not. If you breeze through it, you'll be a better man for all the rest of your life. And if you get hit, you still have one chance in two. You may get a small wound, and become a hero to your family and friends. Or there is always the last chance that it may take you out altogether. And while that is a little rugged, it is at least worth remembering that very few people seem to get out of this life alive."
There was as simple an idea as any military instructor ever unloaded, and yet troops cheered this man wherever he went.
Lt. Col. H. M. Hutchinson, of the British Army, already described in this book as an instructor who made a powerful impression on the American Army in World War I because of his droll wit, was a master hand at taking the oblique approach to teach a lesson. Old officers still remember the manner and the moral of passages such as this one:
"On the march back from Mons—and I may say that a very good army sometimes must retreat, though no doubt it wounds the sensibilities to consider it—we did rather well. But I noticed often the confusion caused by marching slowly up one side of a hill and dashing down the other. It is a tendency of all columns on foot.
"A captain is sitting out in front on a horse, with a hell of a great pipe in his mouth and thinking of some girl in a cafe, and of course he moves slowly up the hill. He comes to the top and his pace quickens. Well, then, what happens? The taller men are at the top of the column, and they lengthen their stride—but what becomes of Nipper and Sandy down in the twentieth squad? Half the time, you see, they are running to catch up. So the effect is to jam the troops together on an upgrade and to stretch them out going down—you know—like a concertina."
Where then is the beginning of efficiency in the art of instruction? It resides in becoming diligent and disciplined about self-instruction. No man can develop great power as an instructor, or learn to talk interestingly and convincingly, until he has begun to think deeply. And depth of thought does not come of vigorous research on an assignment immediately at hand, but from intensive collateral study throughout the course of a career. We are all somewhat familiar with the type of commander who, when asked: "What are your officers doing about special studies, so that they may better their reading habits and further their powers of self-expression?" will puff himself up by replying, "They are kept so busily employed that they have no time for any such exercise." This is one way of saying that his subordinates are kept too busy to get essential work done.
Research, on the spot and at the time, is vital and necessary so that the presentation of any subject will be factually freshened and documented. But its nature and object should not be overrated. The real values can be compared to what happens to a pitcher when he warms up before a game. This is merely an act of suppling the muscles; the real conditioning process has already taken place, and it has been long and arduous.
Even so is it with immediate research, in its relation to continuing military study, in the perfecting of instructorship. That which gives an officer power, and conviction, on the platform, or before a group, is not the thing which he learned only yesterday, having been compelled to read it in a manual or other source, but the whole body of this thought and philosophy, as it may be directed toward the invigorating of any presentation of any subject. If he forms the habit of careful reflection, then almost everything that he reads and hears other people say that arouses his own interest becomes grist for his mill.
Like 10 years in the penitentiary, it's easy to say but hard to do. So much time, seemingly, has to be wasted in profitless study to find a few kernels amid much chaff. Napoleon said at one point that the trouble with books is that one must read so many bad ones to find something really good. True enough but, even so, there are perfectly practical ways to advance rapidly without undue waste motion. Consider this: Among one's superiors there are always discriminating men who have "adopted" a few good books after reading many bad ones. When they say that a text is worthwhile, it deserves reading and careful study.
The junior who starts building a working library for his professional use cannot do better than to consult those older men who are scholars as well as leaders, and ask them to name five or six texts which have most stimulated their thought. It comes as a surprising discovery that some of the titles which are recommended with the greatest enthusiasm are not among the so-called classics on war. The well-read man need not have more than a dozen books in his home, provided that they all count with him, and he continues to pore over them and to ponder the weight of what is said. On the other hand, the ignorant man is frequently marked by his bookshelf stocked with titles, not one of which suggests that he has any professional discernment.
The notebook habit is invaluable, nay, indispensable, to any young officer who is ambitious to perfect himself as an instructor. Most men who are distinguished for their thinking ability are inveterate keepers of scrapbooks and of reference files where they have put clippings and notes which jogged their own thoughts. This is not a cheap device leading to the parroting of other men; the truth is that the departure line toward original thinking by any man is established by the mental energy which he acquires by imaginative observation of other men's ideas.
To get back to the notebook, it should be loose-leaf and well-bound, else it is not likely to be given permanent use. Whether it is kept at home or the office is immaterial. What matters is that it be made a receptacle for everything that one hears, reads or sees which may be of possible future value in the preparation of classroom work. Books can't be clipped; but short, decisive passages can be copied, and longer ones can be made the subject of a reference item. Copying is one way of fixing an idea in the memory. While on the subject of books, it is all right to quote the classics and to be able to refer to the great authorities on the science of war. But it is more effective by far to read deeply into such writers as Clausewitz, Mahan and Fuller, and to find some of their strongest but least-known passages for one's self, than to rely on the more popular but shop-worn quotations which are in general circulation. Such old chestnuts as, "The moral is to the material as three to one," do not refresh discourse.
Even so, the classics are only one small field worth cultivating. Nearly every major speech by current military leadership contains a passage or two well worth salting away. The writings of the philosophers, the publications of the industrial world, the daily press and the scientific journals are goldmines containing rich nuggets of information and of choice expression worth study and preservation.
In fact, the military instructor has the whole world as his workshop. His notebook should be as ready to receive some especially apt saying by a new recruit as the more ponderous words uttered by the sages. And it should contain, not less, comments on techniques and methods used by other speakers and instructors, which were visibly unusually effective.
Above all, the consistent use of obvious and stereotyped devices and methods of presentation should be avoided. For the fact is that no one has yet discovered the one best way. In our service thinking, we tend to get into a rut, and to use none but the well-tried way. For example, we overwork the twin principles of thought-surprise and thought-concentration, and in the effort to produce dramatic effect, we sometimes achieve only an anticlimax. Using the techniques of the advertising world, the military instructor puts his exhibits behind a screen, in order to buildup anticipation, and at the appropriate moment he yanks the cover off. This is perfectly effective, in some instances. But it becomes a reductio ad absurdum when he is working with only one chart, or a pair or so of objects. Let's say that he is talking about one machine gun, and he has one chart highlighting its characteristics. How much more impressive it would be if they were in the open at the beginning and he were to start by saying: "Gentlemen, I am talking about this one gun and what keeps it going. It is more important that you see and know this gun from this moment than that you be persuaded by what I am about to say!"
It is a very simple but inviolable rule that where there is an obvious straining to produce an effect by the use of any training aid, then the effect of the training aid is lost and the speaker is proportionately enfeebled. A famous World War II commander said of all operations: "It is the chaps, not the charts, that get the job done."
What needs to be kept in mind is the psychological object in their use. The scientists tell us, and we can partly take their word for it, that people learn about 75 percent of what they know through their sight, 13 percent through their hearing, and 12 percent through their other senses. But this is a relative and qualitative, rather than an absolute, truth. It has to be so. Otherwise, book study, which employs sight exclusively, would be the only efficient method of teaching, and oral instruction, which depends primarily on sound impact, would be a wasteful process.
The more fundamental truth is that when oral instruction is properly done, the mind becomes peculiarly receptive because it is being bombarded by both sight and sound impressions. Nor is this small miracle wrought primarily by what we call training aids. The thoughts and ideas which remain most vivid in the memory get their adhesive power because some particular person said them in a graphic way in a pregnant moment. Our working thoughts are more often the product of an association with some other individual than not. We remember words largely because we remember an occasion. We believe in ideas because first we were impressed by the source whence they came.
The total impression of a speaker—his sincerity, his knowledge, his enthusiasm, his mien, and his gestures—is what carries conviction and puts an indelible imprint on the memory. Man not only thinks, but he moves, and he is impressed most of all by animate objects. Vigorous words mean little or nothing to him when they issue from a lack-luster personality.
Artificiality is one of the more serious faults, and it is unfortunately the case that though an instructor may be solid to the core, he will seem out of his element, unless he is careful to avoid stilted words and vague or catch-all phrases and connectives. Strength in discourse comes of simplicity.
But it has become almost an American disease of late that we painfully avoid saying it straight. "We made contact, and upon testing my reaction to him, found it distinctly adverse" is substituted for "I met him and didn't like him." But what is equally painful is to hear public remarks interlarded with such phrases as "It would seem," "As I was saying," "And so, in closing," "Permit me to call your attention to the fact" and "Let us reflect briefly"—which is often the prelude to a 2-hour harangue.
Not less out of place in public address is the apologetic note. The man who starts by explaining that he's unaccustomed to public speaking, or badly prepared, is simply asking for the hook. "To explain what I mean" or "to make myself clear" makes the audience wonder only why he didn't say it that way in the first place. But the really low man on this totem pole is the one who says, "Perhaps you're not getting anything out of this."
A man does not have to go off like a gatling gun merely because he is facing the crowd. Mr. Churchill, one of the great orators of the century, made good use of deliberate and frequent pauses. It is a trick worth any young speaker's cultivation, enabling the collection of thought and the avoiding of tiresome "and ah-h-h's."
Likewise, because a man is in military uniform does not require that his speech be terse, cold, given to the biting of words and the overemployment of professional jargon. Training instruction is not drill. Its efficiency does not come of its incisiveness but of the bond of sympathy which comes to prevail between the instructor and his followers.
Another main point: It is disconcerting to talk about the ABCs, if the group already knows the alphabet. To devote any great part of a presentation to matters which the majority present already well understand is to assure that the main object will receive very little serious attention. Thus in talking about the school of the rifle, only a fool would start by explaining what part of it was the trigger and from which end the bullet emerged, though it might be profitable to devote a full hour to the discussion of caliber. Likewise, in such a field as tactical discussion, the minds of men are more likely to be won, and their imagination stirred, through giving them the reasoning behind a technique or method than by telling them simply how a thing is done.
In talk, as in tactics, at the beginning the policy of the limited objective is a boon to confidence. It scares any green man to think about talking for an hour. But if he starts with a subject of his own choice and to his liking, and works up to 15-minute talk for a group of platoon size, he will quickly develop his powers over the short course; the switch from sprinting to distance running can be made gradually and without strain. But it's easy that does it, and one step at a time.
Excessive modesty is unbecoming. No matter how firm his sources, or complex the subject, any instructor should form the habit of adding a few thoughts of his own to any presentation. It is not a mark of precocity but of interest when an instructor knows his material, and its application to the human element, sufficiently well to express an occasional personal opinion. Since he is not a phonograph record, he has a right to say, "I think" or "I believe." Indeed, if he does not have his subject sufficiently in hand that it has stirred his own imagination, he is no better than a machine.
That leads to a discussion of outlines. They are necessary, if any subject is to be covered comprehensively. But if they are overelaborated, the whole performance becomes automatic and dull. A little spontaneity is always needed. Even when working from a manuscript, a speaker should be ever-ready to depart from his text if a sudden idea pops into his mind. It is better to try this and to stumble now and then than to permit the mind to be commanded by words written on paper.
Likewise, revision of outline between talks is the way of the alert mind. A man cannot do this work without seeing, in the midst of discussion, points which need strengthening, and bets which have been missed. Notes should be revised as soon as the period is completed.
There are many methods of instruction, among them being the seminar, critique, group discussion and conference. They are not described here for the reason that every young officer quickly learns about them in the schools, and gets to know the circumstances under which one form or another can be used to greatest advantage.
It suffices to say that their common denominator, insofar as personal success and ease of participation are concerned, is the ability to think quickly and accurately on one's feet; the one best school for the sharpening of this faculty is the lecture platform. Keenness is a derivative of pressure.
Use of a wire recorder or a platter, so that one can get a playback after talking, is an aid to self-criticism. But it is not enough. A man will often miss his own worst faults, because they came of ignorance in the first place; too, voice reproduction proves nothing about the effectiveness of one's presence, expression and gesture. It is common-sense professional procedure to ask the views of one or two of the more experienced members of the audience as to how the show went over, and what were its weak points.
There is one hidden danger in becoming too good at this business. Too frequently, polished speakers fall in love with the sound of their own voices, and want to be heard to the exclusion of everyone else. In the military establishment, where the ideal object is to get 100 percent participation from all personnel, this is a more serious vice than snoring in a pup tent.
When an officer feels any temptation to monopolize the discussion, it is time to pray for a bad case of bronchitis.
YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR MEN
Inasmuch as most of this book has been directed toward covering the various approaches to this subject, there is need to discuss here only a relatively few points which could not conveniently be treated elsewhere.
This is the touchstone of success.
To any officer starting on a life career, it is impossible to overstate its importance. For the moment, we can forget the words duty and responsibility. The question is: "How do I get ahead?" And for a junior there is one main road open—he will strive to achieve such a communion of spirit with his subordinates that he will know the personality and character of every one of his men, will understand what moves and what stops them, and will be sympathetic to their every impulse.
This is the main course. The great principles of war have evolved from centuries of observation on how men react in the mass. It could not be otherwise than that any officer's growth in knowledge of when and how these principles apply to varying situations, strategical and tactical, come primarily of the acuteness of his powers of observation of individual men, and of men working together in groups, and responding to their leadership, under widely different conditions of stress, strain and emotion.
The roots of this kind of wisdom are not to be acquired from book study; books are a help only as they provide an index to what should be sought. The sage who defined strategy as "the art of the possible" (the art of politics has been defined in the same words) wrote better than he knew. The cornerstone of the science of war is knowledge of the economy of men's powers, of their physical possibilities and limitations, of their response to fatigue, hope, fear, success and discouragement, and of the weight of the moral factor in everything they do. Man is a beast of burden; he will fail utterly in the crisis of battle if there is no respect for his aching back. He is also one of a great brotherhood whose mighty fellowship can make the worst misery tolerable, and can provide him with undreamed strength and courage. These are among the things that need to be studied and understood; they are the main score. It is only when an officer can stand and say that he is first of all a student of human material that all of the technical and material aspects of war begin to conform toward each other and to blend into an orderly pattern. And the laboratory is right outside the office door. Either an officer grows up with, and into, this kind of knowledge through reflecting on everything that he can learn of men wherever he fits himself into a new environment, or because of having neglected to look at trees, he will also miss the forest.
By the numbers, it isn't a difficult assignment. The schools have found by experiment that the average officer can learn the names of 50 men in between 7 and 10 days. If he is in daily contact with men, he should know 125 of them by name and by sight within 1 month. Except under war conditions, he is not likely to work with larger numbers than that.
This is the only way to make an intelligent start. So long as a man is just a number, or a face, to his officer, there can be no deep trust between them. Any man loves to hear the sound of his own name, and when his superior doesn't know it, he feels like a cypher.
As with any other introduction, an officer meeting an enlisted man for the first time is not privileged to be inquisitive about his private affairs. In fact, nosiness and prying are unbecoming at any time, and in no one more than in a military officer. On the other hand, any man is flattered if he is asked about his work or his family, and the average enlisted man will feel complimented if an officer engages him in small talk of any kind. Greater frankness, covering a wide variety of subjects, develops out of longer acquaintance. It should develop as naturally and as easily as in civilian walks of life; rank is no barrier to it unless the officer is overimpressed with himself and bent on keeping the upper hand; the ranks are wiser about these things than most young officers; they do not act forward or presumptuous simply because they see an officer talking and acting like a human being. But they aren't Quiz Kids. Informal conversation between officer and man is a two-way street. The ball has to be batted back and forth across the net or there isn't any game. An officer has to extend himself, his thoughts, his experiences and his affairs into the conversation, or after his first trial or two, there will be nothing coming back.
It is unfortunately the case that many young officers assume that getting acquainted with their men is a kind of interrogation process, like handling an immigrant knocking for admission to the United States. They want to know everything, but they stand on what they think is their right to tell a man nothing. That kind of attitude just doesn't wash. In fact, the chief value of such conversations is that it permits the junior to see his superior as a man rather than as a boss.
An officer should never speak ironically or sarcastically to an enlisted man, since the latter doesn't have a fair chance to answer back. The use of profanity and epithets comes under the same heading. The best argument for a man keeping his temper is that nobody else wants it; and when he voluntarily throws it away, he loses a main prop to his own position.
Meeting one of his own enlisted men in a public place, the officer who does not greet him personally and warmly, in addition to observing the formal courtesies between men in service, has sacrificed a main chance to win the man's abiding esteem. If the man is with his family, a little extra graciousness will go a long way, and even if it didn't, it would be the right thing.
In any informal dealing with a number of one's own men, it is good judgment to pay a little additional attention to the youngest or greenest member of the group, instead of permitting him to be shaded by older and more experienced men. They will not resent it, and his confidence will be helped.
It should go without saying that an officer does not drink with his men, though if he is a guest of honor at an organizational party where punch or liquor is being served, it would be a boorish act for him to decline a glass, simply because of this proscription. Sometimes in a public cocktail bar an officer will have the puzzling experience of being approached by a strange but lonely enlisted man who, being a little high, may have got it into his head that it is very important to buy an officer a drink. What one does about that depends upon all of the surrounding circumstances. It is better to go through with it than create a scene which will give everyone a low opinion of the service. Irrespective of rules, there are always situations which are resolved only by good judgment. And, of course, the problem can be avoided by staying away from cocktail bars.
Visiting men in hospital is a duty which no officer should neglect. Not only does it please the man and his family; it is one of the few wide open portals to a close friendship with him. It is strange but true that the man never forgets the officer who was thoughtful enough to call on him when he was down. And the effect of it goes far beyond the man himself. Other men in the unit are told about it. Other patients in the ward see it and note with satisfaction that the corps takes its responsibilities to heart. If the man is in such shape that he can't write a letter, it is a worthy act to serve him in this detail. By the same token when a man goes on sick call, the officer's responsibility does not end at the point where the doctor takes over. His interest is to see that the man is made well, and if he has reason to think that the treatment he is receiving falls short of the best possible, it is within his charge to raise the question. The old saw about giving the man CC pills and iodine and marking him duty is now considerably outdated. But it is not assumed that every member of the medical staff serving the forces will at all times do his duty with the intelligence and reverence of a saint.
A birthday is a big day in any man's life. So is his wedding. So is the birth of a child. By making check of the roster and records, and by keeping an ear to the ground for news of what is happening in the unit, an officer can follow these events. Calling the man in and giving him a handclasp and word of congratulation, or writing a note to the home, takes very little time and is worth every moment of it. Likewise, if he has won some distinction, such as earning a promotion, a letter of appreciation to his parents or his wife will compound the value of telling the man himself that you are proud of what he has done.
Nothing is more pleasing or ingratiating to any junior than to be asked by his superior for his opinion on any matter—provided that it is given a respectful hearing. Any man gets a little fagged from being told all the time. When he is consulted and asked for a judgment, it builds him up.
There is absolutely no point in visiting kitchens or quarters and asking of the atmosphere if everything is all right. Men seldom complain, and they are loath to stick their necks out when there are other enlisted men within hearing. It is the task of the officer to see that all is right, and to take whatever trouble is necessary to make certain. If he is doubtful about the mess, then a mere pecky sampling of it will do no good. Either he will live with it for a few meals, or he won't find the "bugs" in it.
An officer should not ask a man: "Would you like to do such-and-such a task?" when he has already made up his mind to assign him to a certain line of duty. Orders, hesitatingly given, are doubtfully received. But the right way to do it is to instill the idea of collaboration. There is something irresistably appealing about such an approach as: "I need your help. Here's what we have to do."
An officer is not expected to appear all-wise to those who serve under him. Bluffing one's way through a question when ignorant of the answer is foolhardy business. "I'm sorry, but I don't know," is just as appropriate from an officer's lips as from any other. And it helps more than a little to be able to add, "But I'll find out."
Rank should be used to serve one's subordinates. It should never be flaunted or used to get the upper hand of a subordinate in any situation save where he had already discredited himself in an unusually ugly or unseemly manner.
When suggestions from any subordinate are adopted, the credit should be passed on to him publicly.
When a subordinate has made a mistake, but not from any lack of good will, it is common sense to take the rap for him rather than make him suffer doubly for his error.
An officer should not issue orders which he cannot enforce.
He should be as good as his word, at all times and in any circumstance.
He should promise nothing which he cannot make stick.
An officer should not work, looking over his men's shoulder, checking on every detail of what they are doing, and calling them to account at every furlong post. This maidenly attitude corrodes confidence and destroys initiative.
On the other hand, contact is necessary at all times. Particularly when men are doing long-term work, or are operating in detachment at a remote point, they will become discouraged and will lose their sense of direction unless their superior looks in on them periodically, asks whether he can be of any help, and, so doing, gets them to open up and discuss the problem.
The Navy says, "It isn't courtesy to change the set of the sail within 30 minutes after relief of the watch." Applied to a command job, this means that it is a mistake for an officer, on taking a new post, to order sweeping changes affecting other men, in the belief that this will give him a reputation for action and firmness. The studying of the situation is the overture to the steadying of it. The story is told of Gen. Curtis E. LeMay of the Air Force. Taking over the 21st Bomber Command in the Marianas, he faced the worried staff officers of his predecessor and said quietly, "You're all staying put. I assume you know your jobs or you wouldn't be here."
The identity of the officer with the gentleman should persist in his relations with men of all degree. In the routine of daily direction and disposition, and even in moments of exhortation, he had best bring courtesy to firmness. The finest officers that one has known are not occasional gentlemen, but in every circumstance: in commissioned company and, more importantly, in contact with those who have no recourse against arrogance.
The traditional wisdom of addressing Judy O'Grady with the same politeness as one would the Colonel's Lady applies equally in all situations in life where one is at arbitrary advantage in dealing with another. To press this unnecessarily is to sacrifice something of one's quality in the eyes of the onlooker. Besides, there is always the better way.
YOUR MEN'S MORAL AND PHYSICAL WELFARE
To put it in a nutshell, the moral of this chapter is that when men are moral, the moral power which binds them together and fits them for high action is given its main chance for success.
There should therefore be no confusion about how the word is being used. We are speaking both of training in morals for every day living, and of moral training which will harden the will of a fighting body. One moment's reflection will show why they need not be considered separately, and why we can leave it to Webster to do the hairsplitting.
It is the doctrine of the armed establishment of the United States that when American men lead a personal life which is based on high moral standards, and when their aim is equally high as to physical fitness and toughness, under training conditions they will mature those qualities which are most likely to produce inspired leading and stout following within the forces.
There is nothing panty-waist about this doctrine. It was not pronounced to gratify the clergy or to reassure parents that their sons would be in good hands, even though these things, too, are important.
The doctrine came of the experience of the Nation in war, and of what the services learned by measuring their own men. But it happened, also, that the facts were consistent with a common sense reckoning of the case.
Let's figure it out. To be temperate in all things, to be continent, and to refrain from loose living of any sort, are acts of the will. They require self-denial, and a foregoing of that which may be more attractive, in favor of the thing which should be done. Granted that there are a few individuals who are so thin-blooded that they never feel tempted to digress morally, men in the majority are not like that. What they renounce in the name of self-discipline, at the cost of a considerable inner stress, they endeavour to compensate by their gains in personal character. Making that grade isn't easy; but no one who is anyone has yet said that it isn't worthwhile. In the armed services there is an old saying that an officer without character is more useless than a ship with no bottom.
In the summing up, the strength of will which enables a man to lead a clean life is no different than the strength of purpose which fits him to follow a hard line of duty. There are exceptions to every rule. Many a lovable rounder has proved himself to be a first-class fighting man. But even though he had an unconquerable weakness for drink and women, his resolution had to become steeled along some other line or he would have been no good when the pay-off came.
Putting aside for the moment the question of the vices, and regarding only the gain to moral power which comes of bodily exercise and physical conditioning, it should be self-evident that the process which builds the muscle must also train and alert the mind. How could it be otherwise? Every physical act must have as its origin a mental impulse, conscious or unconscious. Thus in training a man to master his muscles we also help him to master his brain. He comes out of physical training not only better conditioned to move but better prepared to think about how and why he is moving, which is true mobility.
In military organizations, "setting-up" and other formation exercises are usually a drag and a bore. Men grumble about them, and even after they are toughened to them, so that they feel no physical distress, they rarely relish them. The typical American male would much rather sit on his pants along the sidelines and watch someone else engage in contact sports. It's almost the national habit. Despite our athletic prowess, about 56 percent of American males grow to manhood without having ever participated in a group game.
But no matter how great the inertia against it, there must be unremitting perseverance in the physical conditioning of military forces. For finally, it is killing men with kindness to relax at this point. If life is to be conserved, if men are to be given a fair chance to play their parts effectively, the physical standards during training cannot be less than will give them a maximum fitness for the extraordinary stresses of campaigning in war.
When troops lack the coordinated response which comes of long, varied and rigorous exercises, their combat losses will be excessive, they will lack cohesion in their action against the enemy, and they will uselessly expend much of their initial velocity. In the United States service, we are tending to forget, because of the effect of motorization, that the higher value of the discipline of the road march in other days wasn't that it hardened the muscles, but that, short of combat, it was the best method of separating the men from the boys. This is true today, despite all of the new conditions imposed by technological changes. A hard road march is the most satisfactory training test of the moral strength of the individual man.
At the same time, to senselessly overload men for road marching hurts them two ways. It weakens their faith in the sense of the command, thereby impairing morale, and it breaks down their muscle and tendon. Enough is known about the average American male to provide a basic logistical figure. He stands about 5 feet 8 inches, and weighs about 153 pounds. The optimum load for a man is about one-third of body weight, the same as for a mule. That means that for a training march, approximately 50 pounds over-all, including uniform, blankets and everything, is the most that a man should be required to carry. If he gets so that he can handle that load easily, over let us say a 10-mile road march, then the thing to do, further to build up his power, is not to increase the weight that he carries, but to lengthen the march. Military men have known that this is the underlying principle for better than half a century. But the principle has not always been observed.
There is another not infrequent cause of breakdown—the leader who makes the mistake of thinking that every man's limit is the same as his own. Some come into the officer corps fresh from the stadia and cinderpaths of the colleges, in the pink of condition. They take charge of a group of men, some not yet seasoned, and others somewhat older and more wind-broke than themselves. They shag them all over the lot at reveille or take them on a cross-country chase like a smart rabbit trying to outrun hounds. The poor devils ultimately get back, some with their corks completely pulled, a few feeling too nauseated to eat their breakfast, and others walking in, feeling whipped because they couldn't keep up with the group.
When an officer does this kind of thing thoughtlessly, he shows himself to be an incompetent observer of men. When he does it to show off, he deserves to be given 10 days in the electric chair.
It is the steadiness and the continuity of exercise, not the working of men to the point of exhaustion and collapse, which keeps them upgrading until they are conditioned to the strain of whatever comes. To do it the other way around simply makes them hospital patients before their time, and fills them with resentment against the service.
In the nature of things, the officer who has been an athlete can fit himself into this part of the program with little difficulty and with great credit, provided he acts with the moderation that is here suggested. The armed services put great store by this. A man with a strong flair for physical training can usually find a good berth.
By the same token, the officer who has shunned sports in school, either because he didn't have the size or the coordination, or was more interested in something else, will frequently have an understandable hesitation about trying to play a lead hand in anything which he thinks will make him look bad. Of this comes much buck-passing. There is often a singular courtesy between officers within a unit, and they'll switch details, just to be friendly. So it frequently happens that the man who has no great knack at leading in exercise and recreation gets the mouse's share of it. And thereby the whole point is missed. For it should be perfectly clear that the man who has had the least active experience in this field is usually the one in greatest need of its strengthening effects. His case is no different than that of the enlisted man. If he has not kept himself in good physical shape, his nerves will not be able to stand the strain of combat, to say nothing of his legs.
It can be said again and again: The highest form of physical training that an officer can undergo is the physical conditioning of his own men. Nothing else can give him more faith in his own ability to stay the course and nothing else is likely to give him a firmer feeling of solidarity with his men. Study, and an active thirst for wider professional knowledge, have their place in an officer's scheme of things. But there is something about the experience of bodily competition, of joining with, and leading men in strenuous physical exercise, which uniquely invigorates one's spirit with the confidence: "I can do this! I can lead! I can command!" Military men have recognized this since long before it was said that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Bringing it down to the present, Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell said: "The civil comparison to war must be that of a game, a very rough and dirty game, for which a robust body and mind are essential." Even more emphatic are the words of Coach Frank Leahy of Notre Dame, an officer of the United States Navy in World War II: "The ability to rise up and grasp an opportunity is something that a boy cannot learn in lecture rooms or from textbooks. It is on the athletic field primarily that Americans acquire the winning ways that play such an important part in the American way of life. The burning desire to emerge the victor that we see in our contact sports is the identical spirit that gave the United States Marines victory at Iwo Jima. If we again know war, the boys who have received sound training in competitive athletics will again fight until the enemy has had enough."
Men like to see their officers competing and "giving it a good college try" no matter how inept, or clumsy they may be. But they take a pretty dim view of the leader who perennially acts as if he were afraid of a sweat or a broken thumb. In team sports, developing around interorganized rivalry, the eligibility of an officer to participate among enlisted men is a matter of local ground rules, or special regulations. There is nothing in the customs of the services which prohibit it. To the contrary, it has been done many times, and is considered to be altogether within an officer's dignity. Where there is a flat ruling against it, it is usually on the theory that the officer, by competing, is robbing some enlisted man of his chance.
Need it be said that in any event, going along with the team, and taking an active interest in its ups-and-downs, is not only a service officer's duty, but a rewarding privilege, if he is a real leader? In this respect, he has a singular relationship to any group that represents his unit. He becomes part of their force, and his presence is important not only to the team but to the gallery. It is not unusual to hear very senior officers excuse themselves from an important social function by saying, "I'm sorry, but my team is playing tonight." That is a reason which everybody understands and accepts.
As for the ranks, even among those men who have had no prior acquaintance with organized sports, there is a marked willingness to participate, if given just a little encouragement. This is one of the effects of getting into military uniform. As someone said about gunpowder, "it makes all men alike tall," and provides a welcome release from former inhibitions. The military company is much more tightly closed than any other. When men are thinking and working together in a binding association, they will seek an outlet for their excess spirits, and will join together in play, even under the most adverse circumstance. During World War I, it was common to see American troops playing such games as duck-on-the-rock, tag and touch football with somebody's helmet in close proximity to the front. Because no other equipment was available, they improvised. So it is that in any situation, the acme in leadership consists, not in screaming one's head off about shortages, but in using a little imagination about what can be done.
The really good thing about the gain in moral force deriving from all forms of physical training is that it is an unconscious gain. Will power, determination, mental poise and muscle control all march hand-in-hand with the general health and well-being of the man, with results not less decisive under training conditions than on the field of battle. A man who develops correct posture and begins to fill out his body so that he looks the part of a fighter will take greater pride in the wearing of the uniform. So doing, he will take greater care so to conduct himself morally that he will not disgrace it. He will gain confidence as he acquires a confident and determined bearing. This same presence, and the physical strength which contributes to it, will help carry him through the hour of danger. Strength of will is partly of the mind and partly of the body. In combat, fatigue will beat men down as quickly as any other condition, for fatigue inevitably carries fear with it. Tired men are men afraid. There is no quicker way to lose a battle than to lose it on the road for lack of preliminary hardening in troops. Such a condition cannot be redeemed by the resolve of a commander who insists on driving troops an extra mile beyond their general level of physical endurance. Extremes of this sort make men rebellious and hateful of the command, and thus strike at tactical efficiency from two directions at once. For when men resent a commander, they will not fight as willingly for him, and when their bodies are spent, their nerves are gone.
Looking after the welfare of men, however, does not connote simply getting them into the open air and giving them a chance to kick the ball around. The services are pretty well organized to provide their personnel with adequate sport and recreational facilities, and to insure an active, balanced program, in any save the most exceptional circumstance. Too, the provisions made for the creature comforts of men are ample, experience-tested, and well-regulated.
It is not so much that a young officer needs to have book instruction about the detail of these things. Such is the system that they can hardly escape his notice, any more than he can escape knowing where to get his pay check and by which path he goes to the barbershop.
What counts mainly is that he should fully understand the prime importance of a personal caring for his men, so that they cannot fail of a better life if it is within his power and wisdom to lead them to it.
Once the principle is grasped, and accepted without any mental reservation, time and experience will educate him in the countless meetings of situations which require its application.
There are times and situations which require that all men be treated identically, for the good of organization. There are also occasions when nothing else suffices but to give the most help, the most encouragement, the most relief to those who are most greatly in need. Grown men understand that, and the officer, approaching every situation with the question in his mind: "What does reason say about what constitutes fair play in this condition?" cannot go far wrong in administering to the welfare of those who serve under him.
It is moral courage, combined with practice, which builds in one a delicate sense of the eternal fitness of things.
One example: Under normal training conditions, it would be fair play, and the acceptable thing, to rotate men and their junior leaders to such an onerous task as guard duty. But if a unit was "dead beat" after a hard march, and an officer, pursuing his line of duty, walked among his men, inspecting their blistered feet and doing all he could to ease each man's physical discomfort, he would then be using excessively poor judgment if he did not pick out the men most physically fit to do whatever additional duty was required that night.
But infinite painstaking in attending to the physical welfare of men is not more important than thoughtful attention to their spiritual wants, and their moral needs. In fact, if we would give a little more priority to the latter, the former would be far more likely to come along all right.
The average American enlisted man is quite young when he enters service, and because he is young, he is impressionable. What his senior tells him becomes a substitute for the influence and teaching that he shed when he left his home or school. That need not mean a senior in age! He looks to his officer, even though the latter may be junior in years, because he believes that the man with rank is a little wiser, and he has faith that he will not be steered wrong.
Despite all the publicity given to VD, American kids don't know a great deal about its reality, and even though the greater number of them like to talk about women, what they have to say rarely reveals them as worldly-wise.
If an officer talks straight on these subjects, and believes in what he says sufficiently to set the good example, he can convince his better men that the game isn't worth the candle, and can save even some of the more reckless spirits from a major derail.
KEEPING YOUR MEN INFORMED
Nobody ever told the South Sea savage about the nature of air in motion. He had never heard of wind and therefore could not imagine its effects. Thus when he heard strange noises in the treetops and there was a howling around certain headlands, while other headlands were silent, he could believe only that the spirits were at work. He would strain his ear to hear what they had to say to him, and never being able to understand, he would become all the more fearful.
It all sounds pretty silly. And yet civilization is a great deal like that. We pride ourselves today in saying, particularly within the western nations, that men and women are better informed than ever before in the history of the world. What we really mean by that is that they are overburdened with more kinds of fragmentary information than any people of the past. They know just enough about many major questions of the day that either they are driven to the making of fearful guesses about the unknown, or they try to close their minds to the subject, vainly seeking consolation in the half-truth, "What I don't know can't hurt me."
Therein lies a great part of the problem. For it is a fair statement that if all of the mystery could be stripped from such a complex topic as the nature of atomic power, so that men everywhere would understand it, universal fear would be displaced by universal confidence that something could be done, and society would be well along the road toward its control.
In World War I, the men who had the least fear of the effects of gas warfare were the gas officers who understood their subject right down to the last detail of the decontamination process and the formula for dichlorethylsulphide (mustard gas). The man to whom the dangers of submarine warfare seem least fearsome is the submariner. Of all hands along the battle line, the first aid man has the greatest calm and confidence in the face of fire, largely because he has seen the miracles worked by modern medicine in the restoring of grievously wounded men. The general or the admiral who is most familiar with the mettle of his subordinate commands will also have the most relaxed mind under battle pressure.