In the beginning, a man takes an oath to uphold his country's Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance, and to discharge well and faithfully the duties of office. He does this without any mental reservation.
There persists in many military officers a defensive attitude toward their own profession which has no practical relation to the strength of the ground on which they are enabled to stand. Toward any unfair and flippant criticism of the "military mind" they react with resentment, instead of with buoyant proof that their own minds are more plastic and more receptive to national ideals than those of any other profession.
When someone arises within the halls of government to say that the military establishment is "uneconomic" because it cuts no bricks, bales no hay and produces nothing which can be vended in the market places, it is not unusual to hear some military men concur in this strange notion. That acquiescence is wholly unbecoming.
The physician is not slurred as belonging to a nonproductive profession because he contributes only to the care and healing of the body, and through these things to the general well-being of society.
The military way is a long, hard road, and it makes extraordinary requirements of every individual. In war, particularly, it puts stresses upon men such as they have not known elsewhere, and the temptation to "get out from under" would be irresistible if their spirits had not been tempered to the ordeal. If nothing but fear of punishments were depended upon to hold men to the line during extreme trial, the result would be wholesale mutiny and a situation altogether beyond the control of leadership. So it must be true that it is out of the impact of ideals mainly that men develop the strength to face situations from which it would be normal to run away.
During the normal routine of peace, members of the Armed Services are expected to respond to situations that are more extensive, more complex, and take longer to reach fulfillment than the situations to which the majority of men instinctively respond. Even the length of the enlistment period looks like a slow march up a 60-mile grade. Promotion is slow, duty frequently monotonous. It is all too easy for the individual to worry about his own insignificance and to feel that he has become lost in the crowd. Under these conditions a man may go altogether bad, or simply get lazy and rock with the grain.
Precision in personal habits, precision in drill and precision in daily living are the high road to that kind of discipline which best insures cool and collected thought and unity of action on the field of battle. When men, working together, successfully attain to a high standard of orderliness, deportment and response, each to the other, they develop the cohesive strength which will carry them through any great crisis. For this reason mainly, military life is far more exacting than civil life.
Mutual respect and courtesy are indispensable elements in military organization. The junior shows deference to the senior; the senior shows consideration for him. The salute is the ancient and universal privilege of fighting men. It is a recognition of a common fellowship in a proud profession. Saluting is an expression of courtesy, alertness, and discipline. The senior is as obliged to return it as the junior is to initiate it. In fact, in the Army particularly, it is not unusual to see the senior salute first.
The military society is a little more tightly closed than a civilian society, particularly in posts, camps and stations. For that reason the pressure from the distaff side is usually a little heavier. Wives get together more frequently, know one another better, and take a more direct interest in their husbands' careers than is common elsewhere.
In the study of getting along with people, we could not do better than quote what was published some time ago in the United States Coast Guard Magazine. Under the title "Thirteen Mistakes," the coast guardsmen raised their warning flares above the 13 pitfalls. It is a mistake:
1. To attempt to set up your own standard of right and wrong.
2. To try to measure the enjoyment of others by your own.
3. To expect uniformity of opinions in the world.
4. To fail to make allowance for inexperience.
5. To endeavor to mold all dispositions alike.
6. Not to yield on unimportant trifles.
7. To look for perfection in our own actions.
8. To worry ourselves and others about what can't be remedied.
9. Not to help everybody wherever, however, whenever we can.
10. To consider impossible what we cannot ourselves perform.
11. To believe only what our finite minds can grasp.
12. Not to make allowances for the weakness of others.
13. To estimate by some outside quality, when it is that within which makes the man.
The military officer is expected to be the embodiment of character, given to forthright but amiable speech, capable of expressing his ideas and purpose clearly, careful of customs and good usage, and carrying himself with poise and assurance. For if he does not have the aura of vitality, confidence and reflection which is expected in a leader of men, it will be suspected that he is incapable of playing the part. However unfairly discriminating that judgment may seem to be, in comparison with the attitude toward other professions.
The officer corps does have its share of "characters." Some are men born in an uncommon mold, with a great deal of natural phlegm in their systems, a gift for salty speech and a tendency to drawl their words as if their thoughts were being raised from a deep well.
In the services, as in any situation in life in which deference to higher opinion is compelled by the nature of an undertaking, the young will do well to consider the wisdom of the precept, "Be patient with your betters." It is lamentably bad judgment to act by any other rules. Where differences of opinion exist, time and forbearance not infrequently will work the desired change, where stubbornness or rudeness would utterly fail. More than that, a junior owes this much consideration to any senior whose heart is in the right place. It is bad manners, but even worse from the standpoint of tactics, to attempt publicly to score a victory over a senior in any dispute, or to attempt by wit to gain the upper hand of him in the presence of others. Though the point may be gained for the moment, it is usually at the cost of one's personal hold on the confidence of the senior.
But there is also the other side of the case, that the superior should deal considerately with any earnest proposal from his subordinate, rather than dashing cold water in his face, just because he has not thought his proposition through. One of the best-loved editors of the United States, Grove Patterson, of Toledo, Ohio, was remembered by every young journalist who ever came under him because of the care with which he supported every man's pride. A youngster would go in to him, filled with enthusiasm for some idea, which he himself had not bothered to view in the round. Patterson would listen carefully, and would then say: "That's a corking idea. Take it and work it out carefully, going over every aspect of it. Then bring it back to me." On second thought, the youngster would begin having his own doubts, and would shortly begin hoping that the chief would forget all about the subject, which he invariably did. Many celebrated commanders in our military services have won the lasting affection of their subordinates by employing exactly this method.
Men like the direct glance. They feel flattered by it, particularly when they are talking, and in conversation they like to be heard through, not interrupted in mid-passage. That is true whatever their station. Nobody likes to be bored, but fully half of boredom comes from lack of the habit of careful listening. The man who will not listen ever develops wits enough to distinguish between a bore and a sage and therefore cannot pick the best company. The vacant stare, the drifting of eyes from the speaker to a window, or a picture or a passing blonde, though greatly tempting in the midst of long discourse, are taken only as signs of inattention. Many a young officer called to the carpet for some trivial business has managed to square himself with his commander just by looking straight and talking straight in the few moments that decided his future.
Carefulness in the little things counts much. Men develop an aversion to the individual who cannot remember their names, their titles or their stations, but they will warm to the person who remembers, and they will overlook most of his other shortcomings. Likewise, they are won by any words of appreciation or of interest in what they are doing. Gets a man talking about his business, his golf game or his family, and you are on the inside track toward his friendship. As for senior commanders, when the hours comes for them to bat the ball back and forth in friendly conversation, there is nothing they enjoy more than reminiscing about experiences on the battlefield. Other than inveterate surgical patients, no one can outdo them in talking about their operations.
One of the greatest generals in American history, celebrated for his fighting hardly more than for his tippling, would walk from the room if any man tried to tell an off-color story in his presence. One of the most celebrated and successful Admirals endeared himself to millions of men in all ranks and services by his trick of gathering his chief subordinates together just prior to battle, issuing his orders sternly and surely, and then relaxing long enough to tell them his latest parlor story, knowing that finally it would trickle down through the whole command.
Among the warriors in this gallery are men who would bet a month's pay on a horse race. There are duelists and brawlers, athletes and aesthetes, men who lived almost sainted lives and scholars who lived more for learning than for fame. Some tended to be so over-reclusive that they almost missed recognition; others were hail-fellow-well-met in any company. Their methods of work reflected these extreme variations in personal type, as did the means they used to draw other men to them, thereby setting a foundation for real success.
There is not one perfect life in the gallery of the great. All were molded by the human influences which surrounded them. They reacted in their own feelings, and toward other men, according as their personal fortunes rose and fell. They sought help where it could be found. When disappointed, they chilled like anyone else. But along with their professional talents, they possessed, in common, a desire for substantial recognition, accompanied by the will to earn it fairly, or else the nation would never have heard their names.
The same thing would no doubt hold true of a majority of the better men who commanded ships, squadrons, regiments, and companies under these commanders, and at their own level were as superior in leadership as the relatively few who rose to national stature because of the achievements of the general body.
While there are no perfect men, there are those who become relatively perfect leaders of men because something in their makeup brings out in strength the highest virtues of all who follow them. That is the way of human nature. Minor shortcomings do not impair the working loyalty, or growth, of the follower who has found someone whose strengths he deems worth emulating. On the other hand, to recognize merit, you must yourself have it. The act of recognizing the worthwhile traits in another person is both the test and the making of character. The man who scorns all others, and thinks no one else worth following, parades his own inferiority before the world. He puts his own character into bankruptcy…..
There have been great and distinguished leaders in the military services at all levels, who had no particular gifts for administration, and little for organizing the detail of decisive action either within battle or without. They excelled because of a superior ability to utilize the brains and command the loyalty of well-chosen subordinates. Their particular function was to judge the mark according to their resources and audacity, and then to hold the team steady until the mark was gained.
All military achievement develops out of unity of action. The laurel goes to the man whose powers can most surely be directed toward the end purposes of organization. The winning of battles is the product of the winning of men. That aptitude is not an endowment of formal education, though the man who has led a football team, a class, a fraternity or a debating society is the stronger for the experience which he has gained. It is not uncustomary in those who have excelled in scholarship to despise those who have excelled merely in sympathetic understanding of the human race. But in the military services, though there are niches for the pedant, character is at all times at least as vital as intellect, and the main rewards go to him who can make other men feel toughened as well as elevated.
It is remarked that the man who wishes to hold the respect of others will mention himself not more frequently than a born aristocrat mentions his ancestor. It would be better to dwell upon the importance of being natural, which means neither concealing nor making a vulgar display of one's ideals and motives, but acting directly according to their dictations.
Coupled with self-control, recollection and thoughtfulness will carry a man far. Men will warm toward a leader when they come to believe that all the energy he stores up by living somewhat within himself is at their service. But when they feel that this is not the case, and that his reserve is simply the outward sign of a spiritual miserliness and concentration on purely personal goals, no amount of restraint will ever win their favor. This is as true of him who commands a whole service as of the leader of a picket squad.
No normal young man is likely to recognize in himself the qualities which will persuade others to follow him. On the other hand, any man who can carry out orders in a cheerful spirit, complete this work step by step, use imagination in improving it, and then when the job is done, can face toward his next duty with anticipation, need have no reason to doubt his own capacity for leadership. The psychologists assure us that there is a sound scientific basis for what enlightened military trainers have long held to be true—that the first-class follower and the leader are one and the same. They say that this is literally true, and that their tests prove it so.
But it does not follow that every man can be taught to lead. In the majority of men, success or failure is caused more by mental attitude than by mental capacity. Many are unwilling to face the ordeal of thinking for themselves and of accepting responsibility for others. But the man determined to excel at his own work has already climbed the first rung of the ladder; in that process he perforce learns to think for himself while setting an example to those who are around him.
Said one great political leader: "There is no more valuable subordinate than the man to whom you can give a piece of work and then forget it, in the confident expectation that the next time it is brought to your attention it will come in the form of a report that the thing has been done. When this self-reliant quality is joined to executive power, loyalty and common sense, the result is a man whom you can trust."
Yes, indeed, and that is as it should be. For while no man can be sure of the possibilities of his influence over other men, every man knows by his own conscience when he is putting forth his best effort, and when he is slacking. Of the many personal decisions which life puts upon a service officer, the main one is whether he chooses to swim upstream. If he says yes to that, and means it, all things then begin to fit into place. Then will develop gradually but surely that well-placed inner confidence which is the foundation of military character. From the knowing of what to do come the knowing of how to do, this is likewise important.
Psychologists tell us that every sense impression leaves a trace or imprint of itself on the mind, or in other words, what we are, and what we may become, is influenced in some measure by everything touching the circumference of our daily lives. The imprints become memories and ideas, and in their turn build up the consciousness, the reason and finally the will, which translates into physical action the psychological purpose. In the process, moral character may be shaped and strengthened; but it will not be transformed if it is dross in the first place. That is something which every combat leader has learned in his tour under fire; the man of whom nobody speaks good, who is regarded as a social misfit, unliked and unliking, of his comrades, will usually desert them under pressure. There are others who have the right look but will be just as quick to quit, and look to themselves, in a crisis; underneath, they are made of the same shoddy stuff as the derelict, but have learned a little more of the modern art of getting by. Leadership, be it ever so inspired, cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear. The majority is better than mean, and that from this may be developed the strength of the whole.
The minority had no basis for organic solidarity, as each of its number was motivated only by self-interest. Goodwill and weakness may be combined in one man; bad will and strength in another. High moral leading can lift the first man to excel himself; it will not reform the other. But there is no other sensible rule than that all men will be approached with trust, and treated as trustworthy until proved otherwise beyond reasonable doubt.
To transfer this thought to even the largest element in war, it will be seen that it is not primarily a cause which makes men loyal to each other, but the loyalty of men to each other which makes a cause. The unity which develops from man's recognition of his dependence upon his fellows is the mainspring of every movement by which society, or any autonomy within it, moves forward.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Armed Forces Officer, by U. S. Department of Defense)