Thursday, January 07, 2016

The loneliness of the battlefield

June 1941: newly-appointed Major-General Bill Slim addresses the officers of 10th Indian Infantry Division in Iraq. The audience, like all in HM Armed Forces connoisseurs of bullshit, half-expect to go away as usual with "the impression that their general was a pompous old blatherskite."

But having congratulated them on their success in skirmishes so far, Slim makes practical recommendations for further improvements in tactics and training, and goes on to prepare them mentally for the harder fighting to come:

""... in the end every important battle develops to a point where there is no real control by senior commanders. Each soldier feels himself to be alone. Discipline may have got him to the place where he is, and discipline may hold him there - for a time. Co-operation with other men in the same situation can help him to move forward. Self-preservation will make him defend himself to the death, if there is no other way. But what makes him go on, alone, determined to break the will of the enemy opposite him, is morale. Pride in himself as an independent thinking man, who knows why he's there, and what he's doing. Absolute confidence that the best has been done for him, and that his fate is now in his own hands. The dominant feeling of the battle is loneliness, gentlemen, and morale, only morale, individual morale as a foundation under training and discipline, will bring victory."

"I went back to our camp in a thoughtful mood. Slim's sort of battle wouldn't be much of a lark, after all.""

- from John Masters' autobiography, "The Road Past Mandalay."


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