George Walford: Military Ideology

In Ideologies & their Functions, on pages 59-401, attention is drawn to certain features of the behaviour of an army. It has now been pointed out (by Geoffrey Clark) that Captain Liddell Hart, one of the foremost military theoreticians, has made statements which go far to support the view there taken. The following passages are from his Foreword to Panzer Leader, the autobiography of General Heinz Guderian (the Futura edition of 1952):

It will be apparent to those who read his memoira that he did not question the cause which he and his troops were serving, or the duty of fighting for their country. It was sufficient for him that she was at war, and thus in danger, however it had come about. The fulfillment of duty was not compatible with doubts. As a dutiful soldier. he had to assume that his country cause was just, and that she was defending herself against would-be-conquerors. His evident assumptions on that score may jar on readers outside Germany conscious of the menace that their countries had to meet from Germany. But his assumptions are similar to those of most soldiers of any country at any time. Few qualms of conscience are to be found in the memoirs of those who exercised Command in the wars for highly questionable causes that Britain and the U.S.A. waged in the nineteenth century…

Soldiers are not trained to explore the truth behind international disputes, and if they try to wrestle with the resulting questions they are likely to become incapable of performing their task. There a place, and a need, for the military philosopher in the study and guidance of war, but a profoundly reflective mind does not fit easily into the service itself.

As a practical necessity a commander in the often has to take action without reflection, even when he has the time for it, a habit of reflecting on the remote consequences of the ordered would tend to induce paralysis – save in a man with the most uncommon power of detachment (Wellington was one of these rare exceptions). So long as fighting services continue, it is essential for the performance of their task that they should be composed of those who confine their thinking to the effective execution of that task. ‘Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.’ No nation that maintains fighting services can afford to revoke that rule of, experience. Where soldiers begin to question the rightness of the cause for which they are fighting, armies soon Collapse.

It is easy to condemn Guderian’s attitude as evidence of ‘unrepentant militarism’ – but wiser to recognise that his basic assumptions were a necessity of military service.

from Ideological Commentary 8, November 1980.