quote from Xenophoon

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quote from Xenophoon

Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Tue Jan 20, 2004 10:40 pm


Here's a little quote from Xenophoon :

"Dei ton stratiootèn fobeisthai mallon ton archonta è tous polemious"

"A soldier should fear his commander more than his enemies"

Any thoughts on this ?

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"Discipline Improves Morale!"

Postby Aldus Marius on Wed Jan 21, 2004 3:10 am

Salvete, commilitones...

A certain military man of the Greek persuasion said:

> "A soldier should fear his commander more than his enemies."

...and we have been asked to comment on it. As an ex-drill sergeant, one with some small experience in these matters, I would be delighted to do so.

I would say that fear of one's superiors (and of the punishment they can mete out if they are not promptly obeyed) is effective, as far as it goes. I'll even agree that it goes pretty far. Whole societies (not to mention millions of working animals and the more unfortunate pet dogs among us) have been run on the principles of fear and compulsion. Iraq (and some dogs) are only the most recent examples of my acquaintance. Boot camps are run in this fashion, at least at first. Imposed discipline is not the most effective tool in that particular box, but it works.

What works better?

In the modern American armed forces, imposed discipline is merely the first step--a means of getting a busload of green recruits (called "rainbows" for their variegated civilian clothing) into some semblance of order, some form of readiness for the next stage of training. The "Drill" puts the fear of God into them, or at least the fear of the Drill. I was usually hell on wheels to them for the whole first week, maybe longer...and I was considered one of the milder instructors. The idea was to get them to perform with "snap". Consistency, reliability, came later.

Very soon, group discipline would kick in. This is just the militarese for "peer pressure"; the nascent teamwork, the sense of togetherness, born of the recruits' shared (and desperate!) desire to get out of that place, most preferably by graduation. If one messes up, he'll hear about it from his buddies. Some of the men help the others. Each one wants most keenly to please his fellows, as well as (of course) the instructor.

How far will group discipline take a man? --Studies conclude that American soldiers do not really die for flag and country or any president's agenda. They die for their buddies, and for the honor of their units. Already they would rather perish than be shamed.

A third type of discipline arises in some contexts, that being task discipline. Task discipline means that the very nature of the soldier's job requires that he stay on his toes and bear excruciating attention to detail. The men in a missile silo, anyone in NASA, and any Special Forces unit (for examples) have been handed a challenge, and they know it; they have full confidence in themselves, in their expertise, and in their ability to carry out the mission with thoroughness and even with a little bit of flair.

But the goal of any modern training program is the development of self-discipline, which is nothing more (or less) than deep personal integrity as expressed in doing the correct--because one deems it to be the right--thing. Imposed discipline is no longer necessary, indeed superfluous; group and task discipline are included, but are not the whole thing. The recruit at this point has moved beyond doing what he must for anyone else's reasons. He does it simply because he must (the impulsion arising from within)...and because if he did not, he could no longer respect himself as a soldier, or even as much of a man.

The soldier, sailor or airman trained to this level does not fear his commander, indeed cannot be gotten to fear anyone. Some commanders dislike working with an intensely self-disciplined unit for this very reason; the things that motivate them leave fear and intimidation in the dust. It's a little harder to get a handle on pride. But these troops will be reliable, they will be consistent, and the quality of their work is always superb.

I should point out here that not many military personnel ever reach this level. Some coast along for years on group or task discipline; some (the ones with permanent reservations at the brig) need imposed discipline throughout their careers. That's okay; the armed forces have room for all types. Needless to say, however, all types will not respond to the same command style. Xenophon, depending on his adaptability, might be considered a rather poor commander these days, even a martinet (a type universally subjected to widespread derision; the Ami term is @$$hole, and we can tell 'em even by their salutes).

Hopefully this will provide a springboard for discussion of this topic. I do not intend it to be the end of said discussion! I have no experience with other nations' armed forces and their training programs, nor am I familiar with the methods used in other times except the Roman. I encourage anyone with an observation or opinion to post it here so's we can compare notes!

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Postby Q. C. Locatus Barbatus on Wed Jan 21, 2004 5:16 pm

Really very, very interesting stuff, mi Mari! It makes me think of my courses in 'group dynamics' we get at school.

I agree 'fear of the commander' should be only the first step. When the fear of punishment falls away, or the commander drops dead chaos is the result. I think trust in the commander is more reliable.
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Wed Jan 21, 2004 6:14 pm

Of course I have no idea in what context Xenophon's quote has to be put, but I interpreted it as a soldier's fear that their commander may not be competent to lead them and might lead them to their death. An enemy, on the other hand, is determined to kill the soldier: you know what his intentions are.

But I also thought Marius' vision was very interesting.

As for Xenophon being a bad commander... he wasn't a brilliant man but there have been worse military commanders in history ;).

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Xenophon et

Postby C.AeliusEricius on Thu Jan 22, 2004 12:12 am

I have not read any of Xenophon's after action reports, I may have come across some selections of his works but so far in the past I have not specific recollections. But I wish to take a swing at this topic, and move the thread one step farther.

One must keep in mind the period of the writing, and the soldiers who are beign talked about. My readings in military history, and the grunt stories whenever I could find them, show that the types of discipined behavior that Marius describes are evident throughout history. without the 20th centruy terms of course. The group discipline, buddie factor, is the most prevalent. That is probably because it can appeal even to some of the brig bait types. e.g. "I ain't doing it for the Crown and I sure as hell ain't doing it for the f*cking officer, I'm doing it for the guys." This also touches on the survival factor. i.e. "The skipper's an s.o.b. but he'll get us home." Of course the fear factor can backfire on more junior officers. Soldiers who have been subjected to the fear factor aspect of discipline might decide that getting home is best served by killing the martinet. A senior officer, in wars of older technology, were probably safer from their own troops. They would have had a loyal bodyguard. And there is that factor of what the people making up the army were like. Of course it can still be that people are people and what matters is what they are used to. I forget whether or not it is apocryphal but Tiberius and his brother Germanicus were supposed to have two different command styles. Tiberius was brutal, Germanicus was a kind master. They were both succesful generals. And one's troops did not do well under the other commander.

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