Tag: will

Anti-Morale: What causes retreat and surrender?

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

Instead of writing about the “white flag” of surrender – feats of heroism make for a more enjoyable and standard military affairs subject.  That way we avoid the necessary slog through cowardice; who wants to read about people running away?

In the interests of “warming in” to what could be a bit of an ugly subject, the essay will commence with an authoritative source.  Colin Gray in The Strategy Bridge, has written about the “ingredients that make for high enough morale” (p. 215).  These can be “chemical (vodka, rum, indeed anything alcohol), spiritual (trust, inspiration, self-confidence) or a lack of alternatives (desperation).”  Though the list seems a bit grim, it does provide a usable hypothesis (and gives additional meaning to the phrase “liquid courage”).  Gray describes where he believes morale comes from.  An equally useful endeavor might be to consider the opposite – what causes morale to fail?  How does “anti-morale” grow?  For the purposes of this essay, “anti-morale” is defined as the “inability of a group’s members to maintain belief in an institution or goal, particularly in the face of opposition or hardship.”  So, what causes soldiers to run, retreat, and even surrender?

There are several places we could look for help to answer these questions.  We might start with General Ulysses S. Grant, who coerced and compelled the surrender of three Confederate armies in the American Civil War (Forts Henry and Donelson, 14,000 prisoners; Vicksburg, 28,000 prisoners; and Appamatox, 25,000 prisoners).  With these on his resume, we could fairly refer to Grant as the “Patron Saint of Anti-Morale.”  Of course, we have to go beyond Grant – military morale is not so simple a matter.  It might be if militaries were comprised of the obedient guard dogs that Plato counseled in Republic.  Consider the only two qualities WWI-era military dog trainer British Lt. Col. Edwin H. Richardson listed as necessary to propel the canine forward in battle: “affection for master and the love of reward.” (Rebecca Frankel, “The Dog Whisperer,” Foreign Policy, Sept/Oct 2014).  As armies are certainly not comprised of Plato’s dogs – the challenge of maintaining morale is ever present.  Based upon a quick survey of available resources, this essay finds three broad categories of anti-morale: inability to see the connection between tactical action and policy objectives; failure of belief in military and political leaders; and, tactical action is perceived as ineffective, meaningless, or counter to desired objectives.

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Iran War Council: Military Strategic Considerations

**Reader’s Note: These are Major Matt Cavanaugh’s remarks from the October 2013 War Council event on U.S. options toward the Iranian nuclear program.  The full event remarks are available at Small Wars Journal.  His prompt was to engage with “military strategic considerations.”**

Academics and opinion writers engage military issues all the time – glossing over important considerations.  For example, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, last year, writing on the U.S. Navy breaking an Iranian blockade in the Straits of Hormuz: “We will succeed, but at considerable cost.”  That seven-word sentence is pregnant with so many assumptions, challenges, paradoxes and questions – it is just so amazingly simplistic.

So what is a member of the profession of arms to think? 

That’s why we’re here – to get beyond overbroad statements to real strategic analysis.  I’ll cover three topics: what each country wants, likelihood of military tactical and operational effectiveness, and the strategic wisdom in using military force to deny the Iranian bomb.

Value of the Object

Start with a basic question – what do both sides want?  Or, as Clausewitz puts it: what is the “value of the object?”

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Syria War Council: Is intervention wise?

**Reader’s Note: These are Major Matt Cavanaugh’s remarks from the 6 September 2013 War Council event on intervention in Syria.  The full event remarks are available at Small Wars Journal.  His prompt was to answer whether intervention in Syria was “wise.”**

My task: What is the utility of American force in Syria – is any sort of intervention wise?  To start, I don’t like the word “wise” – the battlefield punishes intellectual vanity.  You will not hear me reach definitive conclusions.  I don’t specifically know what to do.  But I think we can advance the ball forward a bit; that’s success for me today.

I’ll begin with Clausewitz, who wrote, “the first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesmen and commander have to make is to establish the kind of war on which they are embarking…”

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