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"Fighting for a Good Cause? Irrelevant" Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian16 May 2018 4:52 p.m. PST

According to historian Roger J. Spiller, fighting for a 'great and moral cause' makes no difference.

…Soldiering is a morally neutral act, so designed by centuries of tradition. Soldiers have fought bravely and well for the most despicable of causes, and the Second World War lasted for six years because millions of soldiers did exactly that…

Do you agree?

saltflats192916 May 2018 5:01 p.m. PST

You might enlist for a cause, but you fight to stay alive.

Andy Skinner Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 5:22 p.m. PST

I keep hearing you fight for your buddies.

andy

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP16 May 2018 5:30 p.m. PST

Hard to say. There are examples of soldiers who really believe in their cause fighting on long after any hope of victory is gone. And there are also examples of soldiers who question their cause giving up far more easily than the situation would call for. So I think that in some cases the 'good cause' could be a real factor.

whitejamest16 May 2018 5:58 p.m. PST

I think the more universal principle at work is not the "moral neutrality" of war, but the moral subjectivity of mankind's experience. Many Germans may have fought on, feeling morally neutral about the cause, and found other reasons to fight. But many fought because to them it seemed like a good cause. That is the much more terrifying thing to me – not that people will fight without moral judgment, but that they feel perfectly morally sound while pursuing the most appalling ends. I don't think it's any less true today than at any previous time. And it's certainly not a dynamic that is limited to warfare.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 6:01 p.m. PST

All in favor of letting soldiers pick their wars? And tell me how this works with civilian control of the armed forces. (And do you want to give soldiers the option of drawing pay for 15 or 20 years and then quitting if they actually have to go to war?)

Lots of ways to interpret that Spiller quote, and I have no way to find context. (Bill, a link or source next time?) Let's try a few:

1. Spiller seems to be suggesting that Axis soldiers, and Axis soldiers only, fought for "the most despicable of causes." But we can only say that if we consider that every German soldier fought to pursue a policy of totalitarianism and racial extermination. But if we define the "cause" as the policy pursued by the state, we have to say that the Red Army fought also to expand a totalitarian state, and the British, French and American armies to maintain their empires. So could also say the Allies won because millions of men fought bravely and well for some pretty despicable causes.

In reality, the cause we pin on an army or rate as the prime cause of a war is not necessarily the cause the men enlisted and fought for. The maintenance of hereditary slavery isn't much of a cause. Neither is the maintenance and expansion of a totalitarian state, and neither is racial hegemony. But I suspect the armies of the CSA, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had more people who were fighting for the maintenance of their homes and traditional liberties in the case of the Confederacy, and simply for their homelands in the case of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

2. A great or good cause will keep people enlisting, and it will keep them in the ranks when there's no pay and not much food--as witness, say, the Continental Army at Valley Forge, or many Spanish Napoleonic armies.

3. But it's training and discipline--and confidence in leadership, doctrine and equipment--which keeps them in the ranks when they're actually under fire. Maybe buddies. Scratch units are notoriously flighty. But I'll put money on training and discipline.

Personal logo brass1 Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 6:53 p.m. PST

I remember an evening during the Easter Offensive in 1972 when, having doused the fire caused by a rocket hitting one of our trucks, we popped a few pop-tops and started the eons-old discussion of "What will you when the war is over?" One of traditional branches of this conversation is the "Why don't we find another war and be mercenaries?" discussion. In this case, however, the LT's jeep driver seemed confused and finally asked me "What are mercenaries?" I replied "Soldiers who fight for money." He seemed even more confused and asked "Isn't that what we do?"

Since nobody could come up with a rebuttal to this, we spent the rest of the evening lying about women.

LT

Note: if you think money wasn't a factor, I would point out that on two different occasions in early '72, typical DoD bureaucratic nonsense kept us from being paid. We were annoyed the first time but the second time we came uncomfortably close to mutiny.

JimSelzer Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 6:53 p.m. PST

no side in any conflict is 100% good or 100% evil

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian16 May 2018 7:05 p.m. PST

(Bill, a link or source next time?)

From "My Guns: A Memoir of the Second World War" in World War II Chronicles, "a supplement to American Heritage," re-published by Forbes in 1996.

And also online: link Apparently it was originally in American Heritage in 1991.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 8:20 p.m. PST

Not that I ascribe to the idea that Sun Tzu is the be all and end all of arguments on war, but he said that there were five factors which were the heart of the Art of War, the first listed being "The Moral Law."

"The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger."-- The Art of War, Sun Tzu, edited by James Clavell.

At some point, yes, soldiers must be able to justify their actions in war. In the nub of battle that may indeed simply be "staying alive" or "avenging my friends" or "making the enemy pay for causing me to be stuck in this mess." But *if* the soldiers do believe their cause is good and virtuous in a broad sense, then yes, I think they *will* act with greater strength, whereas if they believe that their cause is unjust or groundless or "condemned by Heaven," then they will also bring less vigor to the task.
This does *not* mean that either one side or the other will or won't be victorious. After all, Sun Tzu listed four other factors as being of equal importance. So he would probably agree that simply being "in the right" is no more likely to win a battle than being the sensible choice will win you the girl (or the guy). A greedy thug with a gun beats an unarmed, unprepared righteous man daily throughout the world. I believe it was Napoleon who said, "In my experience, God favors the side with the bigger battalions." (Though he eventually learned not always…)

So, yes, be right with God, but make sure your sights are aligned, you have a good supply of ammunition, and you hold the high ground.

goragrad16 May 2018 8:39 p.m. PST

Once again with respect to the quoted piece, a major percentage (if not all) of those millions of soldiers were fighting for a noble or at least good cause – the defeat of Communism. That was after all the primary goal according to the German government.

Same thing that the West did for decades after the end of WWII.

Korvessa16 May 2018 9:01 p.m. PST

I agree with Selzer

Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 9:12 p.m. PST

When the people don't believe in their government or the cause, their armies often melt away. Look at the Italian Army in World War Two and the Russian Army in World War One.

Compare that to Japanese troops who believed in the emperor as a god and fought on for years after the war because they believed the war was still on.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek
Bunker Talk blog

Yellow Admiral16 May 2018 9:34 p.m. PST

The ranks of partisan and guerilla organizations are usually filled by people fighting for a cause, and while guerilla activities rarely win a conflict outright, they can have a deep and corrosive effect on the course of the "real" war going on around them.

I'm also pretty sure major historical events like the early spread of Islam and the establishment of modern Israel depended strongly on volunteers dedicated to a cause.

- Ix

Personal logo brass1 Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2018 10:22 p.m. PST

3. But it's training and discipline--and confidence in leadership, doctrine and equipment--which keeps them in the ranks when they're actually under fire. Maybe buddies. Scratch units are notoriously flighty. But I'll put money on training and discipline.

Having been in what I can only characterize as the worst-trained, worst-equipped, probably the worst-disciplined, and by far the worst-led military force the USA had put in the field since 1861, I think you're giving the defense establishment far too much credit. Our training had little to do with what we ended up doing*, our equipment couldn't be trusted**, we paid as little attention as possible to a system of military discipline that probably had made sense in the Korean War, and a goodly number of our senior NCOs were more concerned about their retirement than their troops, the junior officers were rotated into combat assignments and out again at twice the rate of enlisted men***, and the senior officers rarely manifested themselves to mere mortals, preferring to send down operational plans that made little sense and demands that made even less.**** We fought for each other because we couldn't trust any other aspect of the establishment that had put us in harm's way.

*Example: the standard long-arm of the US Army until late 1969 was the M-14. I had one afternoon of "familiarization" with the M-16 in basic training (as opposed to the week we spent on bayonet training) and carried one for three days of "jungle training". conducted in -5 degree Fahrenheit conditions at Fort Leonard Wood after AIT, during which I fired one magazine of blanks. I was then sent to Vietnam to fight using a weapon about which I knew almost nothing. I served 6 years on active duty and this is the only training I ever received on the M-16, even after that piece of junk became the Army's standard weapon.

** And, as long as we're talking about the M-16, I can safely say most of the bad things said about it weren't very accurate. It was much worse than that as was the M-16A1, as was pretty much every other piece of equipment we were issued, with the possible exception of the c-ration can opener and jungle boots. Of course, since the supply system was so screwed up that spare parts were worth their weight in gold, even equipment that would work as long was you were willing to keep fixing it ultimately conked out for good.

At the beginning of my second tour, the supply system has reached such an acme of uselessness that the only equipment I was issued was a canteen with no carrier and steel pot with no liner; everything else I had for that tour I either stole or bought from the ARVNs. Actually, I bought my weapons from the United States Air Force, several members of which were happy to accept cash in return for a Colt Python .357 Magnum, a Colt M1911A1, and a Stevens 12-gauge pump shotgun.

*** Junior officers were rotated through combat assignments twice as quickly as peons so that as many as possible could have a combat assignment on their record. Ticket-punching, pure and simple. Of course, by the time I got back to the world for good, having served in combat was a detriment for an enlisted man thinking of going career.

**** October 21 1971: the commanding general of the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) drops by the B-TOC of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, newly arrived on a hilltop LZ, for no reason that was ever communicated to the peons. His departure back to the land of air-conditioning and decent beer is delayed because his spotless, equipped like a limo, C&C chopper won't start. Eventually, he is rescued from the horror of having to spend some time with his troops by a chopper from Chu Lai.

After he leaves we receive word that Typhoon Hester is due to come ashore at Chu Lai some time in the next 24 hours. It's too late to get he line companies to higher ground. We call for resupply. We receive several cases of orange soda.

The storm hits in the early morning. It has already flattened Chu Lai but we're far enough inland that is has lost some power by the time it reaches us. It takes most of the day to pass over us. Those of us on the top of the hill get by with some minor injuries but the line companies down in the valley take 22 casualties, including 7 KIA. We learn after the storm that, as the eye of the storm passed us, B-TOC had received a radio message from division HQ asking if we could make sure the general's didn't get any mud on it. The battalion commander, one of the finest officers I ever served under, is angrier than I have ever seen a human being get.

We get no resupply for two more days; the hilltop is crowded with people looking in shell holes for those cans of c-ration date pudding and ham and lima beans they threw away two days ago. On the second day, the snipers kill a bunch of monkeys, which look disconcertingly like babies when they're skinned and roasted over an open fire.

We finally get back to Chu Lai. Our hooch is upside-down. My books (the only privately-owned books in the company) are ruined. All that is left of my possessions is a canned ham which is the sole survivor of a package from my mother. I eat the whole thing, get spectacularly sick, gulp down about half of a bottle of vodka I find in the wreckage of the NCO club, trip, and fall into a trench from which I am roused at daybreak so I can join the platoon that has been ordered to clean up the division officers' club. On the way, I notice that our hooch is still upside-down.

Not much there to put your trust in. What you have left is each other.

LT

Personal logo Dances with Clydesdales Supporting Member of TMP17 May 2018 12:33 a.m. PST

No

Legion 417 May 2018 5:42 a.m. PST

You might enlist for a cause, but you fight to stay alive.
I agree … I'd think on a tactical level when in a firefight, etc. It comes down to survival of your comrades and yourself of course[but not always, e.g. jumping on a grenades to save your comrades, etc.!].

Of course I'd think one of the best ways to survive and obtain your objective(s)/complete the mission … is to kill the enemy who is trying to kill you & you comrades. "Do unto other before they do unto you !" In high numbers and often … "Dead men don't tell any tales", but much more importantly they can't fight either … obviously …

And thank you for that information Brass and your service in SE Asia …

The ranks of partisan and guerilla organizations are usually filled by people fighting for a cause, and while guerilla activities rarely win a conflict outright, they can have a deep and corrosive effect on the course of the "real" war going on around them.
I'm also pretty sure major historical events like the early spread of Islam and the establishment of modern Israel depended strongly on volunteers dedicated to a cause.
True in many cases/situations it seems. But not always as well … The Arab-Israel Wars were and are sparked by religious and ethnic, etc., hatreds, differences, etc.
And that is something that keeps the GWoT going … Plus we see this is going on in many places in the Mid East, A'stan. and Pakistan. With, IMO, No end in sight …

But on the other hand the Vietminh/NLF/VC were more concerned about getting the "invaders", i.e. France, Japan, France again and then US/SEATO. It was More than just hard core communist dogma, etc., as we see after WWII. Again at least on a tactical level … I'd think …

fighting for a 'great and moral cause' makes no difference.
Of course if you are dead … it really makes 0 difference.

DrSkull Supporting Member of TMP17 May 2018 7:12 a.m. PST

I thought it was settled law that God will not allow a knight who is false to triumph over a knight who is true. Or is that only in judicial combat and not in war?

28mm Fanatik17 May 2018 7:57 a.m. PST

I disagree.

Fighting for a moral cause isn't irrelevant even to the lowly common rank-and-file soldier because the act of killing the enemy has to have a reason and be justified. Otherwise he would be a nihilist and wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

Even those who only see the near-term and not the big picture because "theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die" will balk and question when they're asked to do things that go against their conscience, as happened oftentimes in Vietnam.

Bill N17 May 2018 8:33 a.m. PST

Disagree.

I will leave it at that.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP17 May 2018 10:27 a.m. PST

From what I've seen of people, we can justify anything and everything and most often do. Killing is horrific but we seem quite capable of justifying it when it suits. Us and them – we and you. We are always right and good and in recent times I've seen everything we do justified and everything 'they' do demonized. If we don't like what we might have done and feel uncomfortable after the fact we will airbrush our historical memory and our cultures will mythologize our past with a one sided recollection. I believe it's how uncritical societies (That's all of us) function. I suppose I think the moral cause is generally false.

Mark 117 May 2018 10:48 a.m. PST

Once again with respect to the quoted piece, a major percentage (if not all) of those millions of soldiers were fighting for a noble or at least good cause – the defeat of Communism. That was after all the primary goal according to the German government.

I have a lot of trouble with that statement.

I can't see how, with all respect, anyone who has more than a 5th grade understanding about WW2 history could keep a straight face while suggesting the primary goal for the German invasions of Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Albania, Greece, Yugoslavia, or France (ALL of which happened with the active or passive cooperation of the Soviet Union), or 3 years of combat on the Mediterranean cost of Africa (which began before the invasion of the Soviet Union), was the defeat of Communism.

Even if we look only to the conflict of Nazi Germany vs. the Soviet Union, the primary goal of the Nazi government was never the defeat of Communism. That may have been offered as a rationalization in 1943 or 44, in efforts to rally the rest of Europe or even to entice the western Allies. But the Nazi goals in launching Barbarossa were clear and well documented -- the extermination and removal of "inferior" populations from a vast arable landmass that would form the basis for a 1,000 year Reich based on utopian agricultural social values.

If Russia had still been ruled by a Czar in 1941 it would have made no difference in Hitler's policies.

If the Russian communist government had fallen from power on June 23, 1941, the war would still have continued. Or perhaps if organized warfare had petered out due to the fall of the Soviet government, at least the killing in the east would still have continued, and most likely would have accelerated.

The German policy goal was not beating a political adversary, but eliminating a population.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Mark 117 May 2018 10:48 a.m. PST

There are examples of soldiers who really believe in their cause fighting on long after any hope of victory is gone. And there are also examples of soldiers who question their cause giving up far more easily than the situation would call for. So I think that in some cases the 'good cause' could be a real factor.

Well reasoned and well stated. Several examples have been quoted by others. "In some cases the 'good cause' could be a real factor."

I'd think on a tactical level when in a firefight, etc. It comes down to survival of your comrades and yourself….

Of course I'd think one of the best ways to survive and obtain your objective(s)/complete the mission … is to kill the enemy who is trying to kill you & you comrades.


Again well reasoned and well stated.

I have this sense that military discipline, at least in most modern armies, seems to be a structure and culture that enforces (and justifies) training and equipping units, and organizing activities (following orders) 'up to the point of contact'. From that point forward the unit's cohesion (survival and the buddy system) drives the action.

It's not that I really think this is how it works. I don't know. But I just get this sense that a the higher command roles, from one perspective at least, are mostly to build cohesion, and then to place high-cohesion units in dangerous places, such that they have to achieve your goals to keep their buddies alive.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

USAFpilot17 May 2018 11:23 a.m. PST

Disagree. If you are not fighting for a good cause, then what are you fighting for? If it's just a job then you are not a soldier but a mercenary.

foxweasel17 May 2018 12:16 p.m. PST

There is a lot of difference between people who volunteer to fight when a big war breaks out, people who are conscripted later on during that war, and professional soldiers who served before, during and after.

Fred Cartwright17 May 2018 1:10 p.m. PST

The German policy goal was not beating a political adversary, but eliminating a population.

Regardless of what the Nazi hierarchy planned for Russia, it was sold to the German population and the rest of Europe as a Crusade against Bolshevism from the start. Hence Barbarossa for the name of the operation. Some like Leon Degrelle went to their graves believing they had fought in a noble cause to prevent the Communist takeover of Europe. Remember you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Legion 417 May 2018 3:11 p.m. PST

But I just get this sense that a the higher command roles, from one perspective at least, are mostly to build cohesion, and then to place high-cohesion units in dangerous places, such that they have to achieve your goals to keep their buddies alive.
Yes, "People First … Mission Always …" A good leader knows how to make that work in many cases. That and a little luck couldn't hurt either …

There is a lot of difference between people who volunteer to fight when a big war breaks out, people who are conscripted later on during that war, and professional soldiers who served before, during and after.
Very true … I'd rather lead volunteers and professionals than otherwise. Fortunately the US ended the draft in '72. After we saw a lot of good reasons why not to do it, e.g. Vietnam.

Mark 117 May 2018 3:25 p.m. PST

… it was sold to the German population and the rest of Europe as a Crusade against Bolshevism from the start.

Not so much.

"from the start"
From the start of what? I acknowledge the statement of context of "from the start" as being "what the Nazi hierarchy planned for Russia", but Germany had already been at war for 2 years, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact publicly described at the outset, before attacking the Soviets. The OP posits the whole 6 years of WW2. Did they sell the invasion of Norway (a monarchy) to the German people as a "Crusade against Bolshevism"? Or was it more "remember all those reasons we gave you to justify Poland, Norway, and Greece? Well forget all that stuff, it's really all about something else." Either way, that's some impressive propagandizing!

"a Crusade against Bolshevism"
a noble cause to prevent the Communist takeover of Europe"
I'm afraid that's a bit of a post-war rationalization. A bending and re-positioning. You have ommitted one key word.
When the Nazis sold it at the time, it was not "Bolshevism". It was "Jewish Bolshevism". Not a political conflict as we in the west may view it through our post-war colored glasses, but a racial conflict against Jews. But also a confusing message if one stops to think about it, because, well, Jewish Bolshevism and Slavic (and other) inferior races get all mixed up.

Field Marshall Von Brauchitsch, OKH, instructed the army that Barbarossa was to be a "struggle between two different races and [to] act with the necessary severity".

General Hoepner informed the 4th Panzer Group that Barbarossa was "an essential part of the German people's struggle for existence", the "old struggle of Germans against Slavs" and "the struggle must aim at the annihilation of today's Russia and must therefore be waged with unparalleled harshness." The defense against Bolshevism was, in Hoepner's words: "the defense of European culture against Moscovite–Asiatic inundation, and the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism."

To suggest that Degrelle was anti-communist … well that's true, but again it misses a BIG component of Degrelle's position.
Degrelle went to his grave an unrepentant Holocaust denier and supporter of Hitler's Nazi regime, whose only regret was "that we lost". Degrelle went so far as to write and publish an open letter to Pope John Paul II urging him not to visit Auschwitz, because of: "unscrupulous propagandists" whose "hate campaigns" were "based on lies [that] have poisoned the whole subject of Auschwitz for more than a quarter of a century."

Remember you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Indeed.

And it is a long-standing tradition among "populist" movements, like the Nazi movement, the Fascist movement, or the Communist movement (more so the Mensheviks than the Bolsheviks, if you care to distinguish, but also certainly the Maoists), that painting your issues with simple and pithy labels and slogans, and repeating those labels or slogans innumerable times, is the easiest way to fool the under-educated (and easily distracted) masses.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Mark 117 May 2018 4:30 p.m. PST

… it was sold to the German population and the rest of Europe as a Crusade against Bolshevism from the start.

Not so much.

"from the start"
From the start of what? I acknowledge the statement of context of "from the start" as being "what the Nazi hierarchy planned for Russia", but Germany had already been at war for 2 years, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact publicly described at the outset, before attacking the Soviets. The OP posits the whole 6 years of WW2. Did they sell the invasion of Norway (a monarchy) to the German people as a "Crusade against Bolshevism"? That's some impressive propagandizing!

"a Crusade against Bolshevism"
a noble cause to prevent the Communist takeover of Europe"
I'm afraid that's a bit of a post-war rationalization. A bending and re-positioning. You have ommitted one key word.
When the Nazis sold it, it was not "Bolshevism". It was always "Jewish Bolshevism". Not a political conflict as we in the west may view it through our post-war colored glasses, but a racial conflict against Jews.

Field Marshall Von Brauchitsch, OKH, instructed the army that Barbarossa was to be a "struggle between two different races and act with the necessary severity". *

General Hoepner informed the 4th Panzer Group that it was "an essential part of the German people's struggle for existence", the "old struggle of Germans against Slavs" and "he struggle must aim at the annihilation of today's Russia and must therefore be waged with unparalleled harshness." **

Some like Degrelle went to their graves as unrepentant Holocaust deniers and supporters of Hitler's Nazi regime, whose only regret was "that we lost". Degrelle went so far as to write an open letter to Pope John Paul II urging him not to visit Auschwitz, because of: "unscrupulous propagandists" whose "hate campaigns" were "based on lies [that] have poisoned the whole subject of Auschwitz for more than a quarter of a century."

Remember you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Indeed.

And it is a long-standing tradition among "populist" movements, like the Nazi movement, the Fascist movement, or the Communist movement (more so the Mensheviks than the Bolsheviks, if you care to distinguish, but also certainly the Maoists), that painting your issues with 2 to 4 word labels and slogans, and repeating those labels or slogans innumerable times, is the easiest way to fool the under-educated (and easily distracted) masses.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Fred Cartwright17 May 2018 4:45 p.m. PST

From the start of what?

From the start of the attack on Russia. The European aspect is pushed in German propaganda despite most countries contributing minimal amounts of men, with the exception of the Romanians. And yes the Jewish and hordes from the east aspect is featured along with Bolshevism, but it is in the context of saving Europe from these threats. Surprisingly German propaganda does not mention that the reason the Germans were invading Russia was to kill half the population and enslave the rest.

Degrelle went to his grave an unrepentant Holocaust denier and supporter of Hitler's Nazi regime, whose only regret was "that we lost".

Unsurprising if you believed what you were doing was in a noble cause then anything that threatens to discredit that is obviously a Jewish, Bolshevist plot.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP17 May 2018 6:02 p.m. PST

Returning to the primary discussion, I do think a few distinctions are being missed (and indeed, were missed by the article's author), and that is the distinction between "fighting in a war" and "fighting in a battle." Also, he fails to note that inherent to the idea of following orders issued by the command from the rear is the acceptance that those individuals have the authority to issue the orders, even if the orders are bad. If a soldier doesn't at least believe that, then the soldier will desert the battlefield and the army outright. As the article notes, "the bright lights of Paris" pulled in deserters from the Allies, presumably never to return to their armies, BUT it didn't pull the men who stayed to fight. Why not? Yes, "we won't abandon our buddies," but what about convincing those buddies to walk off with you? Or simply ignoring the orders to advance and stay in the safer place where you are? At some point it has to be more than fear of being caught, or not wanting to give up that army chow. The soldier has to accept that his place in the world at that moment is indeed to do what his superiors ask in the broad sense, and that his role is to indeed kill the enemy. He may indeed be desensitized to the inherent brutality of that act and to the death around him, but he is *not* desensitized at all to the "rightness" (for lack of a better word) of his overall situation, even if it is only in a sense that (whether conscious or not) he is legally or justly doing the will of his society even if that society doesn't actually understand the gory, brutal details of that will or the personal cost to him. The society expects him to liberate Paris from the Germans, so inherent in that is the action of bludgeoning in the head of the teenage boy in the other uniform. At some point, one has to have some sense that the action is justified, even if one isn't contemplating the situation in that way. (The exception would be the militarized sociopath, but certainly the majority of the men involved are not that at all.) The case of Degrelle mentioned above is clearly that from the other side; a man so desperate to have justification for his actions in the aftermath that he will willingly and doggedly cling to false premises so that he will never link himself or what he did or what he supported to evil. He had his justification at the time, and he keeps it afterwards, as hollow and false as it always actually was. But either way, his belief in his rightness is essential to his involvement, before and after.

So my answer to the question is "yes it can be" and "no, it really isn't," all at the same time.

Blutarski17 May 2018 9:03 p.m. PST

No easy answers to this question.

As for Nazism, without seeking to in any way diminish or excuse the murderous racial and ethnic animus present within the Nazi political leadership, I think it is dangerous to try to define Nazism solely upon holocaust grounds. Nazism also represented a new species of masterfully marketed socialist political, economic and cultural ideas and values that resonated with many people.

B

goragrad17 May 2018 9:20 p.m. PST

As to the German invasions of France and other Western nations – Poland was a 'response' to Polish aggression and a redress of the territorial loses after WWI. France was allied to Poland and so Germany was eliminating the threat of to their rear as well as redressing the injustices (in German eyes) of the Versailles Treaty. Norway and the rest were again about securing the flanks and eliminating distractions before the crusade in Russia.

All of course per official German propaganda.

As previously noted Germans had gotten a taste of Communist insurgency post-WWI and many, if not most,saw it as and existential threat.

As to North Africa, the Balkans, etc., that was treaty commitments – Italy was on a mission of conquest and proved incapable of doing it on their own. Definitely not campaigns the German military would have prosecuted by choice.

So, again the OP quote seems to pretty much follow the wartime Allied propaganda that all Germans were racial supremacists out for total world domination. No shades of gray…

Legion 418 May 2018 7:39 a.m. PST

I'm pretty sure ISIS, AQ, AS, BK, etc., think they are/were fighting for a "good cause" …

deephorse18 May 2018 8:59 a.m. PST

And it is a long-standing tradition among "populist" movements that painting your issues with 2 to 4 word labels and slogans, and repeating those labels or slogans innumerable times, is the easiest way to fool the under-educated (and easily distracted) masses.

Well crafted Mark.

28mm Fanatik18 May 2018 12:25 p.m. PST

If a cause is considered to be "just" and fully embraced by the combatant fighting for it, he may disregard any moral contradictions arising from it, including genocide and engaging in morally despicable acts. The rationalization is that "the end justifies the means."

Trajanus19 May 2018 1:54 a.m. PST

One of the many reasons armies train recruits to be a cohesive unit is to fight for each other. There are Military reasons and practical ones but ultimately any soldier has to be willing to fight who they are ordered to fight not question who they are.

You can disagree but when it kicks off, soldiers rely on each other and " the cause" will be dependent on the individual's view.

Mass conscription drags in a wide range of opinion.

In a post WW2 volunteer army you have to be willing to shoot who you are told to – one of several reasons I never enlisted.

McWong7319 May 2018 2:29 a.m. PST

IMHO all soldiers probably think they are fighting for a good cause, and history determines if they were right.

Legion 419 May 2018 6:39 a.m. PST

One of the many reasons armies train recruits to be a cohesive unit is to fight for each other. There are Military reasons and practical ones but ultimately any soldier has to be willing to fight who they are ordered to fight not question who they are.

You can disagree but when it kicks off, soldiers rely on each other and " the cause" will be dependent on the individual's view.

Generally … yes/true …

Mass conscription drags in a wide range of opinion.
In the US in the modern era after Vietnam … we see there are a number of negatives with a draft …

In a post WW2 volunteer army you have to be willing to shoot who you are told to – one of several reasons I never enlisted.
Yes and no … That is a broad statement but needs context and is situational. Soldiers are Not mindless killing machines. And we are only required to follow lawful/legal orders. However, I'm pretty sure when being shot at, and someone is trying to kill the soldier and his comrades. It should be clear who you have to kill for you and your comrades have to survive. The reasons why you are there generally becomes insignificant.

And being a "killing machine" is the way may you just survive and accomplish your mission(s). Even if at that moment it is to Kill as many of those as you can that are trying to kill you & your comrades.

IMHO all soldiers probably think they are fighting for a good cause, and history determines if they were right.
Again only in a "broad" sense … That may just be too black & white. It is a very gray concept based on more than just an individual POV, etc.

As well as the historical outcome. E.g. I'm pretty sure a Palestinian would have a different idea/concept than a Hebrew Israeli[i.e. @ 20% of Israel is Not Hebrew]. Or the factions of both the SCW and ACW, etc., …

But … Again, ISIS, AQ, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban, BH, AS, the IRGC, etc. believe "they are right" and their cause is "just", … is "good", etc., … IMO …

Blutarski19 May 2018 1:17 p.m. PST

Don't discount religious fervor as a motivator. Some of the massive Iranian pasdaran human wave attacks during the earlier part of the Iran-Iraq war put Japanese Banzai attacks to shame.

B

Legion 420 May 2018 6:35 a.m. PST

Don't discount religious fervor as a motivator. Some of the massive Iranian pasdaran human wave attacks during the earlier part of the Iran-Iraq war put Japanese Banzai attacks to shame.
I never do … Anyone who believes they will got directly to heaven, paradise, etc. and be greatly rewarded. If fighting and being killed by those whom they consider infidels, pagans, etc., is a very dangerous concept/"paradigm". And those are the last types you want to get any type of WMDs, especially Nukes(!) …

William Ulsterman21 May 2018 4:59 p.m. PST

Just because a cause is despicable doesn't mean that people don't believe in it. If Spiller is using the Axis soldiers in WWII as some kind of evidence that being a soldier is morally neutral, does he ignore the fact that most of those soldiers were not the professional military mercenaries (such as in the 18th century), but a levy of mass conscripts with varying degrees of training. Most were not volunteers and most would not have considered themselves as detached morally neutral military professionals.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2018 8:33 p.m. PST

There was an insightful book written about why ACW soldiers on both sides fought gleaned from their letters home. "The Cause" represented a major part of their reasons for joining and reasons for staying.

For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War 1998
by James M. McPherson

William Ulsterman22 May 2018 1:58 a.m. PST

Precisely McLaddie – fighting for a cause you believe in would appear to have great relevance. As would fighting for a cause you can be made to believe in.

Legion 422 May 2018 6:02 a.m. PST

That has been true for a very long time … E.g. again today ISIS, the Taliban, IRGC, etc., etc.

William Ulsterman22 May 2018 3:32 p.m. PST

I couldn't agree more Legion 4, hence my concern that Spiller is dangerously over simplifying the whole thing and ignoring both the voluntary and involuntary ways in which soldiers are drawn, or forced, to support any cause.

Legion 423 May 2018 5:25 a.m. PST

I think today with the large spread of fanatical, radical religious based terrorism worldwide it seems, hence the GWoT. This sort of thing has reached a new high in lows. This type of events has always been around. But it seems it has grown "exponentially". With adding to their numbers by using the net, mass media, etc. Tech has evolved but not many of the "humans" that are committing these atrocities, etc., …

A new(er) paradigm which is a phenomena of the late 20th Century. I still find it somewhat "amazing" that some will just "Brutally Kill" you, your family, etc. i.e. "infidels", non-believers, etc. E.g. just ask a Yazidi if you can still find one.

Murder, torture, rape, etc., for no other reason than because of religious, tribal, ethnic differences still going on frequently in large numbers in the 21st Century …

So much for modern man evolving …

William Ulsterman23 May 2018 5:01 p.m. PST

So when you look at the night sky Legion 4, you see the darkness winning?

Wolfhag23 May 2018 6:30 p.m. PST

What's a good cause? I think that depends a lot when you are a recruit and the MOS you select which depends a lot on your academics and sports background.

Once you get into the real fighting it's all about the Brotherhood, self-sacrifice and the ancient tribal bonds we cannot escape no matter how hard we try. When you are in a tight situation and you know that the guys on both sides of you are willing to sacrifice their life for you and you for them you transcend fear, personal safety, and materialism. If you do feel any fear it's a fear you may let your brothers down and not fear for your personal safety.

No matter how bad it sucks, you "Embrace the suck" because when you dominate it then it cannot dominate you and you win. When guys leave the military the thing they miss the most and cannot replace in civilian life is that Brotherhood and ancient tribal bond – and the adrenaline rush of combat.

I met and attended a talk Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter gave last month and that is what he talked about. Kyle received the MOH for rolling on a live grenade that detonated and almost killed him but saved his team. He went through three years of operations and physical therapy to save his arms and rebuild his face, jaw and dental work. He said he had to embrace the adversity to defeat it but it was the Brotherhood and his Faith that got him through it. He has completed a number of full marathons runs and is finishing up college.

Wolfhag

William Ulsterman23 May 2018 6:50 p.m. PST

Perhaps Wolfhag, however I very much doubt that your average conscripted Siberian peasant, shipped 1000KM from his home in a dingy and draughty railway carriage, given a bolt action rifle to share with a mate and told to die for cause of the Rodina and Marxist Leninism, in a concrete jungle, would adopt the same "get on the front foot and come down the pitch to the short ball" that you and your marine mates might take.

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