How Much Longer Can the Army Fight?

When I saw the headline (via SWJ) of Allan Mallinson’s “How Much Longer Can the Army Fight?” I naturally presumed it was about the American Army in Iraq. Instead, it’s about the British Army in Afghanistan.

Mallinson, a 35-year cavalry officer and author of a popular series of military novels, doesn’t really answer the title question, except to say that it depends more on morale than numbers.

In 1946, reflecting on five years’ fighting, Montgomery defined high morale as the quality that makes men endure and show courage in times of fatigue and danger, the most important single factor in war. High morale has four essential conditions, he argued: leadership, discipline, comradeship and self-respect.

The leaders must also believe in a cause, without which they will not sustain their inner strength, the inspiration to those they lead. A private soldier needs to know the cause is esteemed at home; his self-respect, the determination to maintain personal standards of behaviour, is otherwise diminished.

There are obvious worries here regarding a long war in Afghanistan. Although its legitimacy is not as questionable as in Iraq, it is still a war of choice, and its relevance to a strategy of defeating Islamist terrorism is not universally recognised. In part this is because the strategy (if there is one) has not been well articulated. Ministers therefore have a crucial role to play in maintaining the troops’ morale.

The trouble is that ministers frequently seem not to understand what morale really is. They visit Basra and Helmand, come away full of admiration for what the troops are doing, and insist that morale is high. But soldiers do not give things away to outsiders, and officers will not readily voice concerns about morale, since it calls their leadership into question.

So ministers frequently confuse toughness for high morale. It is not the same.

Indeed. There’s much more at the link; I commend it to you in its entirety.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.