Slightly missing the point

But their individual sacrifice is a silver lining common to many first world war movies: in the absence of a larger and nobler purpose, the best soldiers can do is fight for each other, and hope to spare a life or steal a little bit of dignity and humanity.

The fighting for each other bit. That’s always what soldiers do. That’s why armies are set up the way they are, in sections, platoons, companies. To engender that community which is what is being fought for.

Never been quite sure whether the Spartan hoplites all fighting alongside their gay partner was true or not but it’s the same idea. Very few indeed will risk their lives for King and Country but set it up right and many will for the band of brothers.

25 thoughts on “Slightly missing the point”

  1. “War is an unnatural state, stoked by a nationalist fervor that dissolves when people are in a room together.”
    I suggest history disproves this assumption – an unnatural state, that is.

  2. “Never been quite sure whether the Spartan hoplites all fighting alongside their gay partner was true or not but it’s the same idea.”
    The Theban Sacred Band, rather than Spartan hoplites. Though the idea was copied a lot afterwards. I suppose there was a lot of it about anyway, unofficially – What happens in camp stays in camp.

  3. Bernie,
    Indeed. It’s peace and prosperity which is the unnatural state. Still, not to worry, it’ll be over soon.

  4. I only recently, after many years of seeing war films, realized that the US Army formally operated a “buddy system” in WW2 where men were assigned a partner. I had assumed that whenever soldiers talked about their “buddy” it just meant their naturally-occurring best friend and that their relationship became almost inevitably closer than it might have been in civilian life because of the situation they were in.
    What happened if two men were assigned to be buddies and rapidly came to hate each other, I don’t know.

  5. This was initiated in the U.S. Army after the War for Southern Independence.

    Generally, the Union Army was comprised of state militias. State militia companies were geographical. I.e., most everyone in the company was from the same town. Should there be mass casualties in a battle, towns could lose their total male population.

    So the Army started building companies with men from everywhere, ending the concentration of actual friends and acquaintances.

  6. “Very few indeed will risk their lives for King and Country”

    Not sure that’s true. Why did people sign up in the first place? There I am walking down the road with my mate and I suddenly suggest

    “hey, we’re in no danger here but why don’t we both sign up”
    – “why?”
    “because then we can be in mortal danger and I can risk my life for you”.

  7. Bloke in North Dorset

    Generally, the Union Army was comprised of state militias. State militia companies were geographical. I.e., most everyone in the company was from the same town. Should there be mass casualties in a battle, towns could lose their total male population.

    So the Army started building companies with men from everywhere, ending the concentration of actual friends and acquaintances.

    Interesting. Our generals & politicians didn’t learn from that because in WW1 they instigated Pals Battalions to increase recruitment which led to villages and small towns losing most of their male populations whist other villages and towns lost very few. The lesson was learnt for WW2.

    Andrew C, people sign up for many reasons even King and Country, but mostly social pressures, cf the white feather movement*, but when it comes to actually fighting and dying they do it because they’ve been trained and for their mates.

    *I remember my grandmother talking about seeing a young man, no more than 16, being given one on a bus.

  8. @ Edward Lud
    You mean matriarchy. They were handed out by women, particularly Suffragettes.
    I can remember *my* grandmother telling me that she witnessed one being given to a wounded soldier convalescing because he was in mufti. Was it a coincidence that she wasn’t too keen on Suffragettes?

  9. the War for Southern Independence

    A curious term for something that anyone who was anyone knew as:

    “Hostilities between the Government of the United States of America and certain States styling themselves the Confederate States of America”

  10. BiND, it was probably a lesson that had to be learned directly. In fact, before WWI, the U.S. wasn’t considered much of a power on the world stage, so no one was likely to learn from them.

    Perhaps if the Brits had had more Balaclavas before the First World War, they would have made the change.

  11. Bloke in Costa Rica

    It was one of the criticisms of the US (and to a lesser extent the UK) that replacements were sent to the front before getting to know anyone and so unit cohesion was nil. The new guys were often killed very quickly because they didn’t have anyone to look out for them (I remember one horrendous case where of 36 green troops sent to the front line with a US infantry unit in western Germany, precisely four were still alive 24 hours later). Even worse, if you were a casualty and returned to active service you wouldn’t be sent to your old unit. It was recognised as stupid at the time but given the inertia of these things it remained policy until the end of the war.

  12. It’s notable from that account that the Sacred Band likely figured in the defeat in battle.of the Thespians
    How times have changed.

  13. @ Chris and Edward Lud
    Yes. I just react to that reference because she was so horrified that she related it forty-odd years later to her grandson (born after the *next* world war).

  14. “You can eat a turd, too, PJF.”

    Merely delivering the description used by Her Majesty’s Government of the time, old chap. We stayed neutral, which, unlike you, was very polite and diplomatic.

    All sorts of euphemisms attached to that conflict. Getting to the nitty gritty, it was a war over whether slavery would continue in USA. The good guys won, even if they weren’t especially good in the process.

  15. “owns could lose their total male population”

    Which would create a new, virgin area of opportunity for surviving men from other towns.

    I still hypothesise that the Romans banned polygamy primarily because of their superior military tactics and technology. When you only lose a fraction of men in war it’s a bit demoralising if they return to find all the women married to the bloke that stayed behind. Whereas if you lose a lot of men in war polygamy is the only way to retain your population.

  16. Not so sure there.

    The second to 15th wives/shags/concubines came from the slave population, not the free. Those unmarried males were in the populations conquered/killed off/enslaved and in subsequent generations the slaves.

  17. PJF
    The North did not fight for the great cause of abolition.
    That would be like saying we fought Hitler on behalf of the Jews.
    Winners can always afford to forget their grubbier motives.

  18. philip, all the other reasons the US civil war was fought were centred around the issue of slavery. If slavery hadn’t existed in the US, none of the other reasons would ever have grown big enough to go to war over.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *