BY WILLIAM ERNEST HOCKING
WAR is, no doubt, the least human of human relationships. It can begin only when persuasion ends, when arguments fitted to move minds are replaced by the blasting-powder fitted to move rocks and hills. It means that one at least of the national wills concerned has deliberately set aside its human quality, — as only a human will can do, — and has made of itself just such a material obstruction or menace. Hence war seems, and is often called, a contest of brute forces. Certainly it is the extremest physical effort that men make, every resource of vast populations bent to increase the sum of power at the front, where the two lines writhe like wrestlers laboring for the final fall.
Yet it is seldom physical force that decides a long war. For war summons skill against skill, head against head, staying power against staying power, as well as numbers and machines against machines and numbers. When an engine ‘exerts itself,’it spends more power, eats more fuel, but uses no nerve: when a man exerts himself, he must bend his will to it. The extremer the physical effort, the greater the strain on the inner or moral powers. Hence the paradox of war: just because it calls for the maximum material performance, it calls out a maximum of moral resource. So long as guns and bayonets have men behind them, the quality of the men, the quality of their minds and wills, must be counted with the power of the weapons.
And so long as men fight in nations and armies, that subtle but mighty influence which passes from man to man, the temper and spirit of the group, must be counted with the quality of the individual citizen and soldier. Every racial group, every army corps, every regiment, has its own distinctive mentality with which it endows its members, and for which it becomes reputed. And every commander accordingly seeks to know, not alone what numbers are against him, but who they are. In a paper just now before me I see these words: —
‘On one occasion prior to an attack, an intelligence officer, whose duty it was to interrogate prisoners, gleefully remarked to me: “I’ve had very good news; the regiments in front of our new line are Saxons and Bavarians.” These soldiers admittedly do not fight as well as the Prussians.’
And in another paragraph, —
‘It was said of a certain foreign contingent whom a Hun officer had captured, that he sent them back to their own line with the remark, “We can take you again at any time; we have enough mouths to feed already,” — so little did he think of their fighting qualities.’
The story need not be taken as history; yet it is hardly too extreme.
And, as we have seen in the case of our own troops, every group of soldiers is an unknown quantity until it has been tried out. We had no doubt that American soldiers would acquit themselves well; but who is there that did not follow the early reports with a tense interest to know how well? What could the great business-loving republic do toward producing a fighting morale? — that was the question. We were aware that mentality as well as armament is a factor in warfare.
But how much does this intangible psychological factor count? Napoleon in his day reckoned it high. ‘In war, the moral is to the physical as three to one.’ But things have changed since Napoleon’s day. Then there was still a personal element in the encounter of battles; there was still some truth in the Roman maxim, ‘In battle it is the eyes that are first conquered.’ Now one may spend weeks of fighting and never see an enemy — much less see the soul driven from his eyes. Yet there are reasons for believing that the moral factor is not less important today than heretofore. For consider: —
1. It is still the hand-to-hand fighting, especially the bayonet work, that constitutes the last argument of every engagement.
2. The quality of combat is none the less personal because one cannot see the opponent. The human face is but an organ of expression which we have to learn to read; and any physical thing that can show shades of temper is capable of being read like a face. Thus one learns to read firing as one learns to know the calibre of shells by their whine. There is desultory firing, determined firing, enraged firing, nervous firing, timid firing, and many another variety. In this and a hundred other ways, battle always has its face, whether or not it is a human face; and experienced men feel as directly when that opposing eye is conquering or being conquered.
3. Perhaps because of the longer intervals of waiting and tension, the spirit of the various units seems sensitive as never before to a thousand shades of feeling, sensitive as a stock market to the rise and fall of confidence and good-will. All tokens from outside, especially the orders and their bearers, are scanned, perhaps subconsciously, for the straws that show what wind is blowing. If the officer’s stout words come from an apprehensive mind, he will hardly conceal the fact; and what is outwardly accepted will leave an emptiness, like his own, in the hearts of his hearers. The fighting spirit, further from pure instinct than in former days, is by so much more canny, sensitive, and shrewd.
4. The strains of war on nerve and courage are not less but more severe than in previous wars. To take but a single indication, the prevalence of ‘shell-shock’ means, not that human quality has declined, but that it can deliberately expose itself to more inhuman and longer suffering than men have ever before in large numbers been called on to endure.
5. And in one way, at least, these mental factors are far more weighty than in Napoleon’s day. For behind the army lies the nation; and the whole unwieldy mass, army and nation, is much more a mental unit than in any previous war, each dependent on the courage and good-will of the other. When armies were smaller, it was not so serious a matter if any portion of the civil population was disaffected. But now, communication is prompt; and the communication of temper is far prompter than the communication of fact. It is not beyond credence that a strike of coal-workers in Pennsylvania might on the next day lose a battle in Flanders. Men in the field are able to know vastly more of the fortunes of their families than ever before in war; and perhaps for this reason the minor troubles and joys of civilian life loom larger on the firing-line. The entire population behind the fighters becomes a part of the fighting state of mind; and all shades of depression and elation pass with the speed of wireless messages from centre to fighting frontier, and back again.
In no war, I judge, has the human quality counted for so much; the endurance, the initiative, the power of sacrifice, the loyalty, the ability to subordinate personal interest and pride, the power of taking the measure of the event, of discounting the unfavorable turn, of responding to frightfulness with redoubled resolution rather than with fear, of appreciating the real emergency and rising instantly to meet it. It is these qualities of mind and character which in the ensemble go by the name of ‘morale’; and it is these qualities that will win the war.
For war, completely seen, is no mere collision of physical forces: it is a collision of will against will. It is, afterall, the mind and will of a nation — a thing intangible and invisible—that assembles the materials of war, the fighting forces, the ordnance, the whole physical array. It is this invisible thing that wages the war; it is this same invisible thing that, on one side or other, must admit the finish and so end it. As things are now, it is the element of morale that controls the outcome.
I say, as things are now; for it is certainly not true as a rule of history that will-power is enough to win a war, even when supported by high fighting spirit. brains, and a good conscience. Belgium had all this, and yet was bound to fall before Germany had she stood alone. Her spirit worked miracles at Liège, delayed by ten days the marching programme of the German armies, and thereby saved — perhaps Paris, perhaps Europe. But the day was saved because the issue raised in Serbia and in Belgium drew to their side material support until their forces could compare with the physical advantages of the enemy. Morale wins, not by itself, but by turning scales: it has a value like the power of a minority or of a mobile reserve. It adds to one side or the other the last ounce of power which is to its opponent the last straw that breaks its back.
(I do not wish to convey the impression that the advantages in morale are all on our side. Morale is not identical with the morals of the case. Confidence, determination, endurance, and discipline may exist in a perfectly bad cause; and they do exist in the German command, or have existed there until recently. The professional status of their armies, their knowledge of their own power, their early successes in carrying the fighting into the countries of their victims — all these were heavyassets, mental assets, whose value has not wholly vanished. The officers of the British and American armies, taken in the large, are relatively new to their work; for some time they must be reckoned in the amateur class in comparison with the long-trained minds and bodies of the enemy. And this is a circumstance which makes itself felt all the way to the rank and file; for ability to rely on the experience as well as the sagacity of the officer is one of the prime elements in the morale of private soldiers. And of course we cannot assume that the German rank and file, fed on a diet of inspired opinion and prepared fact, yet as a mass believe their cause a bad one. Their guilt is the guilt of consent; and the most vulnerable point in their morale is the willing conspiracy of their worse natures with the general spirit of the campaign, which renders them liable to the most unmanning type of fear, when fear comes.)
Differences in morale, however, are cumulative. Psychologically, as applied to armies, there is an obvious rough truth in the adage that nothing succeeds like success. Depression, on the other hand, relaxes the grip, and so begets failure and further depression; fear reduces control and tends to grow toward panic. Where such gigantic numbers are engaged, it is more nearly true than ever that an army which does not think itself beaten is not beaten: if a decisive victory in the field is possible, it will probably be preceded by a victory over morale. A general crumbling of confidence among the vanquished will usher in the débâcle.
We see, then, why it is that after providing for the number of fighters and their equipment there still remains a great question: how much fight is there in each one and in the mass? And we see that there are always two ways to increase our fighting strength — by increasing the number of our units, and by increasing the fighting power of each unit. Whatever could double the morale of a million men — if that were possible — would add the equivalent of a million such men to the force.
And the thing is not impossible. For the amount of fight per man may vary through a far wider range than the Napoleonic ratio of three to one. This is true even of the minorups-and-downs of the daily rhythm. Ten men at their top notch of condition might easily handle a hundred similar men at their ebb of hunger, pain, and fatigue.
And there are other variable elements which count quite as much, such as buoyancy and humor. Humor is a symptom of margin: a man who has it can do more than fight when he is fighting — he can look about and find a trick to spring; and then we have sergeants who with a handful of men bring in a battalion of prisoners. Or he can make the passing misery dwindle in magnitude, as in General Shanks’s story of the Irish corporal in the Philippines who, after a hot day’s marching and a loss of the trail, was sent to the top of a ridge to reconnoitre. When a comrade called up to him, ‘I say, Shorty, is this the last hill?’ he shouted back, ‘Yes, the last hill it is — the next one is a mountain.'
But beneath these minor variations are the fundamental differences in the set of the will, the long-time qualities that make the tenacious and undefeatable fighting man or the reverse.
The most important distinction among our people, affecting morale, in or out of the army, is not that between the loyal and disloyal, but that between the whole-hearted and the half-hearted or three-quarters-hearted, — those who are in the war but with reservations conscious or unconscious; with insufficient, cloudy, dazed, or socially fabricated motive power, not enough to carry them well over the threshold into the new and harsher outlook on their own fortunes and personalities that war requires; somewhere shrinking and unreconciled, — in brief, with inadequate foundation for the lasting elements of morale. This foundation we have especial need to understand, if we are to have the morale that wins.
Perhaps the simplest way of explaining the meaning of morale is to say that what ‘condition’ is to the athlete’s body, morale is to the mind. Morale is condition; good morale is good condition of the inner man: it is the state of will in which you can get most from the machinery, deliver blows with the greatest effect, take blows with the least depression, and hold out for the longest time. It is both fighting power and staying power, and strength to resist the mental infections which fear, discouragement, and fatigue bring with them — such as eagerness for any kind of peace if only it gives momentary relief, or the irritability that sees large the defects in one’s own side until they seem more important than the need of defeating the enemy. And it is the perpetual ability to come back.
From this it follows that good morale is not the same as good spirits or enthusiasm. It is anything but the cheerful optimism of early morning, or the tendency to be jubilant at every victory. It has nothing in common with the emotionalism dwelt on by psychologists of the ‘crowd.’ It is hardly to be discovered in the early stages of war. Its most searching test is found in the question, how does war-weariness affect you?
No one going from America to Europe in the last year could fail to notice the wide difference between the minds of nations long at war and that of a nation just entering. Over there, ‘crowd-psychology’ had spent itself. There was little flag-waving; the common purveyors of music were not everywhere playing (or allowed to play) the national airs. If, in some Parisian cinema, the Marseillaise was given, nobody stood or sang. The reports of atrocities roused little visible anger or even talk — they were taken for granted. In short, the simpler emotions had been worn out, or rather, had resolved themselves into clear connections between knowledge and action. The people had found the mental gait that can be held indefinitely. Even a great advance finds them on their guard against too much joy. As the news from the second victory of the Marne begins to come in, we find this despatch: —
‘ Paris refrains from exultation.’
And in the trenches the same is true in even greater degree. All the bravado and illusion of war are gone, also all the nervous revulsion; and in their places a grimly reliable resource of energy held in instant, almost mechanical readiness to do what is necessary. The hazards which it is useless to speculate about, the miseries, delays, tediums, casualties, have lost their exclamatory value and have fallen into the sullen routine of the day’s work. Here it is that morale begins to show in its more vital dimensions. Here the substantial differences between man and man, and between side and side, begin to appear as they can never appear in training-camp.
Fitness and readiness to act, the positive element in morale, is a matter, not of good and bad alone, but of degree. Persistence, courage, energy, initiative, may vary from zero upward, without limit. Perhaps the most important dividing line — one that has already shown itself at various critical points — is that between the willingness to defend and the willingness to attack, between the defensive and the aggressive mentality. It is the difference between docility and enterprise, between a faith at second-hand dependent on neighbor or leader, and a faith at first-hand capable of assuming for itself the position of leadership.
In any large group of men there is bound to be a certain amount of psychological ‘filling,’ that is, minds which go on momentum and suggestion rather than on conviction of their own. There are men who find themselves in the army through a series of events over which they have had no control, and who go on because they cannot go back. In all armies of the old régime much depended on this principle: ‘Get men into it anyhow; circumstances will keep them there, and selfpreservative impulses will make them fight.’ There is a degree of human nature in this: men can be counted on to exert themselves mightily to get out of a mortal scrape, no matter what got them into it. But such spirit is visibly poor stuff to make war with, liable to panic, unable to replace lost leaders, wholly undemocratic in principle; and the less of it we have in either army or nation, the better. The morale that counts is the morale that would make war of itself alone, and therefore tugs at the leash.
But readiness to wait, the negative element in morale, is as important as readiness to act, and oftentimes it is a harder virtue. Patience, especially under conditions of ignorance of what may be brewing, is a torment for active and critical minds such as this people is made of. Yet impetuosity, exceeding of orders, unwillingness to retreat when the general situation demands it, are signs, not of good morale, but of the reverse. They are signs that one’s heart cannot be kept up except by the flattering stimulus of always going forward — a state of mind that may cause a commanding officer serious embarrassment, even to making impossible decisive strokes of strategy.
The quality of morale is not capable of being tested by the methods of the psychological laboratory. There are many mental tests which can be used, and are used, to distinguish the promising soldier from the unpromising; but. the critical elements of morale elude them. The difference between one man and another is largely a difference in staying power: staying power cannot be tested in the laboratory, except in minor ways. The whole outcome of a battle or of a campaign may depend on what a few men will do when their ‘backs are to the wall’; but the situation of being at bay cannot be reproduced in the testing-room in any serious way. Still more elusive is the power men have of taking fire under the influence of strong leaders: any man’s worth may be multiplied tenfold under the magic of great leadership. But no investigation of the solitary human being under the highly uninspiring environment of the testingroom could detect the degree of his kindling capacity.
Yet the quality of morale is something that can be instantly felt by anyone who knows its signs, large and small. How does a people respond to the hundred exceptional demands of war-time? Their temper and determination may be seen in the speed of volunteering; in the way they accept the harder requirement — the draft; in the taking of bonds and the payment of extra taxes; in the result of appeals for voluntary self-restraint in the physical comforts of food, recreation, warmth; in the disposition to overcome internal and partisan and local disagreements; in the sale of news, the demands for information and explanation, the attitude toward hindrances in the path of war-work, the pressure for results upon the men in office; and, not least in significance, the clear-headed fairness of judgment toward these men, and the readiness to make allowances for mistake in situations where no human foresight can wholly avoid error.
But there are slighter signs which tell as large a story. They are the signs of sentiment, or the kind of response which is made to an occasion when the sources of feeling are tapped. That was a shrewd method of the German agents in Alsace who, to test the loyalty of doubtful citizens during the early months of the war, went about asking them what they thought of the ‘glorious victories.’ Enthusiasm, or the want of it, might tell the tale that prudent lips kept concealed. The moments of the expression of sentiment are the most vulnerable moments for any leader. They either carry or alienate the people; and if the morale is at low ebb, it is at these points that disturbance is most likely to take place; just as the unpopular actor is in most danger of being hooted at the moment of his would-be-affecting passage. Of the temper of Russia, we are told that ‘The Bolshevists no longer dare to arrange demonstrations of their own.'
In some of the conquered parts of France, it has been reported that the German officers, in exacting salutes from the men, — and also from the women, — exact also that those salutes shall be given with deference and alacrity. Why with ‘deference and alacrity?' Because these are the signs of morale. The spirit speaks more in the manner of the salute than in the fact; and these officers seem to believe that in commanding the manner they succeed in some violent way in forcing the soul. And no doubt they succeed in torturing the soul in that way, because in any act done under command the manner of doing it is the natural refuge of freedom. Morale is seen in the spirit which is put into obedience, the evident free-will with which one adds the touch of briskness and grace to what is required of him.
In this way, even the rigidity of army life becomes the frame for the visible liberty of freedom-loving men. However far the orders go, there is always the last touch that cannot be commanded, but can only be given. All the difference between effective and ineffective war-making lies in the success in enlisting this free contribution of the man to his defined duty.
But perhaps the best indication of a good morale is the liberty felt by officials of all grades to tell the truth, both as to the difficulties of the task ahead, and as to the failures that attend its course.
When we see the high command of Germany referring to a Marne retreat as the taking of ‘new positions,’ we can read under the ambiguous accuracy of the phrase a fear of their own public morale. Statesmen of other lands have been known to modify what they felt to be a bitter dose; and usually it has been the morale of the statesman rather than that of the public which has been at fault. Prudent statesmen and censors might learn much from the fact that, when the news of the disaster to the British fifth army on the days succeeding March 21 began to roll in, recruiting both in England and Canada took a sudden upward leap. The human mind, always apprehensive and trying to decipher the future, doubly so in time of great contingency such as war brings, is chiefly fearful of being protected from the truth.
For the tempering of the truth is the first sign of an attempt to manipulate morale from the exterior; and whatever is recognized as having this aim immediately, and by that fact, becomes suspect. Any agency professing to assist morale, any occasion got up for the sake of rallying a shaken or sleepy morale, will partially (I do not say wholly) defeat its own purpose. It establishes at once a state of guard and scrutiny on the part of its intended beneficiaries. For as a state of the will of free men, morale can be evolved only by the man himself, his own reaction to his own data. It has been the fundamental error of Germany to suppose that the soul can be controlled by scientific management.
In fact, the better the morale, the more profound its mystery from the utilitarian angle of judgment. There is something miraculous in the power of a bald and unhesitating announcement of reverse to steel the temper of men attuned to making sacrifices and meeting emergencies. No one can touch the deepest moral resources of an army or nation who does not know the fairly regal exaltation with which it is possible for men to face an issue — if they believe in it. There are times when men seem to have an appetite for suffering, when the best bait that life can offer them is the chance to face death or to bear an inhuman load. This state of mind does not exist of itself: it is morale at its best, and it appears only when the occasion strikes a nerve which arouses the super-earthly vistas of human consciousness or sub-consciousness. But it commonly appears at the summons of a leader who himself welcomes the challenge of the task he sets before his followers. It is the magic of King Alfred in his appeal to his chiefs to do battle with the Danes, when all that he could hold out to them was the prospect of his own vision, —
And the sea rises higher.
Morale, for all the great purposes of war, is a state of faith; and its logic will be the superb and elusive logic of human faith. It is for this reason that morale, while not identical with the righteousness of the cause, can never reach its height unless the aim of the war can be held intact in the undissembled moral sense of a people. This is one of the provisions made in the deeper order of things for the slow dominance of the better brands of justice.