Archive for the ‘History’ Category

By Richard Martin

Many people seem to assume that democratization of Russia will solve the main problem, which is Russian imperialism and expansionism. The immediate aim is to support Ukraine in its struggle to free itself from Russian occupation and agression through military action by supplying the physical means and resources to do so. Whether Russia becomes democratic as an outcome or through the workings of these actions is irrelevant from the standpoint of the grand strategic aim of winning the war.

I don’t think there is necessarily a need for an “internal drive” toward democracy. The current mindset of the majority of Ukrainians proves the point. Ukrainians have pretty consistently sought national self-determination throughout their history, regardless of the form of government or constitution. They were resigned to live under Russian hegemony since at least the early 19th century. The turnabout started in 1991, before which there was no more a history or tradition of Ukrainian democracy than in Russia or any of the other Soviet satrapies.

If the Ukrainian people can change their mindset in the space of 30 years then, so can the Russians. But that should give us an idea of the time that is needed to effect the transition.

The Japanese, Germans and Italians adopted democracy after WWII as a result of total defeat and humiliation. The likelihood that Russia will be in such abject straights at the end of the current war is, for all intents and purposes, nil.

Russia is currently deterred from further escalation by NATO and, especially, the US nuclear umbrella and material support to Ukraine. The Ukrainians are training and preparing for a long-term struggle and, even more significant, the need to continue deterring Russia post-liberation of their country.

We in the West and NATO must accept that whatever the immediate outcome in Ukraine, Russia (and its dubious allies) will have to be contained and deterred for the foreseeable future. And that’s regardless of what happens to Putin and his henchmen.

© Richard Martin

By Richard Martin

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resistance of the Ukrainian people, government and armed forces have provided the world and especially NATO countries with the focus and resolve to assist Ukraine in defending its independence and security in alignment with the fundamental NATO values of freedom, democracy, law, and rights. 

Russia is seeking to undermine these values by dominating Ukraine and its people while attacking the same values in other countries, and specifically within NATO and the EU. Russia has been consistently employing “hybrid” warfare techniques to undermine the resolve and morale of the peoples and nations that oppose Russian ways and means of achieving its aggressive ends. The attack on gas pipeline infrastructure in the Baltic is just one example of this.

Beyond this, Russia has been conducting information warfare and psychological operations against NATO, the EU, and the West in general. The main approach involves using disinformation and other hostile information activities. There are two main goals. The first is to present the Russian point of view, to convince citizens, decision-makers, and influencers in NATO and EU countries to either support Russia’s war aims in Ukraine, or to undermine their support for their own nations’ commitment to supporting Ukraine and countering Russia. The second goal is to sow chaos, confusion, discord, and conflict within and between NATO/EU countries.

The first of these goals is familiar and is traditionally called propaganda. Although it is not pleasant, it is relatively easy to counter with facts and rational argument. The second goal is less familiar and resembles in many ways classic disinformation, misdirection, and active measures adopted by the Soviet Union and other Communist powers during the Cold War. It is much more insidious, as it aims at nothing less than eroding the ability of free-thinking individuals and groups to act effectively and efficiently in the face of threats to peace, security, and prosperity. In a nutshell, disinformation and active measures are forms of epistemological warfare.

Young people are probably the most vulnerable to epistemological warfare, as their ideas and habits of mind are still in development. They are highly vulnerable to disinformation, ideologies, and nihilistic questioning of the values and structures that uphold the values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Young people are idealistic, with many hopes and dreams about the future, both collective and personal, but these ideals are not tempered by the experience of living and the knowledge of history, values, and goals of our societies.

Epistemological warfare throws contradictory and inflammatory statements, observations, and opinions into the infosphere, especially social media, and sees what will stick. There is not necessarily an ideological standpoint that is upheld. The aim is not to say one side or opinion is better than another, but instead to sow doubt about what is real, and whether anyone in authority or with expertise is to be trusted. Disinformation about COVID-19, the actions of powerful and/or wealthy people, conspiracy theories, etc., are all grist for the mill.

The threat goes well beyond cyberattacks, disinformation, and misdirection. In fact, I believe we have entered a new phase of information warfare which I call “epistemological warfare.” The aim of epistemological warfare isn’t just to attack nations and their populations with false, misleading, obfuscating, or confusing information and propaganda. It goes much further by launching a full-scale assault on the critical faculties and judgment of friendly nations, populations, and leaders.

The techniques are many but focus mainly on eroding critical thinking by overwhelming the public sphere, especially through social media channels and platforms, with false, doubtful, or contradictory information presented in sound bites, images, video clips, and Internet “memes” that exploit and reinforce well-known cognitive biases and fallacies. These include everything from non sequitur and tu quoque fallacies, to psychological heuristics such as the primacy effect, the bandwagon effect, and others too numerous to list.

The goal is to erode the ability of individuals to judge what is true and false, who and what to believe, and who to support. This results in a cynical and nihilistic attitude toward the facts, intentions, and objectives presented by and for contending powers and forces and undermines support for a strong defence against hostile intent and activities.

© Richard Martin

by Richard Martin

This question was asked by an acquaintance of mine this morning. This is my answer.

Not in the least. For the following reasons.

1. The West as a whole, and particularly the EU, NATO, and the US, invited post-Soviet Russia with open arms into the international community of nations after the end of the Cold War. There was a Russia-NATO joint commission. Russia was first invited and accepted into the G7 — becoming the G8 — and G20 groups as well as the WTO. Western companies poured hundreds of billions into Russia in investment, only to see their operations hijacked and expropriated to the benefit of Moscow’s minions.

2. NATO countries made great efforts to secure and destroy Soviet nuclear weapons and materials, all at the cost of the countries doing the hard work of conversion and transformation. There were disarmament treaties and attempts at military cooperation and confidence building measures. NATO and other Western nations actively engaged with former Soviet republics to increase military professionalism and assist in converting their armed forces to a more defensive posture under civilian control.

NATO Exercise in West Germany in the 1970s

3. At the end of the 80s, just before the end of the Cold War, NATO forces in Europe were well-armed, integrated, and operationally exercised and trained to a very high standard of readiness and capability. I know, I served as an infantry platoon commander in Germany and then brigade and division staff officer from 1988-91. I participated in the largest peacetime deployment of troops as part of the REFORGER exercises in Germany in September 1988, with the US V and VII Corps and the entire German army, plus all the other countries in the Central Region of NATO. Before that, I was a platoon commander in the 5th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. We deployed on exercise by sea and air to northern Norway in August-October 1986 for the largest peacetime deployment on Exercise Brave Lion, to train with the Norwegian Armed Forces as well as the Royal, Dutch, and US Marines. This was to demonstrate and test the capabilities of the Canadian Air-Sea Transportable Brigade to NATO’s northern flank. The US protected Western Europe with its nuclear arsenal, especially at the level of theatre nuclear forces (Pershing II, Lance, and cruise missiles). Meanwhile, the US was developing and deploying the initial elements of the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars).

4. NATO countries, mostly in Europe and Canada, paid out the “peace dividend” and proceeded to slowly disarm and degrade their military capabilities. Eventually, the Baltic republics, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Albania, Slovenia, and Croatia formally asked to join NATO and were accepted into the collective security organization. These countries had to meet stringent requirements in terms of military professionalism, civilian control of the armed forces, respect for the rule of law, and the explicit renunciation of expansionism and irredentism.

5. Western nations only started to change their tack with Russia after it became clear that the Kremlin had no intention of honouring its commitments to respect the borders of the former Soviet republics, recognized by the international community of nations and integrated into the UN. The Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 was only the first move by Russia, followed by the annexation of Crimea and the Donbass separatist “people’s republics” in 2014. That’s when the West finally woke up to the Russian threat and imposed economic and political sanctions. But nowhere near to the same level as what is being imposed since 24 February 2022.

6. Russia NEEDS to be cancelled. The West must isolate the Russian economy, punish those who are responsible for this war of aggression, support Ukraine with as much military, technical, economic, financial, diplomatic, and political means as needed to defeat and reverse the invasion and to restore the borders of Ukraine to the internationally recognized — including by Russia in 1994 — borders of post-Soviet breakup. That means that the so-called “peoples’ republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk and the Crimean peninsula must be reconquered by Ukraine.

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin was an infantry officer for over 20 years in the Canadian Army. He is currently an entrepreneur, strategic advisor, and information warrior focusing on extracting valuable information and signals from chaos and noise.

By Richard Martin

Fascism is the worldview, the Weltanschauung, that sees the grassroots, deeply felt social solidarity and cohesion of nations as both a model and a threat. Fascism is thus an attempt to recreate the same level and type of social cohesion as what reigns seemingly naturally and effortlessly in liberal democracies, but from the top down, rather than the bottom up and laterally between individuals.

Similarly to socialism, fascism sees independent centres of social solidarity, cooperation, and community as threats to this top-down cohesion. Both are inherently collectivist in nature, but in different ways. Whereas socialism and its revolutionary incarnation, communism, see these threats and the need to united authority and control in terms of transnational classes and other categories (e.g., gender, sex, race), fascism sees the nation or people (e.g., German Volk) as the basis of top-down control, authority, and cohesion.

German National Socialism (i.e., Nazism) and Italian Fascism were the primary incarnations of “small f” fascism in the 1st half of the 20th century, with the disastrous consequences of World War 2 as main effects.

Current Russian nationalism, let’s call it Putinism, is a variety and instantiation of “small f” fascism. When I say, “small f,” I specifically mean that it stems from the same worldview as Italian Fascism and German Nazism of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. That worldview interprets Western power and, especially, success, prosperity, and cultural attractiveness as a threat to the solidarity, cohesion, and security of the Russian nation, defined in a wide sense to include White Russians (Belarusians) and Little Russians (Ukrainians) in addition to Great Russians (Russians proper).

From this perspective, Putinism is an ideology of resentment, envy, frustration, and anger. It views all Western influences as subversive of Russian purity and security. The military doctrine of Russian “hybrid war” (gybridnaya voyna) tries to distill the secrets of Western success and cultural magnetism as encroachments and offensive manoeuvres. It identifies a “Western playbook” for world hegemony, particularly from the American perspective, and tries to apply the same playbook to Russian defence and counter-encroachment.

Western observers who say that Russia’s concerns vis à vis NATO, the United States, Europe… and Ukraine, fall into the trap of accepting Kremlin claims of being surrounded and under foreign domination and threat of invasion at face value. Just like Russian fascists and other Putinists around the world, they are blinded to the basic truth that Western, and especially American/Anglo-Saxon cultural, political, social, and economic “hegemony” stem from the inherent attractiveness and magnetism of Western values and civilization, not from any master plan for world domination. (That would also include those in the West who fear the World Economic Forum.)

This article is just a first installment of what is proving to be a fundamental metanoia for me. It is a journey of “seeing through the world.” I hope you will accompany me on this adventure.

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin was infantry officer in the Canadian Army. He is now an entrepreneur, trusted strategic advisor, and information warrior focusing on extracting valuable lessons and signals from chaos and noise.

By Richard Martin

1st Falsehood: Russia has legitimate security concerns about its borders and NATO encroachment. Wrong! Russia would have less security concerns if it weren’t constantly threatening, badgering, or bullying its neighbours.

Highly detailed physical map of Russia,in vector format,with all the relief forms,regions and big cities. (c) bogdanserban

2nd Falsehood: The United States/West/NATO caused this crisis by wanting to expand to Russia’s borders, thus threatening the latter. Wrong! The reason NATO has expanded since the end of the Cold War is that Russia’s neighbours felt, and continue to feel, threatened by Russian aggression and expansion.

3rd Falsehood: The Russians are just like us; they want freedom and democracy with a free market system. Wrong! There is little or no evidence to support this assertion, at least since the end of the Cold War. There have been attempts at economic and political reform, but the Russian people have remained relatively quiescent and followed the official ideology and worldview.

4th Falsehood: Ukrainians are just a part of the Russian nation. Wrong! That’s like saying the Flemish and Dutch; Austrians and Germans; Czechs and Slovaks; or even the French and Quebeckers are unitary nations. They’re not. Ukrainians and Russians speak closely related languages and have intertwined histories. But they are different nations, and this has been asserted and realized to varying degrees over hundreds of years.

5th Falsehood: NATO and non-NATO countries not at war with Russia. Wrong! Russia has been conducting what it calls “hybrid warfare” against the U.S., Canada, U.K., and other NATO nations since at least 2016, and one of the main theatres is cyberspace, where Russia has been conducting continuous cyber and information warfare to disrupt communications, infrastructure, military, and financial networks.

6th Falsehood: Economic sanctions and financial restrictions are sufficient to bring Russia to heel. Wrong! Only military defeat of the Russian invasion either by Ukraine acting alone (though with foreign support) or outright foreign involvement will force Russia to leave Ukraine.

7th Falsehood: A negotiated solution is in the offing. Wrong! Everything indicates the exact opposite. Putin and the Kremlin appear determined to solve what they perceive as the Ukrainian problem once and for all. Even if there were a negotiated withdrawal, Russia would only do that to buy time, just like Saddam did after the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin was a career infantry officer in the Canadian Army. He now plies his trade as an information warrior and strategic advisor to leaders and decision-makers. He focuses on extracting valuable lessons and signals from chaos and noise.

by Richard Martin

man looking at a tentacle monster that destroys the city, digital art style, illustration painting (c) grandfailure

There is a widespread belief that poverty and inequality are causes of war and aggression. It’s the other way around. War is the cause of poverty, famine, pestilence and misery.

War is caused by people who are unwilling to create valuable products and services to trade for other people’s valuable products and services. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Maduro, etc. never worked a day in their lives.

Aggressors are thieves and bullies. They prefer to steal and murder to create their own prosperity for themselves and their supporters. Everybody else can go to hell as far as they are concerned.

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin was a career infantry officer in the Canadian Army. He now plies his trade as an information warrior and strategic advisor to leaders and decision-makers. He focuses on extracting valuable lessons and signals from chaos and noise.

by Richard Martin

We live in a Hobbesian world governed by force and counterforce. I believe it was Israeli diplomat Abba Eban who said that the UN was nothing more than a continuation of war by other means, or words to that effect.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) on engraving from the 1800s. English philosopher.
Engraved by J.Pofselwhite from a picture by Dobson and published in London by W.Mackenzie.
Copyright candyman

The UN was formed in 1945 to prevent future wars, especially on a global scale. There was supposed to be a combined command and military staff. The Security Council was supposed to issue orders and direct military operations against transgressors. War was outlawed and declared an illegitimate means of resolving international disputes. There is a World Court (or something like it) along with a whole raft of international treaties, protocols, and institutions. There are financial structures to ensure no one runs out of money so the banking systems in each nation don’t collapse. The non-security bodies were supposed to alleviate poverty and suffering under the assumption that they are the fundamental cause of war and aggression. It’s all mismanaged and it’s a mess.

The dirty secret is this. Aggression is caused by aggressive, violent people, 99% of whom are men. Most crime is attributable to young men. Wars of conquest and domination occur when overly aggressive men in gangs gain control of the state apparatus and decide to use the instruments of internal coercion to attack other nations. The only effective means of countering aggression at the international level, where reigns a state of nature, is through credible armed forces, defensive alliances, democratic governance of nations internally, mild taxes, security of person and property, and free markets and open trade.

Nations must build credible alliances to deter and, if deterrence fails, counter aggression and conquest. NATO is one such alliance. We see the limits of this means of deterrence and defence when an aggressive, powerful neighbour — Russia — threatens nuclear retribution against what it perceives as hostile encroachment on its sphere of dominion and geopolitical influence and interest. If Ukraine were in NATO, the invasion probably wouldn’t have happened, at least not in the way it is happening now. Conversely, if Russia had no effective nuclear capability and the invasion had occurred, NATO would be bombing Russian forces as we speak.

This is why nuclear proliferation is such a threat to world peace. Up to now, the United States, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, and China have been reasonably responsible with their respective nuclear capabilities and have kept them as purely defensive deterrents. Even the USSR was deterred throughout the Cold War. Russia under Putin is manifestly not deterred, and is in fact using Russia’s nuclear capabilities to threaten retaliation against direct military intervention in support of Ukraine. Now, imagine if North Korea and Iran had significant nuclear capabilities with reasonably accurate and effective delivery vectors. Right now, they seem to have ballistic missiles of varying ranges and accuracies under development and trial. From what I can gather, their bombs have all fizzled. But what happens when they no longer fizzle?

In sum, dreams of world government are just that, dreams. Global governance is a pipe dream. That’s a good thing, because if it existed it would be a technocratic nightmare. We need force to counter force, deterrence to counter threats. That’s the lesson of history and human nature and the signal in the noise.

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin served as a career infantry officer in the Canadian Army, and is now an author, educator, and trusted advisor. He focuses on extracting valuable lessons and signals from chaos and noise.

by Richard Martin

The nearest historical and geopolitical analogue I can think of to what is happening right now is Nazi Germany’s aggressive designs between 1933 and 1941. And I know a lot of history. Hitler was bound and determined to rebuild the Greater German Empire. That’s what Reich means: empire. All of his negotiations, treaties, agreements were nothing but means to buy time and to disarm the fears and concerns of the opponents of German expansionism.

This is the great fallacy of the myth of appeasement. Had we not appeased Hitler, he would have stopped and been contained. No, he wouldn’t have stopped, and no, he wouldn’t have been contained.

By analogy, there is an argument going around that the West has not taken Russia’s security needs into account and that there has been insufficient engagement of Russia post-Soviet Union. Really?

Do we really think that if Ukraine were to declare itself neutral and renounce its wish to join the EU that Russia would leave it alone? The reason Russia emphatically doesn’t want that, is that it would prevent it from conquering Ukraine and folding it into its empire.The West has given Russia chances and treated their demands with serious consideration time and time again. Europe imports Russian oil and gas, finances and builds pipelines, maintains open lines of credit and banking arrangements. Russia has been accepted into the community of nations.

Russia has consistently spied on us, lied to us, stolen industrial secrets, infiltrated web viruses and trojan horses into our financial, communications, utilities, and governmental networks. All of Putin’s promises and lies have been to one end, and one end only: buy time and lull the West into complacency, just like Hitler did.Russian authorities have cheated their way through international sports competitions, most recently the Beijing Winter Olympics. This is the country that drugs 15 year old girls for figure skating competitions, with the full knowledge and involvement of the state security apparatus, viz., the FSB.

Russia has repeatedly threatened its peaceful neighbours, interfering in democratic processes, while forcefully wielding nefarious influence in major Western states, such as the United States electoral process.Not more than 2 weeks ago, Russian influence in Canada was tearing the country apart and threatening Canadian national sovereignty through cyber warfare and information warfare as they exploited the admittedly idiotic policies of our federal government during the Freedom Convoy.

Putin and his gang of henchmen in the Kremlin must be stopped. Russia must join the community of nations as a peaceful, non-threatening player. If not, they must suffer the consequences of their aggression and disregard for international law and common decency and humanity.

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin is a veteran, thinker, educator, and trusted advisor. He focuses on extracting valuable signals from all the noise.

Copyright: Tomas Marek | 123 Stock Photo

by Richard Martin

“Then you, or anyone else who is to be ruler and trustee, not only of himself and his private business, but also the city and city’s business, must first acquire virtue himself.” Plato, Alcibiades

The Alcibiades was considered in Antiquity to be the entry point to Plato’s philosophy. Although studying his works eventually led to esoteric discussions on the nature of ideas and reality, i.e., metaphysics, the process was all in the service of determining who should lead in public life, how they should be educated and selected, and how they should actually lead and manage the affairs of state.

The recent spate of revelations of abuses by prominent leaders in business and other areas shows that the question of ethical and virtuous leadership is still alive and remains as pertinent as ever. The emphasis on political leadership in the Alcibiades and Plato’s other works should not blind us to the relevance of this wisdom for the exercise of leadership today, no matter what the field.

Alcibiades was a real historical figure in 5th century B.C. Athens. An aristocrat by birth with the most noble lineage, extremely wealthy, physically attractive and charismatic, Alcibiades was destined and entitled, or so he thought, to lord it over his fellow Athenians. He didn’t start the destructive Peloponnesian War against Athens’ deadly rival Sparta, but he was instrumental in prolonging the struggle and convincing the assembly to launch an ill-fated punitive expedition against the Greek-Italian city-state of Syracuse. When the operation started to go pear-shaped, Alcibiades jumped ship (literally), and defected to Sparta, and eventually Persia, Athens’ supreme nemesis. His boundless ambition and egotism led him to repeatedly switch sides and led to his ultimate assassination, as even the Persians’ grew to distrust him.

Plato’s dialogue Alcibiades ostensibly presents a conversation between Socrates and a youthful Alcibiades on the cusp of manhood. As summarized by translator and editor D.S. Hutchison,

“Socrates feels the time has come to approach Alcibiades and bring him into his intellectual and moral orbit. It is Alcibiades’ lust for power that Socrates appeals to, promising that Alcibiades will never amount to anything without his help. In the discussion that follows, Alcibiades is brought to see, very reluctantly, that he knows nothing about moral values or political expediency and that he needs to cultivate himself assiduously in order to realize his enormous ambitions. But what is the ‘self’ that he needs to cultivate? It is his soul, the ruler of his body. The virtues of the soul that he needs to acquire are the intellectual skills that give it the authority to rule, over its body and over other people as well.”

In a later work, The Republic, Plato shows Socrates presenting what those virtues should be: courage, justice, temperance, and practical wisdom, i.e., the judgment to know what to do, when to do it, and to what end. To take Harvey Weinstein as the most revealing example of how to break all of those principles, Weinstein himself showed little moral courage; he preyed on women who were ambitious and prone to accept his abuses and advances in order to further their careers. Quentin Tarentino, his long-time collaborator, has admitted to his lack of courage in turning a blind eye for decades on Weinstein’s lasciviousness. Weinstein’s injustice is obvious, as is his lack of temperance and self-control. He was a slave to his passions. As for practical wisdom, his exploitative strategies eventually turned against him. Uma Thurman recently tweeted that a bullet was too quick for him, implying that he deserved to suffer a long and humiliating downfall.  I’ll leave others to judge the wisdom of her own attitude.

My point, however, is that Weinstein is a modern-day Alcibiades. He couldn’t rule his own desires, his “soul”; in the process, his exploited, degraded, and abused subordinates and business partners. We can add his name to a long list of others in recent years who have illustrated themselves by their lack of a moral compass. If, in the final analysis, one can’t lead ethically, with wisdom and justice, then one shouldn’t lead at all.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin

© Rotislav Sedlacek | 123 Stock Photo

My study of military history has taught me that most soldiers and warriors throughout history have gone willingly, if not enthusiastically, into battle. They followed their comrades in arms, and they followed their leaders. They participated in behaviour that was downright counter to their survival and the wish to live a long and prosperous life. In many cases, they fought to defend themselves, their families, and their lands against hostile depredations. But in many other cases, perhaps most, soldiers and warriors have fought for conquest, glory, pride, courage, status, recognition, and booty.

 

On the other hand, the Canadians who have served and sacrificed for peace and security around the world present something of an outlier in this respect. Since the Boer War at the turn of the 20th century, Canadians have largely fought or operated oversees, taking on the forces of countries that have threatened Canada and its allies directly and indirectly, or endangered world peace and security. Over 116,000 have given their lives in these missions, and countless more have sustained debilitating mental and physical wounds. Of these, 158 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011. Often forgotten is that approximately 130 Canadian soldiers have died in peacekeeping missions.

It’s only by talking to combat veterans that we can gain a true appreciation for the sheer difficulty of combat and what is involved in military leadership. I was on a battlefield tour when serving in Germany. A Canadian veteran of the D-Day campaign had been a platoon commander during an operation to capture and secure Carpiquet Airfield, near Caen, Normandy. His recall of the engagement was of crawling uphill under the enemy’s grazing fire. Rationally, he knew full well that he had fought on an airfield, and that his memories of crawling uphill must be mistaken. On the other hand, he couldn’t shake the persistent impression of having to struggle against gravity. When he eventually visited the battlefield after the war, he could see that the ground was basically flat and even. It was an airfield after all. But still, the memory stuck with him, and it was only decades later that he could picture the fight in a more objective manner.

The leadership challenge in combat is singular. That soldiers under your command will follow you is not necessarily given, despite the weight of military discipline. Charly Forbes, a veteran infantry officer with the Régiment de Maisonneuve during the Second World War and the Vandoos in Korea recounted his baptism of fire. He had just taken command of a depleted platoon in a company that had been decimated only days before by friendly fire from Allied bombers. He had to lead his platoon to take out a German machine gun that was holding up the battalion’s advance. He did his combat estimate and came up with a simple plan and briefed his men. On his signal, they would run on the flank to assault the machine gun nest while his own machine gunners would lay down covering fire. As he gave the signal, he leapt up and rushed toward the German MG. After a few yards, there was so much withering fire that he had to take refuge in a shell hole. That’s when he realized that there was only one of his soldiers with him. Unflustered, the private said, “It’s okay sir; we’ll take ‘em out,” and the two of them completed the mission.

What does it take to lead soldiers and partake in combat? What makes your troops want to follow you? What makes you want to lead them in this dangerous and, frankly, irrational behaviour? It seems daunting, but it has been done since time immemorial. Coercion and punishment are always possible, but they only work to a certain point. In the final analysis, the best troops are the ones that want to fight, that have morale and cohesion, and who are willing to follow their officers and NCOs until the mission is done. This is what most sets apart the Canadian soldier, sailor, or airman.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.