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8 - In search of a theory to explain combat morale in the desert

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2011

Jonathan Fennell
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

Since 1945, the dominant explanation of what maintains morale in modern war has been primary group theory. Primary group theory stresses that ‘men fight not for a higher cause but for their “mates” and “buddies”, bound by war in a relationship which … can achieve great intensity’. John Ellis has argued that

For the average soldier, once he was in combat, his view became microcosmic, and he lived only from day to day, barely daring to think about the end of the war, increasingly unconscious that life had any meaning beyond the unremitting ghastliness of endless combat. The soldier became increasingly bound up with his tiny fraternity of comrades who shared his suffering and they alone came to represent the real world. In the last analysis, the soldier fought for them and them alone, because they were his friends and because he defined himself only in the light of their respect and needs.

Two men in particular pioneered work on the primary group, S. L. A. Marshall and Samuel A. Stouffer. Although Marshall's work has been subsequently criticised, Marshall's and Stouffer's studies are still recognised as the first two comprehensive scientific investigations of combat morale and motivation among front line units. Their basic conclusions and findings, while based on American soldiers' experiences in the Second World War, have, in general, been accepted as relevant to all the armies that fought during that war, although they have been applied, perhaps, at times, without due consideration of the behaviours and cultural characteristics of the other combatants.

Type
Chapter
Information
Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign
The Eighth Army and the Path to El Alamein
, pp. 241 - 280
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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References

Stouffer, Samuel A.et al., The American Soldier: Combat and Its Aftermath, vol. II (Princeton, 1949)Google Scholar
Niall, Ferguson, The Pity of War (London, 1998), p. 354–5.Google Scholar
Lendon, J. E., Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity (London, 2004), p. 393.Google Scholar

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