Typos p. 241: neverthless [= nevertheless]; p. 241: suspectible [= suspectable]
Army officers and saluting
Anthony M. Ludovici
The New English Weekly 18, 194041, pp. 241242
- p. 241 -
As an artillery subaltern in the thick of the fighting in France, I helped in my small way to implement some of the orders that came down from G.H.Q. concerning the need of stiffening discipline and correcting the constantly recurring slackness in the paying of compliments to officers; and although these matters may not appear to have any bearing on Colonel Bingham's recent letter, I suggest that they may relate to the same principle.
Consider, for instance, slackness in saluting. Regular officers always assured me that this was much more noticeable in the expanded army than in the original regular divisions; that is to say, it prevailed more in the later than the earlier years of war.
We artillery subalterns often had to address the men of our particular sections on this matter and I confess that the task always greatly embarrassed me. The conventional tag that the men saluted the uniform and not the man did not satisfy me and I never used it. But what specially troubled me was my conviction that all spontaneous and involuntary reactions such as respect, honour, love, admiration, or esteem, cannot be amenable to rule or command. They must depend wholly on the nature of the object to be respected or esteemed.
Being a practical Nietzschean, who sought to apply the philosophy to every detail of my life, I naturally had no bias in favour of either Christianity or the Bible. Without any hesitation, therefore, I wondered whether the false psychology according to which these truly spontaneous and involuntary reactions are supposed to be amenable to precept or command had not perhaps entered the heads of Englishmen, and all Christians for that matter, through the Bible.
In that book it will be remembered among other examples of shallow psychological insight children are told to "honour their parents" lest their days be short. Adults are also told to love one another. And yet we know that honour and love are reactions just as little under the control of volition as are admiration and esteem! They consist of spontaneous and non-volitional reactions to objects that inspire honour and love. You can no more honour what is not honourable, no matter how severely you may be commanded to do so, than you can wish to eat what repels you.
You can teach the use of the rifle or the gun by precept as you can also teach drill, farriery or field engineering. But you cannot so teach either honour or respect.
The whole idea that you can or so it struck me had been inculcated upon generations of Europeans by the false psychology of Holy Script.
If then saluting was slack in the inflated army of the latter years of the last war, was it not possible that the imponderable factor which evoked the non-volitional reaction of respect was not present in some of the men holding commissioned rank?
Against this it may be contended that the compliments paid by the rank and file to the commissioned ranks are a mere formality not suspectible to personal reactions. But, if this is so, why were they ever withheld?
Men are sentient creatures possessed of rough and ready mechanisms for registering signs of superiority in others. These mechanisms may be faulty in some, and in others especially the neurotics they may be impeded by inferiority feelings; but generally they act with groat precision. Nor can badges of rank and anything a tailor can supply prevail upon them to register what they do not automatically record.
But in all vast expansions of any personnel whether in religious, educational, medical, or military bodies, there is a danger that the demand may be met by a selection insufficiently discriminate. It has been said, for instance, that the vast and rapid expansions of the Holy Catholic Church in the early Middle Ages, by making the recruitment of spiritually-gifted men for the clergy difficult or too haphazard, led to the adoption of the priestly career by large numbers of men who were unfitted for it hence the gradual loss of prestige by the clerics in many areas! Both medicine and education have, I submit, also recently suffered a loss of prestige, precisely because healing and teaching, in addition to being sciences, are arts, and the selection to meet rapidly expanding services has again been sometimes hasty. Thus mass illness and mass learning may lead ultimately to a loss of prestige by both the medical and educational services which they bring into existence.
Now, military command is to a large extent artistry too. It is the native artistry of leadership. Since, however, leadership depends very largely on the respect of those led for the leader, military command ultimately depends on respect for the commander. The salute given by the rank and file to the officer is but an outward token of that respect. But, as an outward token that is, as a bodily participation in the attitude which the mind and the emotions of the subordinate should hold it is a most important military formality.
If, therefore, leadership really is a matter of individual gift, if, moreover, it depends upon a reaction as spontaneous as respect, it must, in an emergency, be selected with as much deliberation as in ordinary times.
At all events, this was how I explained the need of the repeated orders that used to reach us from G.H.Q. in the last war concerning relaxed discipline and slackness in saluting. It was simply due to the need of rapid and exceptional expansion and also, perhaps, to haste in selection.
I saw no signs that this native gift of leadership lodged horizontally in the nation and belonged only to one class. It ran vertically through the people. I saw it lacking in certain members of the Public School and University class and present in certain members of the class derived from our elementary schools. If, however, tradition associates with a certain accent and degree of culture the privilege of military command, it is easy to appreciate how prepossession in favour of seeking the gift of leadership only in a particular stratum of society should insensibly have arisen both among the commanded and those who command them.