A little while back I got into an extended argument with a commenter at UR as a result of which he was convinced of my idiocy. One of the topics we argued about was morale. I took the somewhat Hansonian line that its importance is trumpeted not because it is a great factor in military outcomes (I gave it a marginal role) but because of jockeying for in-group position by signalling one’s loyalty. I did not expect the following though. In chapter 3 of James Q Wilson’s Bureaucracy he writes “Nor can the willingness to fight be explained by general beliefs about one’s nation, the war as a whole, or one’s place in the army. During the Second World War, many observers supposed that soldiers with low morale (that is, they didn’t like being soldiers in general or being in this war in particular) would be less effective in combat than those with high morale. In fact, as Samuel Stouffer and his colleagues showed in their classic study, The American Soldier, there was during World War II no correlation between morale and combat effectiveness.” Instead effectiveness seems to be the result of helping out and fulfilling the expectations of one’s buddies in the squad and respect for one’s officers. The problems in Vietnam were traced to individual (as opposed to unit) rotation out which reduced group cohesion and trust. Soldiers were at their least effective and most cautious as they were about to be shipped back.

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