3 October 2017

Military Culture

"An Army without culture is dull witted army, and a dull witted army cannot defeat the enemy"
-- Moa Tse Tung

We have lot of discussions on strategic culture of a nation. How about Military Culture? Does military culture matters? Military culture includes four factors, which are: discipline; professional ethos; ceremony and etiquette and cohesion and esprit de corps. 

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) defines military culture as “an amalgam of values, customs, traditions and their philosophical underpinnings that, over time, has created a shared institutional ethos.” Don M. Snider and his associates give another definition: “Military culture is the deep structure of organization drawn from the Army’s past successes and from its current interactions with the environment. It is rooted in the prevailing assumptions, values, and traditions which collectively, over time, have created shared individual expectations among the members of the Army profession.” 

Historians have done little work on the subject of military culture, focusing for the most part on more immediate factors such as leadership, doctrine, or training to explain victory or defeat. Military culture represents the ethos and professional attributes, both in terms of experience and intellectual study, that contribute to a common core understanding of the nature of war within military organizations. Military culture is the linchpin that helps determine the ability to transform because it influences how innovation and change are dealt with. The ability to harness and integrate technological advances with complementary developments in doctrine, organization and tactics is dependent on the propensity of military culture to accept and experiment with new ideas. Military culture comprises the attitudes, values, goals, beliefs, and behaviors characteristic of the institution that are rooted in traditions, customs, and practices and influenced by leadership. As Michael Howard has suggested, no other profession is as demanding in physical or mental terms as the profession of arms. 

Military culture changes over time in response to changes in a society’s culture, the advance of technology and the impact of leadership. As one senior service officer has noted, military cultures are like great ocean liners or aircraft carriers: they require an enormous effort to change direction.
In interwar period where militaries across Europe, Japan, and the United States faced budgetary constraints, rapid technological advances and unknown and ambiguous requirements. The ability of some militaries to transform while others were less successful was due to different cultures. Those that were receptive to honest self-assessment and intellectual rigor within open debate were able to overcome the inertia.

The German military possessed a devotion to duty, a seriousness about tactics and a breathtaking contempt for logistics and intelligence in the two world wars. The reason why German military culture paid so little attention to logistics has much to do with geography. The Germans have always been at the center of military operations throughout the history of European warfare, and Prussia’s catastrophe at Jena/Auerstadt in October 1806—whereby a single day’s defeat resulted in the collapse of the state—exercised a baleful influence as late as May 1945. 

The military capabilities that enabled the Germans to win in 1940 resulted not from revolutionary changes occurring in the 1930s, but rather from fundamental changes in the German military’s organizational culture that had occurred during the early 1920s, when Hans von Seeckt, the first chief of staff and in 1920 commander in chief of the Reichswehr, altered the cultural patterns of the German officer corps as a whole. Faced with the task of reducing the German army’s officer corps from more than 20,000 officers to the limit set by the Treaty of Versailles, Seeckt turned the officer corps over to the control of the great general staff.17 By so doing he deselected important constituencies, namely the Junker aristocracy and Frontsoldaten. The effect was to infuse the whole army with the cultural attributes of the general staff: the hallmarks of the new German army were systematic, thorough analysis; a willingness to grapple with what was really happening on the battlefield; and a rigorous selection process that emphasized officers’ intellectual attainments—in a professional sense—as well as their performance in leadership positions. 

Along with this emphasis, Seeckt appointed no fewer than fifty-seven different committees to study the lessons of World War I. This thorough, complete study of the last war stands in stark contrast to the experience of the British army, which failed to establish a single committee to study the lessons of that war until 1932, more than a decade after the Germans. Even then, the chief of the British imperial general staff had the report rewritten to cast a more favorable light on the army’s wartime performance. The Germans built on the work of Seeckt’s committees to fashion a coherent, combined arms doctrine; by 1923 the German army was well on the way to inventing the Blitzkrieg.18 

In 1932 two of the Reichswehr’s most respected generals, Werner von Fritsch and Ludwig Beck, rewrote the German army’s basic doctrinal manual, Die Truppenführung (Troop Leadership), which served as the basis for the combined-arms battle doctrine with which the Germans fought the Second World War. The opening paragraphs of that manual encompassed the fundamental cultural assumptions of the German army: 

1. The conduct of war is an art, depending upon free, creative activity, scientifically grounded. It makes the highest demands on individuals. 

2. The conduct of war is based on continuous development. New means of warfare call forth ever changing employment. . . . 

3. Situations in war are of unlimited variety. They change often and suddenly and are rarely discernible at an early point. Incalculable elements are often of great influence. The independent will of the enemy is pitted against ours. Frictions and mistakes are an every day occurrence.

Fritsch and Beck would assume control of the German army soon after Hitler came to power, and held responsibility for devel-oping the qualities that made that army such a formidable fighting instrument in the coming war.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, German army culture demanded not only high standards in terms of troop leadership but also serious study of the profession of arms. The case of Erwin Rommel suggests how widespread was this culture of serious intellectual preparation of the officer corps. If ever there was a “muddy boots combat soldier,” it was Rommel, yet he not only avidly devoured books, he wrote them. His Infantrie Greift An (Infantry Attacks) is one of the great classics in the literature of war.20

The German army tested its doctrine and new technologies throughout the interwar period to ensure continued realistic assessments. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, the army continued its critical self-assessments, which later helped in its invasion of France. As S.J. Lewis observes, “The senior and mid-level officers who so critically observed the army’s performance were the product of a particular military culture.” Paramount was a military culture that actively incorporated the products of open discussion and honest self-reflection into new tactics and organizations, including the reorganization of motorized divisions. The German navy, however, proved in two world wars that there was nothing innately competent about German military organizations; as a result, one should hesitate before ascribing undue influence to national culture in how service cultures develop.

There are few military organizations that possess a culture that encourages the study of even the recent past with any thoroughness. Most military organizations quickly develop myths that allow escape from unpleasant truths; such was the case with the French army in the immediate aftermath of World War I. And in some cases military cultures reject the past as having no relevance to the future of war. 

Military cultures that remain enmeshed in the day-to-day tasks of administration, that ignore history and serious study and allow themselves to believe that the enemy will possess no asymmetric responses are military organizations headed for defeat. 

What is India's military culture? How does it affect India's feeble effort on Transformation? 

Watch this space.

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Download the full report, For Caliph and Country, here.

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