Post-Modernity Military Virtues
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Igor Sidhartha Boëchat – Artillery Colonel
Augustine of Hippo: There is war because man is imperfect.
Socrates: The soldiers must have “silver and gold” in their souls.
Nietzsche: the classical values still remain.
High tech is replacing, more and more, the value of “courage” in the battlefield.
The author: Coronel Igor S Boechat – Brazilian MoD
Brazilian Military Academy (AMAN): 1987.
Brazilian War College (ESG): 2014
Graduate in Philosophy: 2013.
There is no human phenomenon that alters societies so profoundly as war. In fact, war brings profound impacts to nations. These impacts occur in nearly all fields of national power: in the political, economic, psychosocial, military and scientific-technological fields. This is a fact. The fate of a society, for good or for evil, at some moment has been or will be decided by means of a combat. According to Bergo (2013, p.17), war is a constant companion to the human race, in its adventure throughout this planet. Augustine of Hippo stated that the imperfection of men is the cause of wars. Because we are imperfect we cannot possibly live in harmony. We cannot live together in peace. Hence, for the philosopher, we shall never reach perpetual peace, unless mankind itself becomes perfect. This is the reason so many nations invest enormous resources into their armed forces: there have always been wars between countries and, unfortunately, there will be wars in the future. However, societies, which succeed in overcoming them will remain, but those that are defeated will be subdued or will vanish. Luckily, and with the acquiescence of the winner, they should be able to recover, nonetheless with enormous sacrifices.
If it is true that wars are decisive for change in the international scenario, and if it is true that nations who win conflicts will be in a dominant situation, the question is: what does a nation need in order to win a war? The question is not a simple one and I believe that if you ask the same question to different people each one will provide a different response. In my opinion, there are three factors that most contribute to a country’s victory in a war: leadership, defense technology and the military values of its Armed Forces.
I believe that the Armed Forces of Western countries are facing a great challenge: how to keep military values in an ever-changing world, where traditional values are being challenged on a daily basis? Some philosophers call this phase, one of contestation, or one of discouragement with the future of humanity, one of “Post-Modernity”.
My interest in this matter started at a very early age, in the Brazilian military schools. I was, at the time, fifteen years old and was admitted via a public admission examination to a military school in the state of São Paulo. I remember that during the instructions, the officers spoke to the audience of certain values which, I had never paid attention to their meanings before. Concepts such as honour, courage, responsibility, truth, camaraderie, sacrifice, etc., came then to be impregnated in my soul. I started to consider that my companions and I were different from other young people because we were willing to give our lives away for our country. I did not see that in the other boys of my age. They did not have the same commitment; on the contrary, they were not even interested in these matters. Unfortunately, the changes implemented by the Brazilian Army, a few years ago in this school no longer allow young people to have contact with these values at the same age that I started. Nowadays, the students attend for just one year, not three years, as was the case when I attended. When they begin, most of them they are already over 18 years old; that is to say, they go there with their character more consolidated. I hope that we do not regret this change in a near future.
At that time, Brazil was experiencing the end of the cycle of military governments, so whenever I travelled to my hometown, my old friends would question my new ways of being and said that those values were old-fashioned.
Later on, during my Philosophy major, I studied some Western schools of thought. I had an interest, at an early age, in the classics, because they represent one of the first approaches on the definition of Human Values and the search for Virtue. I have also studied the schools that question traditional values, such as Nihilism, and post-modernity theorists. I came to realize then that the questioning of military values was not an isolated Brazilian phenomenon, but it was framed within a broader framework, which affects all of Western culture. What we are experiencing, in post-modernity, is the questioning of all traditional values, not just military ones.
In 2014, I approached the subject in a paper that I wrote as a student of the Brazilian Superior War College. To my amazement, it was the first time that the subject was discussed there in an academic work, in the sixty-five years of existence of the College! That is amazing, because, as in my opinion, military values are one of the main success factors for a nation at war.
This paper intends to present some speculations on how military values will be affected with the phenomenon of post-modernity. Can soldiers of the post-modern Western World maintain their convictions? Are our soldiers better prepared for war than the terrorists of the Islamic State, for example?
a. A world in a quick transformation
We live in an unpredictable world. This unpredictability has always existed, but in the past some institutions, because they were apparently solid, gave us a sense of security and perennial duration, as in the case of the Church, of the Political Institutions and the UN. Such arrangement emerged after the Second World War, when two victorious nations, the United States and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, (USSR) became economic, military, and technological superpowers and major poles of influence. Other countries were left with the option of aligning themselves with one or the other, forming large blocs: the western bloc, composed mainly of the USA, western European countries and Japan, and the socialist bloc, composed of the former USSR and Countries of Eastern Europe.
As these two great blocks had equivalent power and there was no interest in direct military confrontation, the world experienced a period of relative stability. The period of dispute between these two great blocks was characterized by the increase of their respective areas of influence but nevertheless without an armed conflict between them became known as the “Cold War.”
The extinction of the former Soviet Union, with the consequent fragmentation of the Soviet bloc since 1989, brought about major changes for humanity. At the beginning we thought that we would be entering an even more stable phase, since there was only one single superpower left, the United States. Rather, we entered a much more unpredictable and insecure world as other actors sought to increase their level of global influence. Thus, we entered a multipolar era.
Parallel to these changes on the world scenario, science has brought forth new technologies that have altered, in a profound way, our conception of the world. I mention the three most important ones: the coding of the human genome, the internet, and human interconnection. Each of these technologies would deserve a more in-depth analysis of their impacts, but there is no exaggeration in saying that they contribute significantly to a new social and political arrangement. We have observed that those changes in the contemporary world do not occur slowly and gradually, but by leaps, in accordance with the emergence of new scientific and technological discoveries.
When we think of changes, it turns out that war is the human phenomenon that most generates radical, rapid and wide changes in the world. Thus, nations wishing to seek some form of being a protagonist in this changing world must be prepared to win wars. For this, they should seek political and military leaders capable of leading them in those difficult times.
Another important point is to develop and maintain technologies capable of giving them strategic advantages without the need of help from outside. Finally, a nation’s Armed Forces must be composed of soldiers who are capable of winning the fight and, at the same time, not representing a danger to the other citizens, who entrusted their arms to them. This is achieved through the development of military values.
An important question is how to maintain military values in a world of increasingly rapid transformations that some thinkers define as post-modernity? Seeking for this answer, we need to analyze the post-modern world.
b. The post-modern world
The post-modern theme is a controversial one, as there is not yet a consensus in the Academy. Many scholars argue that we are still living Modernity, since Science still dominates and dominates the “ideal” of the future for most people. This is a belief that Science will lead us to a better destination, where everyone will be able to live longer, be healthier and be well fed. However, during the 20th century, mankind realized that science alone is no guarantee for a better future: it has brought us the atomic bomb and environmental degradation. The promise that we could control Nature has not been confirmed yet and today, climate change has brought about hunger and death. This is post-modern disenchantment: we exchange 'God' for 'science' in the hope for better days and nowadays, we no longer have 'God' and we also no longer rely on “science”.
This moment is described by Lipovetsky as a “desert” that the man, helplessly, tries to cross:
“[...] The systematic displacement of rural populations, then urban, romantic languor, spleen dandy, Oradour, genocide and ethnocide, Hiroshima devastated in ten square kilometers, with 75,000 dead and 62,000 buildings destroyed, millions of tons of bombs thrown over Vietnam and ecological warfare with herbicidal products, the escalation of the world stockpile of nuclear weapons, Phnom Penh plundered by the Khmer Rouge, the figures of European nihilism, Beckett's living dead characters, the anguish and inner desolation of Antonioni, Messidor of A Tanner, the accident in Harrisburg ... surely the list would be much longer if we wanted to invent all the names of the desert. (Lipovetsky, 2005, p.17)
In this mutation and environment of disenchantment, some new values emerged in the West. I will mention the most important characteristics: instantaneity, individualism, hedonism and narcissism, new family structures and a lack of political representations.
Instantaneity comes with world changes that, at an accelerated pace, end up producing a phenomenon of discontinuity in institutions. Today, because of the instantaneous transmission of ideas to a large number of people, without a need to go through the "filter" of the so-called intermediary media: politicians, media, etc., it has led to a situation where some people started to influence a large number of individuals. This fact, according to Bauman, generated a loss of solidity and endurance in institutions (Bauman, 2001). For a comparison, the discovery of Brazil took weeks to be informed to the King Dom João, O Venturoso and perhaps months to be spread to a greater part of the Portuguese people. Today, we instantly know what happened at Christmas in Sydney, Australia. Look at the world for that Portuguese farmer of the sixteenth century, who did not know the great discovery, the world was much more stable, "solid" and predictable.
Today, through social media, blogs and vloggers, etc., a reality is constantly updated and therefore altered. In parallel, traditional media such as open TV channels, radio and newspapers have seen their power of influence decrease. The 2016 American elections prove this fact. The so-called traditional media, research institutes and political analysts of all the matters, affirmed that the victory would be of the democratic candidate. The result contradicted all predictions.
I remember that, during the popular marches that took place in Brazil in 2013, the protesters did not want the presence of the press, because according to them, the material distorted their objectives. During one of these popular acts, a reporter argued with a protester that it would be good for the cause that the press would spread what was taking place, so that society would become aware and eventually more sympathizers would join the movement. The protester's response expresses well what is happening: "We do not need you for this."
This information profusion, now without the exclusivity of traditional media, in the Political Field has brought a sense of "lack of political representation." People are much better informed and realize that their representatives often act for the benefit of economic groups without regard to the public interest. It should be remembered that our political system was conceived by Montesquieu in the eighteenth century.
Disbelief in God and in the capacity of Science generated a sense of existential emptiness in modern man. In an attempt to fill this feeling of emptiness the individual turned to himself. Thus, the values of individualism, hedonism and narcissism begin to surpass values that value the collective. Social media also reinforces these values when the appearance of happiness becomes more important than Happiness itself.
New values for a new world. Will we be better men? Will we be happier? Will our soldiers remain virtuous?
What is “virtue”? According to the definition of the Portuguese Language “Aurélio” Dictionary, it would be defined as “1 Constant disposition of the spirit that induces us to exercise good and to avoid evil” or “2 the set of all or any of the good moral qualities.” For Aristotle, Virtue (Aretê) would not be an innate ability, but rather a quality acquired by man. Virtues are divided into intellectual virtues, those acquired by study and mental effort, and the moral virtues, acquired by the repetition of behaviours dictated by reason, which in time become habits (Aristotle, 1985, p.1, 13). We thus have two possibilities for the emergence of virtue: either it is innate to us, as the definition of the dictionary tells us, or it is acquired, as the philosopher from Stagira defends. In the case of military virtues, I defend the thesis that armies sought to maintain and value the human behaviours that made it possible to win in war. They believed that by maintaining certain winning behaviours, warriors would be better prepared for future fighting. If this thesis is true, it is possible that military values have been maintained over the centuries. In order to verify the above statement, we will present the classical military virtues and compare them with contemporary military values.
d. Classical Military Virtues
By reading some classic texts, it allows us to question what would be the military virtues that existed in the past. It is true that all the ancient peoples who have reported their wars are important sources of data. For this unpretentious article, the military virtues given to us by the Greeks and Romans will be considered.
We will begin our investigation with the book “The Republic”, by Plato. In its text, Plato narrates one of the famous speeches made by Socrates to his disciples. The theme would be the creation of a perfect city (“polis”).
The Athenian philosopher argued that for a city to be perfect it should have the four cardinal virtues: Wisdom, represented by the government of philosophers; Temperance, by the people who should avoid excesses; Justice, by the distribution of functions and goods by the citizens, so that each one has what is his by right; and Courage, which was the virtue that represented the defenders of the city, the warriors.
When he was questioned about what should be done to prevent the warriors from taking all the gold and silver of the city for themselves, as they were the most powerful, Socrates replied:
“As for the necessary food for the sober and courageous warrior athletes, they will receive it from the other citizens, as a salary for the guard they provide, in sufficient quantity for a year, so as not to be left over and no lacking; They will eat together and live together, like soldiers in the field. As for gold and silver, we shall tell them that they have always in their soul the metals which they have received from the gods, who have no need of the metals of men, and that it is impious to defile the possession of divine gold by adding mortal gold to it, many crimes were committed by the metal in the form of the common currency, while theirs is pure.” (Plato, 2004, p.111)
Thus, Socrates states this so that the warriors do not become exploiters of the wealth of the city that they must protect; they must be convinced that the gods have already placed gold and silver in their souls. This “gold and silver” in the soul are the military virtues. The text also mentions a series of virtues that should be characteristic of the defenders of the city: Sobriety, Courage, Temperance, Physical Health.
We should be reminded that for Socrates the virtue that most characterizes a warrior is Courage and that he belonged to the heavy infantry and defended his city bravely on several occasions, according to reports of his time.
Aristotle, also, mentions general virtues, not only for the military, but for each and every citizen. As the Greek citizens were also soldiers in wartime (different, for example, from the Persians who used large numbers of slaves and conquered peoples), the virtues of the citizens were the virtues of the soldiers. Thus, we have Fairness, Pride, Modesty, Justice and Responsibility: “Man is the principle and parent of his acts as his children are” (Aristotle, p.33).
The greatest example of the military virtue of Discipline, which the world has already witnessed, has been left to us by Sparta. The young Spartan, from the age of 7 was to overcome pain and fear. For this, he was subjected to beatings by older boys and bone fractures were common. At the age of 12, he was expelled from the city, seeking his own survival. At this age, he was already taking part in military exercises in the auxiliary platoons, participating in strenuous manoeuvres but was not yet allowed to return to the interior of the city. At the age of twenty, he was allowed to marry and integrate a phalanx (Greek military unit), but he should always sleep camping in the open, using only a blanket for protection. Their wives could accompany their husbands in the camps. In this case, they too were in the open. Only at thirty could they return to Sparta as a full citizen. Military service, however, would go until the age of sixty. For a Spartan, it can be said that Discipline meant overcoming one's own weakness and physical needs. All this training gave rise to an extremely disciplined and combative soldier, feared throughout ancient Greece. Sparta was justly proud of her way of life and, in a way, judged herself superior to the other Greek warriors. Such a sentiment can be summed up by this old proverb: “Other cities produce monuments and poems. Sparta produces real men”.
According to Lendon, Rome employed the Discipline along with Virtue (Lendon, 2000). Virtue was a Roman military virtue that can be understood as “aggressive courage”. Thus, legionaries should develop aggression, and to control it and employ it only when military commanders found it convenient, the virtue of Discipline was used. Therefore, for the Romans, Discipline and Virtue were complementary and non-antagonistic virtues. In Brazil, perhaps because of the political events of the twentieth century, with military interventions in the Political Field and the small probability of an armed conflict, the development of Discipline in the combatant troops has been prioritized. Virtue, however, has not been properly developed. I remember that the Romans taught us that the balance between these two virtues must be sought in order to have a victorious Army.
Let us now speak of another fundamental virtue for an Armed Force: the hierarchy, which would be the staggering of the military in posts and ranks. Such a procedure facilitates the control and transmission of orders, as well as clearly defining responsibilities for actions. It is evident that the Hierarchy always existed as rudimentary military forces considered there were always commanders and subordinates. In several countries of antiquity, military authority was confused with political authority or religious authority, as was the case with Jews and Egyptians. In Greece, and especially in Rome, combat performance was more frequently considered as a means of promoting the most courageous in combat to more relevant posts.
Honour was another virtue worshiped in antiquity. Socrates said that he feared dishonour more than death. As an extreme example of this assertion, the case of the son of the Roman General Marco Escauro, who was forbidden to present himself to his father, was famous because his unit would have fled in the presence of the enemy in the Tridentino gorge. Not bearing the weight of dishonour, the young man ends up committing suicide (Frontino, 2005).
Team Spirit, as we understand it today, began with Roman legionnaires. By spending a long time in the campaign, serving in the same Legion, the military began to have a feeling of love and belonging to its Military Unity.
Any summary research into the values worshiped by the current Armed Forces could demonstrate that classical military values remain valid in the contemporary world. I am of the opinion that when an army wins a conflict, it seeks to maintain that which has worked and contributed to victory. Likewise, the attitudes that contributed to defeat are not passed on to the new soldiers, except as a negative example. Thus, we find that even as the centuries went by, military values remained, as they did well in combat and favoured victory. Worshiping them transforms a cluster of armed men into a troop of soldiers. Nietzsche thus expressed himself by verifying that the values remained over time:
When there are woods stretched out over the water, when there are bridges and parapets by the river, no one is credited with saying “everything runs”. On the contrary, even the imbeciles contradict “What!” They exclaimed. “Everything runs? Then the timbers and parapets that are on the river”? (Nietzsche, 2005, p.156)
The above comparison, made by the author of “The Twilight of the Idols”, shows that although there have been many changes in society over time, similar to waters flowing in a river, values have remained unchanged; such as bridges, they extend over the waters. The question I am currently trying to answer is whether these values, particularly the military ones, will resist the waters of Post-Modernity.
e. Impacts of Post-Modernity on military values
Post-Modernity impacts on personal relationships and traditional values. For the military, the features that are most affected are those connected to Patriotism, Civility, Team Spirit and Courage.
Initially, we will analyse how the values Civility and Patriotism are affected. The post-modern characteristic that most affects these values is Instantaneity. This is because the civic values are based on historical figures, or military achievements of the past, that are worshiped as an example by the soldiers. These milestones, as well as the institutions they represent, were much more stable. This stability was reinforced by the fact that there was an “official version” that was not disputed. If it were, this challenge did not reach a large number of people who could shake the established foundation. Post-modern instantaneity, through networked communication technologies, allows anyone to voice their opinion, without filters, and to spread it across large numbers of people. This gives us the feeling that we live in a less stable and more unpredictable world. It is clear that the official version of historical figures and facts will no longer be the only one. This leads to the weakening of civic and patriotic values.
The Armed Forces should seek to maintain civic and patriotic values, especially with commemorations of dates reminiscent of military victories. The diffusion of historical facts must be made without fancies and take into account that the contemporary soldier is much better informed than the past.
The value of Hierarchy must be strengthened, more and more, by example. Higher graduates should also be better able to lead or fight, if possible for both. The promotion system should reflect this need. Armies based on the formal Hierarchy will be subject to failure on the post-modern battlefield where traditions are constantly attacked.
In the same way, leadership must observe and have respect for democratic rules. It will be necessary to lead the troops to victory, within the Western values of respect for human rights. This will become very challenging when the enemy has another system of values, as is the case with the Islamic State, for example.
The pride of a soldier to belong to a troop and to be concerned first and foremost, with his comrades is called “Team Spirit”, that is, despite being formed of several individuals, the troops act as if it were a single body. Such military value is being affected by the post-modern characteristics of Individualism and Hedonism. The contemporary world tends to seek personal satisfaction more than that of the social group. It turns out that in combat, one must first seek collective security. As an example, I say that if the sentry sleeps during his turn, the entire platoon may perish. In order to reverse this situation in the Armed Forces, it is necessary for military instruction to create situations that demonstrate that individual error can harm the entire group. Thus, competitions should be prioritized among troop fractions, to the detriment of individual competitions.
Finally, I will turn to the value, which for Socrates was the main characteristic of the Warrior: Courage. We have verified that this value has been increasingly relativized in the contemporary world. This is due to the post-modern characteristics of Hedonism and Individualism, which cause people to avoid situations where they can put their physical integrity in danger, as well as by the increasing prevalence on the battlefield of High Technology. As a matter of fact, there is no use having courageous troops if it is employed against another, who has a higher level of technology. There are several examples. In the Falklands War the Argentine soldiers were practically used as human targets, at night, by the British troop that used night vision devices. In this same conflict, the Argentine Navy did not even leave the ports (and did very well not to!), because the enemy navy had a nuclear submarine. Today, a type of warrior has arisen who does not need courage. I am referring to the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) pilots. They have proven to be highly lethal, but as they operate remotely they do not experience any danger. Thus, for the first time in history, military technology has allowed the emergence of a type of warrior who does not need the value of Courage.
Courage, however, should continue to be encouraged as it remains important in most battles and becomes increasingly necessary when the technological level among the contenders is similar.
Western civilization is undergoing a period of values reordering. This process was accelerated with Post-Modernity. It is too early to get a clear idea whether new values will be established in society. In Brazil, for example, it has been verified that the traditional values are back again, gaining ground with the proliferation of the evangelical churches.
In the Military Field, a change of Traditional Values is troubling since military values were established in combat, or, they helped to win as wars. For that reason, they were kept. There is no guarantee that the new values, instead of the current ones, guarantee us a victory, which is, after all, a main reason for the existence of Armed Forces.
Thus, it is a duty of the Nation that intends to be between the ones that will hold the military power to stimulate the traditional military values. To do this, it is necessary to work in training schools, promotion systems and, especially, in legislation, in order to allow its Armed Forces to have military leaders who lead by example and serve as protection for society. Military values, consolidated in the character of the soldiers avoids them from turning into a threat for the society that trusted them with guns. As Socrates would say, warriors must have "gold and silver in their souls."
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Revised and rendered into the English language by MAJ Fábio Marques do Nascimento
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