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What Makes a Man Fight
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Lt Col (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat
Lt Col (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat, author of the book An Infantry Battalion in Combat.

“When thou has profited so much that you respectest thyself, thou mayest let go thy tutor”— Seneca


After my retirement from the Army, I have been working as a Principal in some of the very reputed schools of Rohtak which is an educational centre in Haryana. The area is considered as nursery for recruitment in the armed forces both in the rank of officers and men. Almost all schools, have been preparing the students for the entry into the NDA, IMA and other academies and institutions for the armed forces, with reasonably good success.

A few questions which are generally asked of the instructors with defence background by the students are “What makes a soldier to follow the maxim of do or die? Does not he get the feeling of fear? What make a body of men to obey an order, which at times, gives the clear message of death? These are very relevant questions which will be often asked, by the students who are preparing for that career. Within the precincts of these questions, lie the meaning of army, its welfare measures, war, discipline, training, command structure, obedience, qualities of soldiers, elements of cohesive working and et al. For clearing the fog on such questions, we should as such understand the meaning and effects of some of these terms more deeply with attendant implications. The deep insight into these issues will explain to us as to what makes a man fight.

… his friends wrote back asking him “Dil Lag gaya Ki Nahi” as to how was he feeling and should be settled by now. He replied him “Dil to lag gaya lekin pair nahin lage” as he was feeling alright but cannot say ‘settled’ because he was pushed around hell of a lot as the “Man Friday” – the adjutant in the unit wanted to establish his authority on the youngsters.

Army and its Ethos

Army is a very old profession which had been raised to protect one’s society and subjugate others who oppose its freedom, philosophy and challenge its survival, since time immemorial, meaning thereby, involving fighting against them. Man has always been fighting for one reason or the other, be that a woman, pasture, territory dominance, loot, exploitation or subjugation, without which, such ventures are not normally undertaken. For coming to terms with such requirements, the army has developed its own ethos of working, which are beautifully enshrined in the following adage:-

“Theirs is not a reason why
Theirs is but to do or die.

In other words the strength of the army lies in its strict discipline and undeviating obedience to its superior officers. Discipline is the bedrock and soul of the army life. It makes small number formidable, procures success to the weak and esteem to all in the organisation. Ethos of the army, are very strong and develop over a period of time. It does not permit the lot to leave the line of structured obedience. “To have respect for ourselves guides our morals and to have deference for others, governs our manners” – Sterne

War and its Causes

Before going into the core of this very important issue, let us be clear about, as to what is war and what does this involve. The life of the countries is like that of men. The later have the right of killing in self-defence, same way former can make wars for its own survival and preservation. Nevertheless, wars today have got numerous reasons also but the ones given below are rather the main:-

  • Either actual or threatening wrong by one country to the other
  • Suspicion by one country that another intends to do it wrong.
  • The bitterness of feelings dependent upon substantial question of difference. It is sort of permanent hatred.

The basic reason of these three causes of war is actual injustice. Right causes are the strong motivation for carrying out duties by army men. Right the cause, right will be the effect. Reasons for war, in a democratic country, like ours must be conveyed in a forceful manner to troops. It will have effect on their performance.

Soldiering and State

Soldiering is a profession, where the man becomes a part of the machine in such a way that he is propelled automatically to play his part and there is no escape from that. Such an army becomes the important arm of the State and the State uses it as and when required. For safeguarding the State, the use of the soldiers is a must. It may be correct that in many cases ignorance, poverty and vanity could have forced some people to join soldiering but once they are within the four walls they have to learn how to save the interest of the country and if needed, at the cost of their own lives. Soldiering therefore can be termed as a pious profession irrespective of the outcome of the war. Soldiers, in fighting the war will do their duties in the best possible manner, if following are ensured:-

  • Political will of the country to fight for its interest.
  • Support of the masses due to a genuine cause.
  • Preparedness of the armed forces to deal with the adversary.

The psychology of soldier too, does change with the advancement of age. It is the young who actually delivers. It is almost an accepted fact that those who won gallantry awards being young, except the exceptions, have not been able to deliver that well in the senior ranks…

The wars will take place and continue till all the anomalies are removed, which are, in reality beyond human endeavours due to varied perceptions of problems by various countries. Therefore, it is important that well-trained and highly motivated army is maintained by the country. In an educated society, soldiers are not as dumb as they used to be. For giving his best in war, he has to be satisfied with the cause and also for preparations of war.

System of working in Army

The army works on three important pillars of order, authority and seniority. The meaningful training with the above-mentioned points in mind, makes a junior to treat his senior as demi God. Whatever a senior says and it is finally understood and accepted by juniors has to be carried out. There are no two ways about it. The man has to develop an animal within himself, which forces him to work the way he does. He in all activities in armed forces has to measure himself in terms of enemy’s capabilities and strength vis-a-vis his training and discipline. Successive stages of command ensure that orders rather than getting diluted get accentuating effect for firmness. Everyone is made to obey his superiors and that is the ethos of the armed forces. Therefore, a senior commander has to be a man of extraordinary capabilities, so that no body dares to challenge his orders. A good leader works like a good root, out of which branches off the courage of the soldier and that springs out further. And to be finally prepared for war is one of the most effectual ways of preserving peace but it can be done only by capable commander, who is selected one. The right of command, is no longer an advantage transmitted by nature like inheritance. It is the fruit of labour and price of courage. For soldiering, the up-stepping order of precedence is very very important. For all in the chain, therefore, the reputation is uppermost in the mind of everyone and same makes him proud and working to the best of his capabilities. It helps in our understanding as to why a soldier fights, and what makes him to do so.

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The author passed out from IMA Dehradun in 1964 and was commissioned in 7 Sikh. The unit was located at Punch in J&K, where I joined them. It was an active area, where exchange of fire with the enemy, used to be a routine affair. Similarly going out for pursuits was not uncommon. The life on the posts was totally operation oriented. In such a situation one learns those aspects of military life, which one could not have learnt in IMA where there is no live enemy. Here one learns his tasks the hard way. This profession demands a high degree of obedience, courage, physical fitness and promptitude. In case of difficulty, the troops look towards an officer. The officers, therefore, are required to have a high standard of training and possess an effective personality. The troops will take the officers seriously only when they see them, as a perfect human being with very high personal standard in all respects and with a learning attitude. A sensible leader will realise that nothing short of required standards will work with the command of troops. In an operation the troops look towards an officer, for everything, be that an order, reaction or action. It means that one learns when he gets a chance and that way keeps learning through out life. In other words whole life is a learning process.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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One thought on “What Makes a Man Fight

  1. An article worth reading repeatedly. Real Soldiers will always remember thelabour,courage and command.When Paltan moved from Kohima to Maram (a hillock with nothing at all) His words in Sainik Sammelan ” Maram ko Mount Abu Nahim banaya to Mera Nam Sube Singh Ahalawat Nahim” & He did it . Long live my ex CO. With every sentiment of respect, admiration, love and gratitude. Ex aDjt & Coy Cdr

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