Friday, April 18, 2008

Cowards in battle?

Combat units have broken and fled the field in disorder on countless occasions throughout history. This does not make the men in those units cowards. We are all human. Every person has a breaking point. Even elite units have been known to break and run under extreme conditions. Training reduces the likelihood of a combat unit breaking under fire. However, it does not stop it completely, particularly if the unit is taking heavy losses. The best-trained units will be able to sustain more losses and retain unit cohesion than less well-trained units. However, if even elite units take enough losses in a short enough time, the unit will lose its ability to function properly. Once the unit cohesion begins to break, it is not uncommon for individuals to panic and run away. I can’t say that I blame them. Sometimes, the breakdown occurs just prior to the unit being overrun. Throughout history, many well-trained units have been overrun and completely wiped out.

Man for man, the Israeli army is the best in the world. In 1973, on at least one occasion, an Israeli unit broke and fled the field. They were not being cowards. They wanted to live. Many times, units that have broken and fled the field have been re-built and fought again. Many times, the unit returned to battle and fought with distinction. This has also occurred innumerable times on an individual basis. In the book ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ a man ran away and his unit did not. He returned to his unit and fought well after that. Although this story was fiction, it was based upon human nature. Warfare is frightening as hell. Your first exposure to it can be enough to make anyone panic. Just because an individual panics and runs away from danger, or a unit flees the field in disorder does not make them cowards. In many cases, the men and units that have broken in battle can be brought back to the ranks and perform very well in subsequent battles.

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