Somewhere along the line, we have conveniently altered the otherwise inviolate sequence of our inspiring Academy credo and we have all but forgotten that the honour, safety and welfare of the men we command take precedence over our own needs and comforts. Not making any attempt to ameliorate their hardships, by exhibiting a callous disregard for their feelings, we are confounding matters even mores The men are habitually addressed in abusive language, punishments are meted cut in an arbitrary and high handed manner, orderlies are being used more and more like menials, the men are kept waiting long hours for an officer to turn up or to hand down an order, Mess waiters and cooks and, particularly, Mess Havildars, are the daily targets of the wrath and fury of enraged officers.
General Mathew B. Ridgeway took command of a demoralised US Eighth Army during the Korean War. He immediately went to the front and visited with his soldiers. Once, on a wet, dark morning, he stood beside a road as a group of tired Marines moved by carrying heavy loads. One young Marine, too laden to bend down, was tripping over the laces of his boot which had become untied. In the semi-darkness, he called to the stationary group, “Hey, would one of you fellows tie my boot?” the Commander of the Eighth Army knelt in the mud and tied the Marine’s boot.
How many of us care as much for our men? For that matter, how many of us, today, care for our men, if at all?
Somewhere along the line, we have conveniently altered the otherwise inviolate sequence of our inspiring Academy credo and we have all but forgotten that the honour, safety and welfare of the men we command take precedence over our own needs and comforts. Today’s officer corps is guilty of crass insensitivity and indifference towards the genuine needs, feelings and emotions end aspirations of the men and is also guilty of ruthless and repressive actions, bordering on brutality. This attitude is indeed reprehensible and it is amazing that the consequent powder-keg of simmering discontent has not yet exploded with irreversible consequences.
Perhaps I should provide solid proof of what I mean because, all too often, specific examples are missing in dissertations such as this.
In my days as a subaltern, many years ago, we shared all the hardships of our men, we suffered with them in their sorrows, we laughed with them in their joys, we remained awake when they could not sleep, we did not eat when their meals were delayed, we braved the rains when they were getting soaked, we knew their personal problems, we gave them of our time, freely and uncomplainingly, we helped them when they faltered, we never shied away from showing them how we learnt from them, we chatted and joked with them. In short, we were part of them, always with them and — we cared.
Such conduct was not only expected of us, after a while it Came almost naturally, as we got our men. Also, there was no dearth of examples worth emulating and the errant and lazy few among us, were gently but finally guided along the right way by our senior and more experienced colleagues. But today the whole edifice appears to be crumbling. Men are being increasingly treated like cattle and the scum of the earth, rather than as soldiers with pride and honour.
To come down to specifics, today’s subaltern has neither the time nor the inclination, nor perhaps the ability for that matter, to work with and to get to know his men. He is to be more often found in the mess than in the training ground. When an exercise is over, he is usually the first one home and is to be found singing under a hot shower while the men are still cleaning their weapons end equipment. Leave aside knowing about their problems, he probably doesn’t even know the names of all his men, When the men are working in the rain, he is safely ensconced in a shelter, sipping tea. When the men are digging on a cold, winter night, he is stretched out in a cosy bed and grumbles that the noisy digging disturbs his sleep. He remains aloof from his men and cannot spare any time for them as he prefers to while away the hours in idle gossip.
What is worse, none of his senior colleagues see it fit to guide the errant youngster. Obviously, they too are living in a world of their own, divorced from reality. They haven‘t had the time to go into the details of the day to day administration of their sub-units, to see whether the men are getting their entitlements, to see whether the living conditions of their men, including hygiene, sanitation and health, are satisfactory. They have no rapport with their men and are invariably not easily approachable. As such, their understanding of the problems of their command is rather poor, and their ability to tackle these problems even more so.
Consequently, at the unit level, the officers find themselves alienated from their men. The men are increasingly viewing their officers with disregard and indifference — expecting nothing and giving nothing. General John M, Schofield’s watchwords are truly commendable, “The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the Commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself”. Many officers seek to bluff their way through the many demanding responsibilities of regimental life, but it is rarely possible. T0 Abraham Lincoln’s dictum that, “You cannot fool all the people all of the time,“ we may as well add that you cannot fool a soldier anytime.
Our men have a sad lot, but we seem to have become impervious to their suffering. Besides, not making any attempt to ameliorate their hardships, by exhibiting a callous disregard for their feelings, we are confounding matters even mores The men are habitually addressed in abusive language, punishments are meted cut in an arbitrary and high handed manner, orderlies are being used more and more like menials, the men are kept waiting long hours for an officer to turn up or to hand down an order, Mess waiters and cooks and, particularly, Mess Havildars, are the daily targets of the wrath and fury of enraged officers.
The men are the victims of petty harassments. They are denied casual leave on the grounds that the reasons given are unconvincing. When someone wishes to travel at his own expense from Jammu to Trivandrum today, surely he must have sound reasons for doing so. Should he be denied leave? Incidents of men being casually locked up in the Quarter Guard for a day or two are not uncommon. The men are seldom given any time to themselves, for fear that they may be upto some mischief.
Lest the reader thinks that I have taken too alarmist a view of the situation, it must be pointed out that the consequences of this uncaring attitude are already apparent and are manifesting themselves in many ways. Some of the glaring indicators are as follows:
- The number of cases of indiscipline, end particularly insubordination, has increased almost astronomically in the last five years.
- Numerous applications for premature discharge are being received, inspite of the better conditions of service now prevailing.
- More and more NCOs and men are deserting the service.
- Cases Of absence without leave and overstay of leave are increasing in a geometric progression.
- Hospital admissions and sickness rates going up, particularly, in the psychiatry wards.
The overall effect of this malady is too awesome to be contemplated. It is a well recognised fact that men who are not well motivated can never win a war. With the communication gap now existing between our officers and men, motivation for battle is a far cry.
What has gone wrong?
While it is not the author’s intention to explore the labyrinthine causes of today’s leadership impasse, certain facts stand cut and must be taken note of.
The recruit of today is basically the same as the recruit of yesteryears. However, because of various socio-economic changes since independence, he is better educated and hence more responsive to correct and inspiring leadership. He also expects more from his officers, likes to be taken into confidence, and accepts responsibility mere readily. He is more observant and hence readily notes the numerous disparities between his own and his officer’s lifestyle. During training he possesses a sense of worth, he stands tall and feels proud to be a soldier. And, it is this feeling that makes what happens later even more of a tragedy.
On being assigned to his first unit, he is treated as a second class citizen by insensitive leaders and is rapidly disillusioned. He loses his sense of worth and loses his pride. Now the army has a soldier who is asking himself, “Is that all there is? What did I ever do deserve this?*
On the other hand, today’s officer starts asking for his rights and privileges from the day that he is commissioned. He does not realise that duties and responsibilities come before rights and privileges. He looks upon the men under his command as serfs who are to be manipulated for his own ends. He is so self-centered that he has no time to spare for his men. To make matters worse, he behaves like a feudal Lord and exacts severe retribution from those who demur.
The respect and care they deserve
The needs and aspirations of officers and men are not incompatible and mutually exclusive. Command is enjoyable and personally rewarding. The rewards came from those we lead, they come from knowing that we have a good unit behind us, that we have helped them as much as they have helped us.
The peacetime mission of moulding the men in units into cohesive, winning, enthusiastic teams demands great personal attention and understanding of soldiers as individuals. The process of building a team requires tremendous energy, time and patience, imagination and genuine concern for the well-being of the individual.
We must learn to respect our men as soldiers — they deserve our respect, for, time and time again, they have proved themselves to be the finest fighting men in the world. The issue is put beyond doubt by General George S. Patton Jr: “The badge of rank which an officer wears on his coat is really a symbol of servitude to his men”
If there was such a thing as criminal disregard of duties, it would surely be applicable to an uncaring attitude for one’s soldiers, for that more than anything else, leads a soldier down the path of disillusionment and discontent. Our men deserve our sympathy, they deserve a little bit of our time. Leadership is not a 9 to 5 job, leadership is a 24 hour a day, seven days a week calling.
It is amazing how an officer’s sympathetic consideration can uplift a soldier from the depths of despair, how a glance, a touch can say, “I understand, I’m with you.” An officer must be polite at all times, otherwise he is not a gentleman. Talking in an impolite and rude fashion to a subordinate who cannot pay you back in the same coin, smacks of a bad upbringing and a cowardly misuse of authority.
In today’s socio-economic milieu, a soldier has many personal problems which he cannot resolve on his own. Treatment of his problems with kindness and understanding, rather than as unsoldierly aberrations, will win for the army a loyal end committed man — proud of the organisation and proud to belong to it. After all the army is his family.
It is important to remember that each soldier is a human being and not just a cog in the Big Green Machine. Soldiers like to be encouraged and appreciated. A pat on the back can work wonders. Recognition is an important factor in human psychology. The extra effort, the sterling performance of duty, must be recognised. Once in a while, clasp a man by the hand and say, “Welldone”, and watch the results.
How often do we say, “Thank you”? Think about how many times someone tells a rifleman or a gunner, a vehicle mechanic or an exchange operator “Thank you”. It probably is not very often.
Concern for the well being of the men under one’s command is one of the two most important duties of a leader. The other is the accomplishment of the mission at hand. Both can and ought to be complementary. In the Blake, Mouton and Bryson leadership grid, this type has been characterised as 9, 9 leadership — the highest concern for mission performance integrated with the highest concern for people. The ultimate aim of all leadership training in the army is to make every leader a 9,9 leader. It is, admittedly, a difficult task. When it can be done, however, the results attained constitute their own reward.
Without due concern for their well-being on the part of their leader, the men are unlikely to be motivated to the degree required to “rush that hill”. “A reflective reading of history will show that no man ever rose to military greatness who could not convince his troops that he put them first, above all else”. – General Maxwell D Taylor.
Every soldier is like e delicate sapling. He is to be nurtured with care and kindness, pruned with wisdom, sheltered from the elements, supported in distress, nursed in sickness, allowed to grow unfettered. When he errs, he is to be justly punished — but always with compassion and understanding. Then, when the flowers begin to bloom, we can sit back with pride and enjoy the show.
Our fighting men, the best in the world, are sensitive, sentimental, expectant, receptive. They are only human. They deserve humane treatment. They deserve compassion and kindness, sympathy and understanding. They deserve the best that we can give them. If we ignore their welfare, it can only be at great national peril for no soldier will fight well with a leader who shows no concern for his well-being. To return to General Ridgeway’s example, two things are apparent. Firstly, he cared enough for the men under his command to be there “On a wet, dark morning” and, secondly he did it not for show, but because of an innate “impulse to help a fighting soldier, a man in trouble.” Finally, “No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men.”