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The Soldier's Education for Peace

by Harold Benjamin - 1942

WERE IT NOT FOR THE SOBER testimony of our expert witnesses, it would seem fantastically unreal to talk of educating a soldier for peace when the drumming guns proclaim that there is no peace. First we call the Emperor Napoleon to the stand: "There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind."

WERE IT NOT FOR THE SOBER testimony of our expert witnesses, it would seem fantastically unreal to talk of educating a soldier for peace when the drumming guns proclaim that there is no peace.

First we call the Emperor Napoleon to the stand: "There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind."

Prince Otto von Bismarck: "The purpose of a war is to achieve a peace."

Colonel Hermann Foertsch: "War means carrying out one's own political will and breaking that of an opponent."

Commander Stephen King-Hall: "The object of war is that of making the enemy change his mind."

Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest: "Hell! We ain’t tryin' to kill 'em. We're jest tryin' to sheer 'em'."

The list of these witnesses could be lengthened to include many great students and practitioners of war and their testimony would always hit the same fundamental principle; namely, that the goal of war is not just military victory but rather a peace in the achievement of which military action is only one phase; that the aim of war is not primarily to capture or destroy the enemy but instead to capture his mind and destroy those attitudes which make him an enemy; that the end of war is not merely cessation of hostilities but, much more, the beginning of new ways of intelligent cooperation among the late combatants.

The United States and her allies are now waging war for this goal of effective peace, for this aim of capturing the enemy's mind, for this end of a new ordering of intelligence and goodwill among all men. For these purposes we are arming fast; we will arm faster. We are piling up munitions and supplies; we will pile them higher. We are just beginning to fight; we will put more and more pressure on the enemy until he breaks under the weight of weapons we will forge and then wield upon him. We will win the war of physical combat, which is fought, with arms of steel. But we must also win the war of minds which is fought with ideas and sentiments, if we would not see the fruits of military victory turn once again into the ashes of international ignorance and ill-will.

In the achievement of these war aims, the soldier of the United States will play a greater part than either he or the civilians of this country commonly envisage. In the first place, he will probably carry a large share of the final burden of fighting in the advance to military victory. In the second and more significant place, he is certainly destined to play a powerful role in the political action leading to a good peace. The education of the American soldier for this total task is therefore one of the most important war jobs in the world today. Of course we have to dig the ores and pump the oils. We have to raise the wheat and beef, the wool and cotton. We have to cut the lumber and build the dams. We have to make the tanks, guns, planes and the shells. We have to launch the ships and assemble the trucks and freight cars to transport the military supplies. These are all big jobs, essential jobs, crucial jobs, but the greatest job of all remains: that of so changing the accustomed ways of millions of young civilians that they will become the most effective armed force for total victory.

The modern soldier requires a very complete and well-rounded education. He needs incomparably greater technical and tactical skill than the soldier of the Revolution, of the American Civil War, or of the War of 1914-18. The private in an armored division today needs as much or more sheer physical stamina than did the Tenth Legionnaires under Titus Labienus or the "foot cavalrymen" in the Army of Northern Virginia. He must be able to go without sleep for many hours, to ride hundreds of miles in jolting trucks, miss a few meals, go into action under his own steam for the last miles of rough terrain, set up precisely and operate accurately a vast complex of instruments and weapons, and then—perhaps at the very moment when his physical strength seems to fail him utterly—to summon a final reserve of the spirit to take him into the enemy line with bayonet and gun-butt and, if need be, with a swinging fist.

The soldier of the present war also needs as never before outstanding qualities of initiative, comprehension and judgment. The private today is often required to make individual decisions and act upon them with a speed and daring that captain did not usually need in earlier wars. The tactical unit in the army of Frederick the Great was trained to be a human machine responding to its operator's commands; the unit in a good modern army is a team which accomplishes its task because every member knows the game, knows the score and knows precisely how to play his position.

The United States Army's training program is producing soldiers of these qualities. Its many special schools, technical schools, troop schools, types of unit training, and physical training and drill procedures are far superior to those of only a few years ago. Without doubt they need to be improved, and they will be improved by the Army authorities. As experience is gained in organizing instruction for the great numbers of recruits, in observing the outcomes of the instruction in maneuvers, and finally in putting whole armies to the test of fire, the training program is bound to be greatly modified and strengthened. If it were not changed as a result of such experience, it would be justly suspect.

Yet all this type of training is only one part of the soldier's education. It prepares him for the achievement of military victory only; it does not educate him for the bigger job of helping to win the post-combat part of the war. This latter education will not interfere with his training for combat. On the contrary, it will strengthen and supplement that training precisely because it will help to make him more of an intelligent team-member and less of a mechanically operated part of a machine. At the same time it will help fit him for the role of peace-maker which he and his fellow soldiers will have to play in the armistice period and thereafter. It is a truism that soldiers do not make wars; they stop wars and thereby make peace. How are we going to educate our soldiers most effectively for this second and bigger task?

There are many possible approaches to this job and the Army is using some of them. Soldiers can be assembled in mess halls to hear lectures on the causes of the present war, the reasons for the fall of France, the geography of the Amazon Valley, or on any other appropriate and interesting topics. They can take lessons in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Japanese, Russian or Chinese. They can read books and stand quizzes on economics, history, sociology or political science. No schoolman, no university professor, ought to say that these activities are not entirely proper and useful. They are usually so much in the accepted school and university pattern that they carry respectability on their very surfaces.

This pattern is not enough, however, no matter how lately the bulk of the soldiers have been occupants of schools or colleges, they are not now pupils or students. They are not now working for credits and grades (with various exceptions, of course, of men who are taking extension work towards high school diplomas or college degrees). They are often definitely prejudiced, moreover, against a form of instruction which reminds them too much of school and college procedures. They are soldiers and most of them want to be more effective soldiers. They do not commonly want to be schoolboys for a couple of hours in the mess hall after a long day of drills and fatigue duties. They must be given a good general adult education program and they will ordinarily prefer to get it in a soldierly fashion.

To meet this double requirement, the Army would do well to carry over into the broader education area the useful and appealing concept of "specialist grouping" which it now uses in its combat training programs. Let the soldier who is a machine gunner and who has all his combat training related to that specialty also select a specialty in the general education area. Let us say, to take what is perhaps the most difficult example available, that this machine gunner recognizes that he will very probably see extended action against the German Army in this war, that he may possibly fight on German territory before the hostilities end, that the question of organizing international affairs effectively will still involve Germany long after the German Army is defeated, and that securing voluntary cooperation from the Germans will be one of the most difficult tasks of the peace. He therefore selects Germany and the Germans as his specialty. He enters the group, which is studying the German language, the geography of Germany, the industries of Germany, the history of Germany, the organization of the German Army, of the German Navy, of the German Air Force. He may be transferred shortly to another camp. No matter. He can join the German group there and take up where he left off. He goes now to a lecture on the causes of the war, but now he has a new interest. He wants to place his own special knowledge in the more general outline.

Let us imagine that in 1945 there are a half-million veterans in the United States who studied Germany in this fashion in various posts of the Army, another half-million who studied Japan in similar fashion, a million who studied China, Russia, Britain, Latin America or some other area. The total amount of time and energy which they expended individually on this study might very possibly have been no less on the average than the veterans of 1917-18 spent on African golf, blackjack and latrine bulletins. If the newer crop of veterans retain their enthusiasm for the intensive studies we have imagined for them as well as some of the older crop have kept a liking for their particular military diversions, the level of thought and action in the field of international affairs should go to new heights.

This is easy to suggest but it is obviously no small task to attempt. Even on a trial basis for a few thousand men, it will require considerable attention from the Army command. Ordering a lieutenant, who was lately graduated from the Petaluma State College's department of chemistry with ten semester hours of French on his transcript, to take charge of the French "seminar" and pound that material about the length of Loire, the number of years Louis XV reigned, and where to put the indirect object "into the heads of those birds or by God, Sir, I will want to know the reason why" won't turn the trick. It is tougher than that but it is not so tough that it cannot he done with a little effort.

For men who are going to achieve a peace as well as win a war for us, who are going to use minds as well as swords to beat down the enemy's weapons, who are going to make the enemy change his mind not only by their guns but also by knowing the enemy's mind better than he knows it himself, who are going to teach our enemies and our allies and ourselves to fear and hate the ignorance and ill-will which make wars necessary, the required effort should certainly be made. Even if so great a thing as the making of a real peace were not at stake, it would still be worth some effort to have in the future a veterans' organization of six, eight or ten millions who knew what war and peace were about.

For that matter, it would he worth a tiny effort even to have college faculties attain this insight. But that is another story unless the last draft and the one to come really work decisively on those groups—and the Army loosens its grip on the lecture technique for all items of spirit and intellect.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 8 Number 69, 1942, p. 205-207
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14318, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 10:13:37 AM

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